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IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indianapolis 500

IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500

Danica Patrick
May 19, 2005


INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

TOM SAVAGE: Good morning, everyone. Thanks for joining us at a wet and rainy Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the fourth from last practice day before the 89th running of the Indianapolis 500. We're joined today by the fastest rookie in the field, Danica Patrick. Patrick will start on the inside of the second row after recording a four-lap qualifying average 227.004 miles an hour on Pole Day last Sunday. She drives the Rahal Letterman Racing Argent Pioneer No. 16 Panos/Honda/Firestone. Danica, let's go ahead and get started. Thank you for joining us today.

DANICA PATRICK: Thank you very much.

TOM SAVAGE: We talked a bit off line before starting the call, but tell us about your life these last seven days.

DANICA PATRICK: They've been interesting. There's definitely been a lot of fan response and media response. Most obvious to me is the fans. I was actually walking back from pit lane during the day yesterday, and there was a group of about 15 little kids that looked like they were skipping school and screaming for me to come over. As soon as I walked across, they screamed even louder. I just think it's really flattering, and I think it's what the sport needs.

TOM SAVAGE: Definitely have gotten the attention of a lot of folks and the media list today is an indication of that. We'll go ahead and open it up for questions right now.

Q. Now that qualifying is over, do you sense you have a good enough grasp of all the variables that will go on in the race itself? You had a great performance in Japan. Do you allow yourself to think of winning this race? With all the variables and your preparation for them, what kind of a shot do you give yourself to actually win this race?

DANICA PATRICK: Well, you know, I think I have a great chance of winning this race. I think we have been very fast all month so far. I probably need, you know, as much time as I can on the track in race situations and conditions due to the fact that I am a rookie. The timing of passing cars around here is a little bit different because we're going so much faster. Doing that stuff is important. It's raining today and I'm not sure if we're going to get on the track. Yesterday we did a little bit and tomorrow we'll do a lot of bit. We'll fine tune it on carb day.

Q. Your old friend coming up through the ranks Tomas Scheckter had a great start here as a rookie. Leading the race a lot, got up behind someone, got the wind of his front wing, took him out of the race. Do you have a whole list of things not to do once the race starts?

DANICA PATRICK: I think that I trust my instincts a lot. I trust what I've learned and my ability. And I think that, you know, you have to have intuition as to what's going to happen and how quick you're catching your car and how your car reacts within traffic, and a lot of traffic at that, because with more cars it changes even more. Hopefully by the point of a quarter way through the race, I'll have a good idea what the car does from full tank to empty and new tires to old tires.

Q. Some background information from you. When and where did you develop an interest in racing? Were your parents racers?

DANICA PATRICK: My father used to race snowmobiles, midgets, motorcross. My mom and dad met at a snowmobile race on a blind date and were married not that long after and had me not that long after. So, you know, this is very much a racing family. My sister, who is two years younger than me, Brook, she wanted to race go-karts. I just didn't want to get left out.

Q. Another big step was you going to Europe. How hard was it to convince your parents at age 16 you could go off to Europe and do that thing?

DANICA PATRICK: Well, I don't think it was hard for anyone to accept me going to England because it's what needed to happen. By all means it was sad. There were times that were tough just, you know, on the soul, not being close to your family and friends. I remember my mom and dad when I was leaving at the airport, and my sister was there, and they were starting to get choked up. My dad said, "I couldn't imagine if you were not going and not having this opportunity." So that kind of overrides the sadness and, you know, they just wished me luck and safety and, "Go get 'em."

Q. It's tough for anybody over there. Was it tougher on you? What is it like racing over there?

DANICA PATRICK: Well, I think the racing in Europe and especially in the lower formulas over there is very concentrated and definitely England is the most concentrated area. Everybody that's great from every country comes. So when you're having a good day, sure, you can have a great day and be in the front. When you're having a bad day, you're kind of like 15 spots or more back. It was just a deep field of talent. But it was a great learning -- place to learn. We had a lot of track time. I didn't learn a whole lot about the cars. That was one of the things. I think they told me to go drive whatever I had. They kind of took the fastest guy and used his setup. I was forced to drive it. I didn't learn a lot about the cars, but I learned a lot about life and I learned a lot about how to drive a car that wasn't perfect for me fast. I grew up very quickly over there.

Q. Toughen you up?

DANICA PATRICK: Definitely. I came back every six months from England back to the States. My parents kept telling me I was different every time, I'd matured or I'd changed. It's the inevitable when you're gone for that long and you're forced into such different situations. It was a toughening-up process, I promise you.

Q. A lot of drivers and owners said after you qualified that this is good for the sport, you're good for the sport. What exactly does that mean to you?

DANICA PATRICK: Well, I think it's one of those things that I've been conscious of and I know is there because I'm so different. And it's not that there hasn't been a female that's come through before, but one that's truly competitive and truly race savvy and goes out there, qualifies and races well, and does it consistently. It was great to come off of Motegi a few weeks ago in Japan with a front row start and a fourth place finish because people know it's not just the team has good cars here at Indy, they know that my teammates and my engineer and I are all meshing and we're really working together well.

Q. Have you found any of the extra attention paid to you to be distracting at all from doing your job?

DANICA PATRICK: I think that -- I actually think that it's good. I think that it keeps me hungry, it keeps me fiery, and I almost don't want it to go down because then maybe I'm not doing as well as I had been. So I think that it's good when there's a lot of attention, and it sure helps when the fans are cheering for you, you want to be a good entertainer for them, and you want to do what they came to see, and that's go fast. I actually think it's all a big help. As far as taking time away from me being in the race car, that's something that the PR department, people take care of so that I'm not run dry, and I can't do my job. So there's only so much I can do. I promise you, I'm doing it all (laughter).

Q. Long before you got to Indy, you were comfortable on national television, in magazines. Since this last weekend, I hear like the world is coming to your doorstep. Are you surprised at this attention?

DANICA PATRICK: I think that I kind of have known -- I've been told for a long time that I just need to even do okay. I just need to be in the front, not first even, you know, just do well, and the attention will come, the fans and the media will come. This is something that the sport can feed off of a little bit. Going fastest and 'could have, should have, would have,' having a pole, is big news. It should be big news for any driver, I think. I think anybody that's running up front in the month of the Indy 500 should have media exposure. But it's definitely magnified due to the fact that I'm a rookie, due to the fact that I drive for Bobby Rahal and David Letterman, and have the past Indy 500 winner on the team, and now another one with Kenny Brack. I think I understand why it's here. I just hope that I have -- I hope I give you guys more stories to write.

Q. When a woman comes in the Indy 500, there becomes such a hype about it. In your mind, are there any genetic differences between women and men that could cause, let's say, for a male to be a better race car driver than a woman?

DANICA PATRICK: Or a female driver to be a better race car driver than a man?

Q. Yes.

DANICA PATRICK: Sorry, I had to throw that in there (laughter). I do not know. I don't think there's any differences that would be prevalent in the car that would make a difference. You know, I think, if anything, the toughest part for a female to do is just the actual fact that you're a female, not whether you have better reflexes, worse or anything like that, but just to have a team that backs you, a team that really believes in you, because it just really hasn't happened. There's not been one really that consistently, and I always say that because there have been women that have gone fast and have done really well, but consistently been fast and raced in the front, there hasn't really been one. You know, I think that's the toughest part, is getting them behind you. Then after that, you know, as I've heard Lyn St. James say before, "The car does not know the difference."

Q. If you get that consistency, most likely the attention and the novelty will wear off. Will that be a good thing?

DANICA PATRICK: Well, I think that will be a good thing, as long as it's worn off and the stories are still being written. I think there are many records and many historical things to be written down and wrote about. And once, and hopefully once I've done all those kinds of things, then they'll just be writing about the second championship or the second 500 or the second pole. That's what I hope for. Again, for any driver, that's a huge accomplishment to be doing things over and over again.

Q. I was talking to Janet Guthrie last week, and she said it wasn't quite so pleasant, some of her experiences earlier. You're talking about some of the positives and advantages of being the only woman. Are there any disadvantages? Have you had any negative experiences so far? How conscious are you of the trailblazers like Janet who went before and maybe opened some of these doors for you?

DANICA PATRICK: I really would like to say if there's one great thing I think that's happened over the years is that women are being accepted into a man's world in all different areas, whether it's nursing or flying a plane or driving a race car. I think it's much more accepting, and people are actually excited for it and they like to see something new and something fresh and something they've never seen before. So that's probably the difference that wasn't -- that there wasn't when people like Janet Guthrie and Lyn St. James were around. Probably for Lyn it was around, but for Janet, being the very first, yeah, they would have experienced things like, "Why aren't you cooking," stuff like that. I have tons of support, I will say. I have a lot of fans out there. I have a lot of people cheering for me, literally, all the time. I don't think I had those kinds of things. But I'm also one of those people that feeds off of negativity a little bit. If they don't think I should be fast because maybe I'm driving for a good team, forget you, I'm going to go out there and prove to you time and time again that I belong here, that I will race up front, and that I'm a great driver, not just only driving for a great team. Everything has to come together. If a great driver was driving for a team that wasn't so great, things wouldn't be good all the time. Maybe occasionally. But you really have to have the entire package. And I think at Rahal Letterman and with my engineer Ray and my teammates Buddy and Vitor, I think we have the formula that's needed to go forward and go faster.

Q. What has been the hardest part of this experience so far at Indy? What has been the best part?

DANICA PATRICK: The hardest, uhm, was accepting fourth in qualifying. It really was (laughter). I had run fastest on Thursday, second on Friday, fastest in the morning with the fastest speed of the month the Sunday morning qualifying. Having the fastest speed in qualifying, too, but just not overall. For me, I feel like it was in my hand and it slipped out. But, you know, I mean, I think that what happened in turn one of almost losing it and hitting the wall, the fact that I caught it might have just done me some good in earning respect from everybody else and seeing that, "She's got a tough car to drive, but she's still driving it fast." I think it might have actually turned into a positive. But qualifying fourth, really, as silly as that sounds, has been the hardest point of this month. I think the best part of the month, it was probably rookie orientation where every single time I came into the pits and was practicing faster than everybody, the crowd was like cheering so loud. That was the start of it all.

Q. Are you a student of the game and have you studied tapes of previous Indy 500s? What's the best thing you think you've learned that will help you on race day?

DANICA PATRICK: I think that everything that I've learned in the previous races are what is going to help me the most. I am going to review some tapes. I'm going to talk to Buddy, I'm going to talk to Bobby, I'm going to talk to Kenny, I'm going to talk to the guys that have won this thing before and I'm going to get their perspective. For the most part, you know, they're all going to tell me that you just need to be smart out there. There is something I lack, which is why it's going to be a hard race, you need experience. You need to have some -- you need to know what the car is going to do, you need to be able to set up traffic, you need to not lose too much time when overtaking. I think that's something that you learn and perfect over time. It's the big challenge of the day for me come the 29th. Experience is really I think what helps the most. I'm going to be facing a tough situation, but I have no doubts that I can do it. I usually race better than I qualify. Let's hope that that happens here.

Q. In talking to other drivers about the difference between qualifying, practicing and actual race day is the visual perspective with all those people there that weren't there before.

DANICA PATRICK: That's what I've been hearing.

Q. How can you prepare for that?

DANICA PATRICK: Keep your eyes on the road (laughter). I think your peripheral vision is something that I would imagine a lot of drivers have very good peripheral vision, and they're able to sort of take in everything from their whole field of vision and not just what's right in front of them. That's probably why we're all distracted by all the people around when race day comes around. But I'm just going -- it's one of those things that I'm only going to be able to know when I experience it and be able to understand when I experience it. I'll have to see what happens come race day. But I'm pretty sure everybody gets over that. I'll take notice of it my first two laps around under yellow before we go green, and hopefully that will be good.

Q. With all the attention you have been receiving, have you gotten any backlash or jealousy or whatnot from any of the other drivers? How much do you even interact with drivers outside of your own team?

DANICA PATRICK: You know, there's not a whole lot. There's not a whole whole lot of interaction, especially being the new guy on the block, and I don't really know everyone really well. They all have their own groups of friends around here. Slowly but surely I think it's actually kind of getting better. I think as the days roll on and as the weeks and races come on and I do well, I think that the respect from the other drivers is what is helping the most. I think that that is what -- that's all they need, is to respect you. I don't think there's any hard feelings at all. As far as how I'm handled -- how the media has been, if it's been migrating more to me or taking away from other people, I don't know how they feel. I would hope they're doing as much as they can for them, for their sponsors, for their series. That's what I'm doing. All I want is to have one great big race all the time, everywhere we go. I hope that the number of cars grows. I hope that the crowds grow, the viewers watching TV grows. That is what is important for the sport. That in turn helps the teams, too, because all of a sudden the series is big and more people and more people all the time are watching it. The sponsors for other people's cars are going, "The ratings are there, this many people come to the races," then it's more attractive for other teams and other sponsors. I'm kind of hoping that it rolls on and it's positive for everyone and not just me.

Q. Before the month, did some of your teammates talk to you about how big the hoopla and whatnot would be around Indianapolis, qualifying and such? Has it matched that? Is it more than you expected? How has that been for you?

DANICA PATRICK: I think that "the hoopla," as you call it, is a little bit more than normal, especially with me, due to the fact that we've been doing really well and things have been going good for us. I think that they're getting -- I know that the media and PR for Team Rahal and for IRL has had a lot of interest in all I know of is me, I don't know about other drivers, but I know there's been a lot of really big media contacting us about doing things. You know, I think that it's probably a little bit more than normal, but not more than it was 10 years ago when it was all one big happy family. It's just starting to come back from the split. I think that's a really, really positive thing. I think that we need to just keep going from there.

Q. Your team situation, when you see what happened to Buddy, then you have Kenny come in, what is it like within the team? I know you're getting all this focus, but with Bobby's direction, what's going on there, how have you handled that?

DANICA PATRICK: You know, it's really a shame that Buddy crashed. I think in racing you can have really big and really small crashes. What happens to the driver's body is always different. You can have a small one and die from it even. It's just a matter of how you hit, what you hit. I commend the Indy Racing League on all their efforts to making the series safer. I know that Buddy hit the SAFER barrier which means that it absorbs some more of the energy of the crash because there's foam behind the wall. I know that I hit the SAFER barrier at Homestead, and it was very, very big hits. I wouldn't like to think of what would happen if that wasn't there. So I think that it's too bad that he's out of the race. With Kenny back in, it's brave, it's brave. He almost died, too. That's tough. He has a little girl and a wife. It's something you have to think about. But this is also what he was born to do, and it's something he wants to do. I think that it's understood by him and his wife. I think that it's great the fact that the seat that Buddy took was Kenny's. He obviously went out and had a great year last year. So I think that it's only right and only appropriate that Kenny take the seat of Buddy when he can't run. I think that it all happened in a great way. I'm sure he'll do fine. But, yeah, there's a lot of risks out there. We all take them because this is what we're here to do.

Q. Has David Letterman asked you for any driving tips so far?

DANICA PATRICK: I don't talk to him very much. I really only talk to him when I'm here at Indy and he comes for the race. He's so great. He's so great with the fans, so great here at the track. He really is very observant. He's very into racing. He kind of sits there quiet actually and just observes what's going on, tries to lay low around us. I think that's really cool. He's definitely a guy who loves racing. He's a great guy.

TOM SAVAGE: Even though there's rain coming down here at Indianapolis, we know you have a lot to do here, so thank you for joining us and good luck next weekend.

DANICA PATRICK: Thank you.



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