Danica Patrick Playboy Interview
Playboy’s favorite fast woman debates Barbies versus Hot Wheels, remembers the days of Go-Kart and have a message for those other Indy drivers bringing up her rear.
PLAYBOY: When you were a little girl, who was a toy of your choice, Barbie or Hot Wheels?
PATRICK: Well, it depends on what age we are talking about. I had a hundred Barbies, and I turned cartons on their side, and made them into Barbie houses. But I always loved Mr. T, too. This should be the start of something masculine. And I have the Barbie car.
PLAYBOY: What were the first cars you race?
Danica Patrick: The Little Go-card with a small lawn, lawn mower engines in them. They were five-horsepower engine that may have been 40 or 45 miles per hour. I was 10 years old, and I caught it quickly. I almost won the championship in the first year. I went back to Sugar river channel several years ago and looked at all the files from the first year I was driving. I can see the lap times and qualifying positions and results. You can see that the midseason he clicked, and suddenly I was two seconds faster than anyone else. I started the victory all the time.
PLAYBOY: Do you look back and realize how seriously you took racing?
PATRICIK: Yeah, that’s exactly right. When I was in high school, people would say to me, “Gosh, you’re so dedicated.” If I had a race the next weekend, I would go out with my friends and drive them around, and I wouldn’t drink. I always lived for racing, and I sacrificed everything else. That’s why when people ask, “How do I become a race-car driver? Tell us what it takes”- I always say I don’t think I can tell someone how to do it—either you have it in you or you don’t. If you’re asking the question, I would look at it twice, because you should he on the path already.
PLAYBOY: When you were 12 years old you crashed into Sam Hornish Jr. during a go-kart race. Now you both race Indy cars. Have you two ever talked about it?
Danica Patrick: As funny as it would be, we haven’t. I see him all the time. He’s cool. He’s a friend. We hang out since we race with each other now. Funny how that came full circle. I remember he bumped my go-kart into the first turn with a lap or two to go. When we came to the last corner, I decided I wasn’t going to let him get away with it and I drove over him. Come to think of it, he may have tried to brake-check me. I should ask him because I didn’t make mistakes like that. I’ll bet he brake-checked me.
Danica Patrick – Intreview with Playboy
PLAYBOY: What was your first car?
PATRICK: It was a Mustang Cobra, back when Mustangs were still pretty exclusive and cool. I was hard on it. I went through a brand-new set of brakes in a couple thousand miles. The car ended up with 8,000 miles on it when we sold it. I didn’t have it that long, and I was on my third set of brakes.
PLAYBOY: Were you a street racer?
PATRICK: Heck no. My dad always told me not to race on the street. He had odd theories, like if your car was fast enough, it kept you out of trouble. He said, “I know you’re going to try to pass semis on a two-lane road, and if you have a slow car, that other car will be coming at you too quickly.” I loved his theory. It’s a great outlook, don’t you think?
PLAYBOY: Are you handy mechanically?
PATRICK: I’ve never claimed to be a handy person. Everybody asks if I know how to work on the car, and I play dumb. When we were go-karting I used to work on those a lot. I could change axles and gears. At one point I could even CC an engine, whatever that means. I don’t know how to explain it, because I don’t remember how to do it. I used to be able to do a lot of stuff. I’m sure I still could, but I play dumb and say I don’t know how. Its easier when you don’t have to do it.
PLAYBOY: When you were 16 you moved to the U.K. to race in the Formula Ford series. Was it hard to prove yourself there?
PATRICK: The hardest part was getting everyone to believe I could do it. I didn’t have any help over there. I had no one to fight for me, to make sure I got the best equipment, the best treatment and the best help. I had managers, but they were in Texas and never came to England. Overall I found that proving yourself is proving yourself, but you tend to have to do it a couple of times to get the message across. Some people write you off as a fluke. You have to keep at it.
PLAYBOY: How did you prove yourself?
PATRICK: Not with a win. It was a second-place finish in the biggest race of the year, the Formula Ford Festival. All the Formula Ford racers from over Europe and the U.K. come to a track called Brands Hatch for this race. There were more than 100 entries. You qualify, then you go into your heat races. Its cut all the way down until there are about 30 or 40 cars in the final. I finished second, the highest ever by an American. The best one before that was Danny Sullivan back in 1974, and he finished fourth. I don’t think my team owner liked me. We were testing during the winter in the off-season, and I was so much faster than everybody else. He said, “Come on, This frickin girl is the quickest. Go faster!” It was so macho and chauvinistic. I don’t think they were ready for a female to step in.
PLAYBOY: You left the Formula Ford series in 2001 and returned to the States but didn’t race again until 2003. What happened?
PATRICK: I have a horrible memory of it. I was four or five races into the 2001 Formula Ford season. I wasn’t getting the right treatment, so I talked to my manager. My managers finally called at midnight and told me not to go to the race the next day, that I should come back to the U.S. and they’d figure something else out. For the first time in my life I purposely skipped a race. That was a weird feeling. I came home a few weeks later, but nothing ever happened. My dad and I ended up taking it into our own hands. We started going to all the CART races and watching the Indy Lights and Champ Cars, just searching out a ride. We just hung around.
PLAYBOY: At any point did you think your racing career was over?
PATRICK I didn’t race a full season for two years after I turned 18, which is a crucial time. That was hard. I started feeling like a loser and wondered what I was doing with my life. But I stayed strong. In the back of my mind I always knew something good would happen. There was no way this was going to get away from me. I had too much to offer.
PLAYBOY: You’ve been racing since you were 10. Have you ever had a real job?
PATRICK: Sure. My mom and dad owned an oil exchange, so I worked there for a little bit. I guess that wasn’t “real,” because I was just working for my parents. I worked at a coffee shop, but that wasn’t real either, because my mom owned it. I would come in 20 minutes late and not care. I would show up in pajama pants and a T-shirt and serve coffee. It was easy and funny. I think the only real job I’ve ever had was at a Limited Too. I’m not a people person.
PLAYBOY: David Letterman co-owned your first Indy team. What’s he like at the track?
PATRICK: He’s so cool and relaxed on race weekends. He usually comes only to the Indy 500. He gets so much attention, it’s hard for him to move around. He would come into the garage when it was cleared out and it was just the drivers throwing their suits on. He’d be wearing cargo shorts and a sweatshirt and hadn’t shaved—just smoking a cigar and chilling out.
PIAYBOY: Your worst crash was in Homestead, Florida in 2005. What happened?
PATRICK: It was my very first race in an Indy car and my first exposure to racing at 215 miles an hour. It was during a restart, and a not-intelligent driver went high into turns one and two, spun around, came down and created a huge eight-car crash. I went low to go by this accident, and a car with a damaged wheel was coming slowly down the track. I thought I’d made it by, but he caught my right rear. I shot straight up into the wall, then slid down the track. The car was on fire. I don’t remember anything, but I’ve seen footage of my stumbling around. I look drunk. I remember waking up in the medical center with a big bright light above me. I opened my eyes and thought I saw heaven. My mom was there, and I said, “What happened?” She said, You had a little accident, and you’ll be okay.”
PLAYBOY: Your teammate Paul Dana was killed the next year at the same track. Do you worry about being hurt?
PATRICK: No, I’m not scared about getting hurt. I believe in fate. Just because you’re a race-car driver doesn’t mean you’re supposed to get hurt. Obviously its a dangerous sport, but you can also crash and walk away. If you drive scared, you’ll think about the wrong thing and you won’t be as good as you need to be.
PLAYBOY: In 2005 you became the fourth woman to race in the Indianapolis 500. You led for 19 laps and ultimately finished fourth – both records for a female driver. How conscious are you of reaching these milestones?
PATRICK: I never thought I needed to be the first girl to do this or that. Usually the only thing I think about is winning a race. That’s a big deal. In the end, if you are the best, you’re going to break a lot of female records. So I didn’t ever really think about that. It was a little bitty piece of history, and it changed my life. Now I’m ready to blow that record out of the water with a win.
PLAYBOY: Former Indy driver Robby Gordon accused you of having an advantage because you weigh only 100 pounds, and he said he wouldn’t race against you. Does that type of criticism frustrate or fuel you?
PATRICK: I didn’t realty have to say anything. I just laughed and let other peo-ple answer the question. Most people said he should start eating salads.
PLAYBOY: Rumors spread in the off-season that you were moving to NASCAR, and you even test-drove a Busch Series car. What would it take to get you to move to NASCAR?
PATRICK: It would take a seat on a team that wins races—that’s most important. I don’t want to start at the bottom when I’m at the top where I am now.
PLAYBOY: When asked about female drivers in NASCAR, Richard Petty said, “I just don’t think it’s a sport for women. It’s good for them to come in. It gives us a lot of publicity; it gives them publicity. But as far as being a real, true racer, making a living out of it, it’s kind of tough.” Do you think NASCAR is less prepared for a female driver than Indy?
PATRICK: No. Since Juan Pablo Montoya started and since NASCAR is interested in recruiting minority groups, it would be more open than ever. It’s trying to expand its fan base. It saw the kinds of things that happened with my being involved with Indy, so I’m sure NASCAR would like to see that happen to its series.
PLAYBOY: Is it hard to be both sexy and a racer?
Danica Patrick: When I was younger I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t want people to look at me and think, She’s just some girl, and write me off before they gave me a chance. There’s nothing I can’t do in a race car because I’m a girl. These days I love being a girl.
Read the 21st question at payboy.com/21Q.