Long Before Danica Mania, I Went from Her Biggest Critic to Big Believer

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IJanuary 8, 2010

NASCAR fans don’t like every driver they meet or see on the television screen.

Some don’t like Jimmie Johnson winning all the time. Others don’t like that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the most popular driver.

There are those that don’t like when Kyle Busch avoids the media or the feisty side to few drivers.

When rumors began long ago that Danica Patrick was looking at NASCAR I knew it was time to take a closer look at the woman that could bring new attention to females in racing.

The only opinions that I had of her at the time weren’t good ones.

Not a fan of IndyCar racing, just a casual viewer of the Indianapolis 500, I didn’t know much about the woman who had made history at the Brickyard, except there was tons of talk surrounding her.

All talk and no action really turned me away even though others said I needed to give her a chance. But the more I saw of her the more I turned away.

Just like Kyle Busch at one time, I didn’t like the attitude and I honestly didn’t believe that she had what it took to compete competitively. She had yet to win a race and I jumped on the bandwagon of everyone else that didn’t like her and said she wanted to be a superstar.

That was before I knew she had left her family behind at 16 to head to Europe to learn to race.

Shame on me, I wasn’t paying close attention to the entire IndyCar season. I focus mainly on NASCAR and it wasn’t until the 2008 season that I sat and watched the entire IndyCar season and listened when Patrick spoke.

It was time for me to stop judging a book by its cover.

While I still never agreed with everything that she did or said, or how she may have come off at times, I started to view her differently as a driver. If I was happy and cheering when Juan Pablo Montoya and Denny Hamlin got rough and spoke their minds, then how could I or anyone sit back and hate it when Danica does it?

It was nice to see that the “girl” wasn’t afraid of the boys and could go toe-to-toe with them. Racecar drivers are supposed to be confident and mentally tough and she fit in perfectly when it came to that.

Getting in the face of another driver? No problem. Speaking your mind when things go horrible wrong? She’s got that down pat. And who cares really, since we’ve seen practically every driver do that?

Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon got into a shoving match years ago. Brian Vickers and Dale Earnhardt Jr. traded blows after the 2009 Daytona 500. In that case Danica is just one of the guys, doing what a driver does. 

A driver that over time started to find her consistency on the track in her way, whether others wanted to admit it or not.

After she won her first race in Japan in 2008 it was as she said, “finally” accomplished, and now I was eager to see what else she could do. Fuel mileage victory or not, a win is a win and plenty of great drivers have pulled off a smart strategy to win a race.

Someone has to win, and that day is was Danica. 

No one made a big scene of it when Jimmie Johnson won at Phoenix in 2008 on fuel mileage, or all the races Carl Edwards won that year gambling. And definitely didn’t hear about it back when Darrell Waltrip won his first Daytona 500 on a fuel gamble.

Once again, seems like she’s just like any other driver.

Before the start of the 2009 Indianapolis 500, the telecast aired another interview with her and with this one my mind and opinions of her changed dramatically. Instead of going in and watching it with a mindset of not liking her or however I felt about it, I watched it like a fan would watch any interview—wanting to know what the driver was going to say.

She came off as human, laughing at herself, enjoying them talking about racing and how she has the picture of her running over Sam Hornish Jr. at the go-kart track when they were younger. Literally driving over his head, which I got a good laugh at.

Then came an answer that really got my attention.

When asked why she got so visibly frustrated and didn’t hide her emotions, such as fighting with Dan Wheldon, stomping her feet, or confronting Milka Duno, she answered that it was because she wanted people to know how much she cared and how seriously she took racing.

That she wasn’t fine with losing or riding around to get attention.

Let’s face it, Danica Patrick is a racer and no different than those she competes against or those that will come before and after her. She may just go about doing things differently, but she has the heart of a driver.

The more I began to understand her and the more I watched her race, the more I began to root for her. Sure, as I said, I will never agree with everything she does, I don’t agree with everything my favorite NASCAR drivers do or my least favorite NASCAR drivers do.

The world isn’t supposed to be a happy-go-lucky, everyone gets along and agrees place. Where’s the fun in that?

There is no such thing as the perfect NASCAR driver. The one that makes the fans happy by saying the right thing, driving the right way, and just being the all-around great guy that everyone likes.

There is no such thing as the perfect driver and Danica isn’t one either; she has her good and bad sides.

But just like Kyle Busch, I gave her a chance and it turns out she’s a pretty cool chick. Truth be told, it takes a lot more energy to hate someone than it does to like them. There are better things to be doing with my time.

Like enjoying the fact that she is now coming to NASCAR to give stock cars a try.

Hey, who am I to tell someone they aren’t wanted or shouldn’t come here? Who am I to tell someone who wants to try something new and live a dream that she’s not allowed?

So bring it on girl, let’s see what you got. And while I don’t think you’ll set the world on fire right away, I do hope you stick around for a while and help bring female drivers more (and better) exposure about what they’re capable of.

Plus, maybe I can learn your dieting and exercising tips, because I know they didn’t come from the eight boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts that Tony Eury Jr. sent you… 


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