Finally! Danica Patrick is a winner. This weekend the IndyCar driver won her first open wheel contest, the Toyota 300, in Japan. I must admit, I am a fan of hers, and I have been rooting for her. It is wonderful to see a lady be so successful in the sport. How I like the women drivers!
There is no question that Danica Patrick has talent. Finishing second twice last year, one had the feeling that she would finally break through in 2008, since this is her second year with a good IndyCar team, Andretti Green. Patrick gives much credit to her teammates for her first victory. Crew Chief Kyle Moyer's fuel strategy was the key element behind the win. Racing is really a team sport, and she is lucky to be there. In the past, women have suffered being on mediocre teams where they have a hard time showing their talents.
Auto racing is the only major sport where women compete at the same level as their male counterparts. Not only are there lady drivers, but females are found throughout the racing world on race teams, such as pit crew members. You can also find them in the garages as mechanics, or even as officials for most of the major racing sanctioning bodies.
Patrick is by far not the first lady to break in to the sport. Janet Guthrie raced three times in the Indianapolis 500, and in 1978 finished ninth. Guthrie was the first woman to compete in a major NASCAR race and ended up in 33 of them, finishing in the top ten 5 times.
Historically, the woman at the top of the list is Shirley Muldowney, the First Lady of Drag Racing. She won the NHRA Top Fuel Title three times, and is a member of both the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame and the Motor Sports Hall of Fame of America. Muldowney is a legend.
Many women have found a home in drag racing. You must give the National Hot Rod Association a lot of credit for welcoming talented females. They are proud, as they should be, of their pioneering efforts in featuring successful women drivers. Since 1966, nine females have recorded victories, lead by Pro Stock Motorcyclist Angelle Sampey with forty-one. (Muldowney is second with eighteen.) Owning three championships, the lady is a superstar. Along with Sampey, Melanie Troxel, Karen Stoffer, Peggy Llewellyn and Erica Enders are all past winners and current competitors on the NHRA circuit. When I can, I always try to catch an event on the tube and enjoy when those women excel.
In the most popular form of auto racing, NASCAR Sprint Cup, women have been few and far between. Guthrie has been the most successful. Shawna Robinson, Erin Crocker, Kelly Sutton, Kim Crosby, Tina Gordon and Deborah Renshaw have struggled in the minor leagues and have not made much of a mark.
Formula One has seen a handful of ladies behind the wheel. Only Lelli Lombardi scored points an F1 race.
Danica Patrick has raced side by side with Sarah Fisher and Milka Duno. Sadly, a 1-2-3 female finish is nearly impossible, since both women are stuck on weak teams.
Last year in the Champ Car Series, which now has merged with the Indy Racing League, Kathrine Legge was a regular, but did not fare well. She left to race in Europe, and will not compete in the IndyCar Series this year.
Less than 24 hours after Patrick's victory in Japan, Simona De Silvestro won the Champ Car Atlantic Series race in Long Beach. She became the second woman (Katherine Legge the first) to win in that series. She is a bright star on the horizon and could soon be competing on the same tracks with Patrick. I shall be watching.
Danica Patrick now is carving a nice niche in the legacy of female auto racers. Her Toyota 300 victory will be not be her last. Leading in the 2005 Indianapolis 500 in her rookie year made a believer out of me. Last weekend's win has made believers of the rest. Not only is she is a serious contender for the IndyCar Championship, the lady has a good chance to capture the Indy 500 next month. I will be cheering her on! Go Danica!