Danica Patrick already has plans to bolt from her career as a racecar driver after she competes Sunday in what she is saying will be her final race, the Indianapolis 500.
“In fact, right after Indy I go to California for a big auction that raises a lot of money for the area,” she said during a recent stop in New York to promote the race. She will start seventh in the 33-car field. “I’ll be as busy as I want to be.”
What is not in Patrick’s day-planner after Indy, she said later, are any activities having to do with racing cars. She has a book, “Pretty Intense,” to sell, plus a clothing line called Warrior and her Somnium brand.
“None of my other businesses are linked with racing necessarily — other than it being me, and that’s what I did, and that’s given me everything I have, from awareness to the houses I own and the life I get to live,” she said.
She continued: “I’m sure I’ll be around racetracks, but how often, I don’t know. I really don’t. At this point in time, there really isn’t a plan for that, but I really didn’t plan for this all that long ago, either. So, as I always say to people, my life changes in ways I didn’t expect every couple of years. Who knows where I’ll be in a couple of years?”
What she has not done is establish a legacy as a winner. In her first Indianapolis 500, in 2005, she became the first woman in history to lead the race, but she won only once in 115 races over seven years in the IndyCar Series. She moved to stock cars, in part because it was more lucrative, but she did not win at all in 252 races in Nascar’s two top series over nine years.
“But she really transformed the sport in a lot of ways,” said Bobby Rahal, the 1986 Indy 500 winner, who owned the first car Patrick raced at Indy. “She was able to parlay what she did on the track into other areas.
“I do believe that had she stayed in Indy cars, she would have been more successful as a driver. Nascar is a different world, on and off the track.”
Patrick said she is grateful that she can end her career at the famous racetrack where she made her first big splash as a driver, and that she will be driving a car — owned by Ed Carpenter, who sits on the pole for the race — that is fast enough to win.
Last year’s winner, Takuma Sato, a veteran driver from Japan, said Patrick’s impact on the world of racing has been massive.
“She performed at the highest level, which I do respect very well,” he said. “On top of that, she is such an iconic driver in the States. She gets so much popularity from the fans.”
Patrick has not raced an Indy car in seven years, but she has driven in seven Indy 500s, with six top-10 finishes. She lost the lead in 2005 to Dan Wheldon because she had to conserve fuel to finish the race, finishing fourth. She finished third in 2009, and she led 10 laps in her last race there in 2011, finishing 10th.
She sounded cautiously optimistic about her chances in her last Indy 500, saying: “If it keeps going the way it’s been going, I feel good. But at any point it can really shift, then you wonder what happened. So I feel like you can never take the good days at Indy for granted.”
Patrick has one more race at the Brickyard, and she says she will take it seriously — not as some sort of victory lap for a trail blazer. And she does still have a chance to make history.
“I’ve already made a list of who’s going to be in pit lane,” Patrick said. “No one else is allowed, because I don’t want any distractions.”