“People love to talk...I prefer to drive,” says the voice of Danica Patrick in the ESPN commercial for this weekend’s Nationwide Series race. When it comes to Patrick, that statement is all that needs to be said.
From the constant media attention, to the numerous commercials and photoshoots, she's everywhere. This Saturday, she’ll be back in the NASCAR for the New England 200 at New Hampshire, meaning all the talking will return as well. With Patrick, there is no fence-straddling, as fans and media make no bones about liking or disliking her.
Ready or not, her she comes…again.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to the team, to the fans, to the paddock and everybody in it,” Patrick said. “Everybody was so nice when I first came into the series at the beginning of the year. So, I’m just really looking forward to seeing everybody again.”
Everyone has their opinion; everyone wants to get their two cents in about the Roscoe, Illinois native. Whether she’s driving over 200 MPH in the IZOD IndyCar Series or learning the ropes in the Nationwide Series, there is one common denominator that follows Patrick: her attitude. It’s also the one common denominator among fans that have a dislike for her.
Danicamania hasn’t persuaded everyone.
Early in her career, she never hid the fact that she wasn’t happy, possessing a personality of those who wear their emotions on their sleeve. If she was upset, people knew. If she was frustrated, people definitely knew. And if she was over the moon with joy, well just search her win in Japan from 2008.
It didn’t bother some, but others saw it as a reason to hate her. Like any other driver, Patrick has had her fair share of vulgar names and hatred thrown her way. Something as simple as trying to express and be herself was taken the wrong way. Her reputation has been cemented, and it isn’t pretty.
"Misunderstood" is the perfect way to describe Danica Patrick.
The reason is that Patrick is not the crybaby some make her out to be. Instead, the emotion that so clearly comes from Patrick steams from another reason.
“I think I always felt in the past like I had to prove to people that I cared and that I wasn't happy being fifth or 12th or something by being mad,” she said. “It just doesn't really pay off, and it turns people off. It's a lot easier and a lot more fun to be relaxed. It's all bunnies and rainbows around here now."
Well, not exactly. Fans still give Patrick a hard time. Just last month, she was booed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after many felt she threw her team under the bus. What Patrick did was no different than what can be heard over the radios of Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, or any other racecar driver.
If it was right or wrong for her to say can be debatable, but giving one driver a pass of another? “Harvick wins,” was a popular response, Patrick hasn’t won anything, and her fuel mileage victory certain doesn’t seem to hold any weight to many. That’s okay; it puts her in popular company with boss Dale Earnhardt Jr.
For Patrick, it all gets to her, and the desire to win is stronger than ever. She’s very emotional, and one of her major goals is to impress the fans. When she was booed at Indy, because she was visibly upset about her car, she was upset about the fans being displeased with her.
During Patrick’s teleconference on Tuesday, she expressed nervousness about heading to New Hampshire for a few different reasons: “I’m nervous because it’s new and there’s so much to learn about the way a race goes, how the race plays out, and the yellow flags and the pit stops, and how the car changes over a fuel run, and how the tires change.
“That makes me nervous because I care, and I want to do well,” she said. “I’m not going to know it all the first time I go there, but I hope I do a good job. So, I know that people are watching, and I want to put on a good show for the fans. I want to give them a reason to cheer for me.”
Listening to Patrick talk, it’s clear she cares about what she’s doing and whom she’s doing it for. Besides herself and her team, those that have made her a household name, by just saying “Danica,” are the ones she cares about. Living life in the fast lane makes her serious as well, saying she doesn’t like to be interrupted during the race weekend, but she’ll make plenty of time for you afterward.
In an interview with Vanity Fair , Patrick revealed, “I’m just competitive in general. Whether it’s getting off the line fast in a road car or working out harder than somebody else at the gym or beating somebody at cards, I just like to win. I don’t know if it necessarily has anything to do with speed as much as just a desire to be better than anybody else. That’s my internal drive.”
This is an incredibly driven individual, like any driver that straps on a helmet, and yet she still isn’t taken seriously. The commercials and photoshoots are a turn-off; even though Patrick says they’re just for fun. She loves what she does and doesn’t regret any of it, on or off the racetrack.
Understanding Patrick or knowing what makes her tick still won’t change some fans' minds. She is as much an athlete as the next person, but there are too many who look at the win-loss column or only think about commercials to realize Patrick is like any racecar driver they call their favorite.
If more proof is needed, then there’s the evidence that Patrick has taken lessons from every driver that has and will come before and after her.
In 2008, she responded to reporters that asked her those who opposed her, “I think if somebody takes that much effort to let me know they don’t like me must mean they’re still watching.”
And they will be, this Saturday and the week after that, and the week after that. It’s the only way they’ll have something else to hate her for.