Racer Danica Patrick Embraces Celebrity Exposure
ST. PETERSBURG - The fiery pit bull with the long dark hair - the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and the first to win an Indy car race - blew through town today at legal speeds. And on a media tour to promote the April 3-5 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, she had an admonishment for all of those fans who keep questioning why she accepts celebrity exposure that highlights her gender and accentuates her sexuality. After all, hasn't she said somewhere along the way she wants to blend in and be treated the same as her male counterparts? "I guess I want the respect, you know, but I don't think I have ever said I want to be treated just like every guy," Patrick, 26, said in a one-on-one chat at the grand prix offices. "I would challenge you to find where I said that."I've always said I know I'm not like every other driver. I know I'm a girl out there. I know I'm unique. I'm different. I get more attention because of those things." Patrick, indeed, is not like any other driver. She is a female driver in the major leagues, and while there have been others - there are others - she is one who can win. OK, she has won only once. But she is good enough , and has good enough equipment, to win on almost any weekend, including the approaching season opener in St. Petersburg. Beyond that, though, she is attractive and engaging, daring and, at times, confrontational. Her run-ins with St. Petersburg's Dan Wheldon, the 2005 Indy 500 winner and series champion, have brought mainstream attention to the oft-overlooked Indy Racing League. Her threatening pit road march toward Ryan Briscoe during last year's Indy 500 after the Australian took her out was such good theater it detracted from Scott Dixon's victory."It's probably best I didn't get down there anyway, isn't it?" she said later. Patrick has posed for FHM (For Him Magazine) and she just appeared in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue for the second consecutive year, sprawled seductively across the hood of a sports car. The main page on her official Web site shows her in a sultry pose, wearing a provocative blue dress. She was the sultry woman getting ready to street race Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Jay-Z's 2006 music video. "Show Me What You Got, little mama. Show me what you got, pretty lady." She makes no apologies for any of her photo shoots and says being invited back by Sports Illustrated was an honor. "It's part of my personality," she said. "I enjoy being feminine. I enjoy getting made up. I was blown away to get invited the first time, and to have such a response that they wanted me back again was like, oh, my gosh, I never expected that." Patrick willingly promotes her racing series - a good thing, since she's IndyCar's most popular driver - and she enjoys the sometimes edgy banter that comes with doing radio interviews. She wasn't too put off Friday when one of her Tampa Bay interviewers wanted to see the tattoo in the small of her back - a hybrid American and checkered flag - and take a photo. "I'm like, I don't think so," Patrick said. Much to the chagrin of tattoo lovers, the tattoo was airbrushed out in the Sports Illustrated shoot. Patrick also downplayed talk of her moving to the Formula One world circuit to drive for the new USF1 American team, saying she hasn't heard form the team's principals. Talk of her moving to NASCAR has died down, but with this being the third year of her three-year contract with Andretti Green Racing, it could pick back up, she acknowledged. "For me, it's not so much about what formula or what team or whatever, but just that I'm doing well,' Patrick said. "My dream is to win and be successful and to kick butt wherever I go."
Reporter Tony Fabrizio can be reached at 813-259-7994.