It would have been not only great theater, but another historic first for the first woman to become a genuine star, a woman who’s helped to haul Indy car racing out of the doldrums and back into public consciousness. Men and women drivers have been yelling at each other forever, but they’ve never duked it out on pit road at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“It’s probably best I didn’t get down there anyway,” Patrick said after she’d cooled down a bit. “As you guys know, I’m a little emotional.”
She’s a little popular, too. As she stalked down pit road, her sights set on the man who put her out of the race, the paying customers in the huge grandstand on the main straight stood and cheered for her. They, too, wanted her to set Briscoe straight. Seeing her really ticked only added to her popularity. This woman doesn’t want to be the cute chick. She wants to win.
Briscoe had his own opinion of what happened in the accident, but I’m not sure anybody watching cares what it is. He’s the bad guy in this argument, and even if he’s right about it not being his fault, he’s wrong.
That’s how far Patrick has come in the three years since she became the first woman to lead the nation’s most famous auto race. And it shows just how ready America was to embrace a woman driver as a concept whose time had finally come
It’s more than 30 years since Janet Guthrie aggravated the good old boys who viewed auto racing as another place where women need not apply for any job other than looking cute in the team’s tower — and maybe, if she showed a lot of aptitude, holding a stopwatch and a clipboard.
Other women have tried to take on the boys, but until Patrick came along none of them had the two essential ingredients needed to truly become a star — youth and an elite team complete with gobs of sponsorship money.
Because she was young and had a good team, Patrick didn’t have to fight as much as other women had to be taken seriously. Finishing fourth at her first Indy 500 helped establish her chops. And now that she won her first race earlier this year in Japan, nobody can call her racing’s answer to Anna Kournikova, the sex symbol who never won anything.
She’s not the best driver out there. Helio Castroneves has won two Indy 500s and has to be maybe the best on the circuit. Plus, he won and “Dancing with the Stars.” But she has to be the best known, and the only person is close is Castroneves, who’s better known to the public at large for his dancing.
Patrick is known as the tiny bundle of determination with a lead foot and the mental make-up that would tell her to march down pit road to give the guy who hit her in the merge lane a lesson in road rage.
As has been noted, she never contended, and the conversations ABC between her and her mechanics were priceless. She kept telling them about the problems with her car, which simply would not go fast enough for her to put it in contention. And even as others were fighting for the lead, she was the star of the show.
What it needed were the stars to make people care. Castroneves did his part by dancing his way into America’s living rooms. And Patrick has done it everywhere else — from Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue to endless commercial endorsements.
And then, Ryan Briscoe, watch out.
Video: Motor sports coverage
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