The Danica Mystique

Danica Patrick officially announced Thursday she would make a full-time move to NASCAR beginning in 2012. The move puts her in a Nationwide Series car for JR Motorsports for the whole of the season and select Cup races with Stewart Haas. She’ll She may make her Cup debut at next year’s Daytona 500. The announcement ended years of speculation about the driver who has made a name for herself on and off the track.

Patrick’s career has spanned much of the last two decades and has included stints in everything from go-karts to stock cars. While she’s certainly been competitive in everything she’s done, the mystique of Danica has been much more about her packaging than her talent. From racy GoDaddy.com commercials, to spreads in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition, it’s no wonder Patrick has been accused of exploiting her looks to get ahead.

After saying he respected her for not letting “boyfriends” or wanting to start a family get in the way of her pursuing a racing career, Brad Keselowski tweeted today:

“Essentially she has opened a pandoras box for all female racers. If she doesn’t succeed, no female will get a chance for years to come.”

This assumption that Patrick’s singular ascension to the heights of NASCAR and whether or not she has success is somehow the determining factor for other female drivers is laughably absurd.

Danica Patrick, of course, no more represents all female race car drivers than Brad Keselowski represents males.

Keselowski in prior tweets criticized Patrick’s choice of self-promotion, saying it:

only serves to undermine the future credibility of female racers who wish to make it based on skill, mental toughness and a never give up attitude. That to me is wrong.

It is incredibly unfair to suggest Patrick does not have “skill”, “mental toughness” or a “never give up attitude” all because she is occasionally seen in a bikini.

I don’t mean to just call out Keselowski’s comments (though he did make himself an easy target) because these thoughts are not just isolated to him – we’ve heard them from a lot of people over the years. His thoughts though are representative of a shortsighted belief and point to the hypocrisy of the society we live in.

We want female athletes who are talented and winners, but we want them to be attractive and marketable (how does an attractive, young female athlete market herself today? See Lindsey Vonn, Hope Solo and Danica Patrick). Yet when these women get ahead and take advantage of their good genes, they’re chastised. They’re damned if they use what they have and they’re damned if they don’t.

Patrick, like her contemporaries, is simply using her assets to get the resources she needs to do what she wants.

To be fair, I don’t think what she has done from the business side, is any different than Keselowski getting a makeover to make him a little more camera friendly, or any number of funded drivers using their family’s resources to find a ride. They’re all playing the game.

And I can’t fault anyone for that.

Patrick’s decision to come to NASCAR full-time should provide an interesting storyline and dynamic in 2012. Looks or no looks, I’m interested to see what the race car driver is capable of with the right resources and time. At the end of the day, that’s where our focus should be.

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37 Responses to “The Danica Mystique”

  1. Ella says:

    J think you have summed it up well.I remember when Carl posed for some magazine cover shirtless. No big deal and no big difference.

  2. Angie says:

    Journo, I’m afraid Keselowski hit the nail on the head, and you are miles south of reality. Danica got this gig because of GoDaddy’s sponsorship. That money came from almost porn-like selling of herself as a female first and a racer last. How many females are willing to sell their body and soul in order to race? The particular game Danica has played will not necessarily benefit other female drivers trying to break into racing on skill and talent alone.

  3. Christa says:

    I appreciate that you’re trying to put this in perspective, and debunking the sexist attitude toward attractive female athletes. And yes… I called her an athlete.

  4. Becky says:

    Thanks for the article. Keselowski’s comments show me he has no clue about Danica’s racing development. You don’t move to England by yourself to race at the age of 16 without ‘skill, mental toughness, and a never give up attitude’… Much of Danica’s racing experience seems to get overlooked as everyone looks at the marketing side of Danica.

  5. Rain says:

    BUT….Brad and Carl are also sucessful. And that’s the point…Carl posed for that magazine after he was a sucsess. Other wise, who would care? Muscle men are a dime a dozen.

    And I will you and TC something: It bothers most women that the same chances in life aren’t given to the average looking or less attractive. No one would give Danica the time of day if she were ugly including the major sponsors.

    This is a novelty…and it will wear off if she doesn’t win. I think she’ll do just okay in the NW series because she’ll be in top equipment compared with the other drivers who can race for points. Forget the Cup series… Dario and Sam weren’t sucessful. Why would she be?

  6. Leslie says:

    Brad Kesleowski needs a talking too.. As another poster said, there are several male drivers in NASCAR that have plastered thier faces and bodys in photo shoots and ads to promote themselves and thier sponsors. While Danica has shown too much skin for my taste, she has marketed herself in the manner she desires and her sponsors approve. And to top it off, she has talent. I think her actions behind the wheel, speak for themselves. Every run in either IRL or NASCAR she has learned, and improved. A never give up and never stop learning attitude has made me a fan. I was a fan of Patty Moise and will always dislike Mike Wallace for the coments on and off the track regarding her. Now I will feel the same about Brad K. he sould keep his inside voice inside and remember the Female to Male demographics of NASCAR, and the demographics of Miller Lite purchases.

  7. DD says:

    Make no “mystique” the only thing I’m interested in is if Danica can drive stock cars better than open wheel, because right now, she’s just an average mid pack driver with 1 win & no titles. I hate “special” treatment given ANY driver not just her. I totally hated some media statements yesterday implying that Danica was the only NASCAR top series female driver that mattered. We have several fine talented women who have been busting their butts & without any hype. My fave of those is Johanna Long, and if things continue to progress I still believe she has a better competitive future in NASCAR than Danica. But I could never suggest she market herself like Danica.

  8. windowlicker says:

    You’re right Ella. I think Carl’s flexed his stuff on quite a few magazine covers. And didn’t Kurt Busch get work done on his ears? Didn’t Jimmy Spencer get his teeth fixed as well as Kez & Biffle? Wasn’t Denny shirtless washing a car in one of his commercials?

    Aren’t these all examples of drivers improving their marketability by improving their looks or using their looks/muscles to promote themselves or their sponsor?

    Who cares if Danica wears a Go Daddy bikini? I’d rather see her in a Go Daddy bikini than Mark Martin any day.

  9. ninja3000 says:

    Sounds like Kez is scared of something…

  10. fireball doowah says:

    In the past month or so, I had started to like Kez. However, his comments are ill thought, and bordering on being misogynistic. And, that ain’t cool with me.

  11. Craig says:

    I’m getting tired of NASCAR hypocrisy on Danica. This is sport where a last name or a rich sponsor backing you is more important than driving talent. (e.g. Paul Menard, Michael Waltrip) Especially, coming from Kyle Petty who got his break being the “King’s” son, and used that name to stick around in Cup well past his prime. I have no problem with Danica Patrick using something other than “talent” to break in to NASCAR. I think she will actually do pretty well in NASCAR full time. She already has multiple top-10s this year in Nationwide.

  12. Doug in CA says:

    Angie (#2), you’re right that she got the gig because of her sponsorship. Dale Jr. got his sponsorship and ride because of who he is. So did Paul Menard. Be it good or bad, that’s the way the game is played, and if Patrick is comfortable selling herself that way if it gets her into a car, I can’t argue about it.

    I’m a big fan and hope she does well, mostly because of her attitude. When she opened her press conference by saying that she thought, after her first ARCA race, that she’d never in her life had so much fun in a race car, I was sold! I also like her lack of bluster – none of this “We’re in it to win, second sucks” kind of crap. She’s well aware of how raw she is, and doesn’t deny it. Given the heavy media coverage, she provides a great opportunity to follow a driver’s career from beginning to ..?

    Listen to what SHE says, not what others say about her.

  13. Bob says:

    I think Brad has a valid (if unfortunate) point. The media portrays Danica as a talented female driver ready to take on NASCAR. i think that’s a huge oversell. After years in indy car she’s never managed to show herself as mid pack runner and not excelled even against her teammates. Thinking she’ll do anything in NASCAR other than rack up mid pack finishes is a stretch (it would be great if she could…but cars are so equal now that her lack of experience alone will keep her back in the pack). And if she can’t manage to pull off something that can be claimed a success “Oh..she’s top 10 in points when there’s not even 10 full-time cars that have sponsors” it will make it harder for any woman to make it in NASCAR. There are a lot of women in Indy car now (not necessarily in good equipment) and if she can have some success maybe there will be more in NASCAR. But if she doesn’t have success it will hurt others (not that it should be any of her concern) She’ll be happy if the checks get cashed and her brand succeeds, i just hope JRM succeeds and she can get some Top 5 finishes on her resume then i’d call this a real success.

  14. Kevin says:

    Danica must have been doing something right in order to attract Go Daddy as a sponsor in the first place. Sponsors don’t go after spokespeople if they won’t get exposure and further the brand. Go Daddy then built a marketing program based on Danica’s assets in order to attract attention to their product. We all know that sex sells. Exposure through Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue only served to further enhance Danica’s exposure, and thus the exposure of her sponsors. I’m sick of people that detract from Danica doing what she had to do to get herself into top equipment. She took advantage of opportunity and now its up to her to show that she belongs in that equipment. How many other female racers are running in top equipment? I doubt that Danica is the most talented female racer there is, yet she’s the only one with the opportunity. Good for her for taking advantage and getting into the sport and into NASCAR. I look forward to seeing her run competitively and proving people wrong.

  15. TangoAlphaLima says:

    Journo, I saw Danica on Speed TV’s RaceHub last night, and she seemed to indicate she didn’t know whether she’d be running at Daytona in the Cup series. I’d agree that she probably will attempt to qualify and race in it, but as far as I know it isn’t confirmed yet.

  16. JT says:

    “I’d rather see her in a Go Daddy bikini than Mark Martin any day.”

    I’m LOL Windowlicker! Now I have this haunting image of Mark Martin posing in nothing but a (Go Daddy-logoed) Speedo! (Yuck!)

    Brad Kesselowski is just jealous that he hasn’t been offered a chance to be in one of thos TV ads with the mud-wrestling “Miller Light Girls”

  17. Kim says:

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

    You said what I have been trying to say!!!

    I’m not looking forward to the wall-to-wall Danica coverage I know is coming, but that isn’t Danica’s fault. She was recently interviewed after a Nationwide race where she finished out of the top 10. Someone tweeted how awful that was, that she didn’t deserve an interview.

    I listened to that interview – she was articulate, animated, didn’t drown in sponsor-speak – she gave good interview! No wonder they gravitated to her.

    I’m willing to give her a chance. She will either sink or swim. NASCAR is a rough place. It chews you up and spits you out. I hope she does well.

    Oh, and another thing.I seem to remember a few commercials playing off the sex appeal of an extremely handsome young driver, one of which had him moving his hips back and forth while leaning on the back of a car:

    (a)Did I hear any comments about his getting a ride because of flaunting his assets? No!

    (b)I watched a race because of those commercials and 4 years later I am a fully entrenched NASCAR (and Kasey Kahne!)fan! ;) So never discount the power of those “racy”commercials at bringing fans into the sport.

    Besides, if you ever go to the GoDaddy site, you’ll see Danica doesn’t really ever wear the bikini, and the commercials are pretty stupid/funny! :D

  18. sal says:

    What has impressed me about Danica’s attitude is that it’s the same that JPM had…that racing stock cars is fun! Maybe that is what was missing with Sam Hornish and Dario Franchitti. No one gets a ride in Nascar without sponsor money, whether they bring it with them or find it through their team. So far, Danica has managed to do the marketing pretty well, without having to be ‘vanilla’. As sponsors become harder to find, I say whatever works is OK. She seems to realize just how much she has to learn, and doesn’t expect special treatment. She’s spent half her life competing in a sport that is mostly men, and has held her own. She can’t help it if the press choose to drool over her. I wish her well.

  19. MS says:

    Does anyone honestly believe she drives a stock car any better than Sideways Sam or Juan Pablo or that she ever will no matter how long she tries??

    She isn’t going to win anything here.

    But I’d speculate that winning isn’t what the move is about, it’s about marketing, and from that perspective it looks like a pretty shrewd move indeed.

  20. derek says:

    My issue with danica is she is marketed on her looks not that she is talented or has been successful. She is a novelty and instead of wanting to be treated as an equal she allowed herself to be used as a prop and it’s a disservice to other female racers. I think it sets a precedent that female drivers can or just be expected to be mediocre and still get rides.

    Will an unattractive woman ever make it to the top ranks regardless of appearance?

  21. Christopher F. says:

    Exactly Ella. Jeff Gordon would not get those Gillette commercials if he was ugly. Many male racers exploit their looks (well, some can’t). Its part of being an entertainer.

    There are plenty of female racers at all levels that are relatively successful and aren’t the greatest looking gals.

  22. mr clause says:

    OK Doug in Ca, her words. It’s too hot in my car on an 80 degree day. Wait til she hits a 100 degree day with the track around 140 degrees and the inside temp of the car at 140 degrees. Then the “I enjoyed the bumping in ARCA” compared to the complaining about people hitting her poor little car and not giving her any room. Lets just wait for her to show us her results in a firesuit instead of a spread legged photo in a bikini. If she lives up to her experience and hype I’m sure she’ll be accepted for that and cheered by many. Lets also pay attention to see if her response to the fans takes a major turn, that’s a big part of dropping the diva tag. Lets wait and see if Kyle and Brad were really so far off on their feelings and opinions. Danica’s hype and brand has put a lot of weight on some very small shoulders.

  23. Woogeroo says:

    As far as cutie women being pretty…

    Use what you got to get what you want.

    My only complaint about Danica is when I read or hear about her being ‘a great race car driver’.

    One win in IRL does not make a great race car driver. She can drive, she doesn’t run into the wall much or other racers, so those are all pluses.

    Kez has a point tho’… until a woman comes in a gets up on the wheel and starts making the boys cry the only women with a chance are the marketable ones. He prolly could have said it better, but I don’t think he is wrong.

    Now, if she comes to NASCAR and lights it on fire and wins championships… good for her.

    Cuz… she’s in a Chevy!!!

    hahaha

    vrooooooooooooom!

    gO Chevy, gO!!!!

    -W

  24. Christa says:

    I just caught this and have to point out that Brad K did not only say negative things about Danica… He also said “Although I never raced against Danica growing up I’m sure she was one of those exceptionally talented and skilled girls” and “Kudos to Danica for sticking it out. Most don’t. I’ll always respect her accordingly.”

    I still think his attitude is sexist… But I wanted to share the full context.

    http://msn.foxsports.com/nascar/story/NASCAR-stars-react-to-Danica-Patrick-full-time-status-082611

  25. Neon says:

    DP is a mediocre driver entering a group that is often referred to as “THE Best” drivers in the world. Then again, Michael Waltrip made a handsome living posing as one.

    DP will have the benefit of good equipment, as long as she doesn’t go through a ton of cars. Then again, Steven Wallace is a testament that anything goes.

    I give DP credit for sticking with it. Then again, making mega-money helps keep her interest up.

    IMO, the real test will be how the competitors will race her. Give her a break? or chase her down after the race and throw a punch or a headlock ala Busch, Harvick, Childress, etc. She will have to stop the whining, when it’s not warranted to gain respect. Then again, Kryle whines a lot, but he actually has talent to back most of it up.

  26. Jay says:

    Wow, been reading this blog from near the beginning, but not posting Brad K’s comments on the topic in full and instead taking out the two ‘tweets’ you wanted to twist his words to suit your opinion shows the kind of bias I expect when Rusty talks about ‘hard racing’ around the #66 as the rest of the field spins off his bumper.

    Thumbs down TNI.

  27. Doug in CA says:

    Mr. Clause, fair enough – almost. Compare her comments to those of other drivers. Other than that caveat, the game is on – let’s see what happens.

  28. Zieke says:

    Re; neon,
    I agree with you about DP. However she has alot to learn in the NASCAR circuits. Her driving abilities will probably improve immensely after a few years (if she’s still around). That’s more than I ever said about Mr. Shill (Mikey) himself.
    He was never even an average driver, where DP has the talent to possibly become a fine driver.

  29. Josh says:

    Brad said nothing wrong, and nothing anywhere near misogynistic. While it is true that attractive athletes attract sponsors for both genders, Danica’s ads are pretty trashy. The money she brings has almost nothing to do with real results, only marketability. She is a variation on the “buy-a-ride” trend growing in all the major divisions of motorsport (see Paul Menard, Milka Duno, Pastor Maldanado.) The only difference for Danica is she funds her oppurtunities (which exceed those given to drivers with similar or even better accomplishments) by pimping her body to sponsors for cheesy ads. She sendsa the message that girls can race too, you just have to be hot and act like a slut for sponsor ads. Not that she is not free to do so, but I hope she fails. I hate the personality cults around drivers these days.

    And your comment “this assumption that Patrick’s singular ascension to the heights of NASCAR and whether or not she has success is somehow the determining factor for other female drivers is laughably absurd’ is itself laughably absurd. Every female driver to come after Danica in Indy has been compared to her. If sponsoring her car fails to generate revenue (through brand awareness, obviously) companies may not risk it on another, similarly hot, female driver whose rides are bought on her advertisement value alone. It may very well take years for some other company to try it if this does not work.

  30. Journo says:

    Josh – What Brad said was quite misogynistic. He respects her for not getting distracted by “boyfriends” or wanting to “start a family”? Would he have said a similar thing about a male driver? I don’t think so. For anyone who has any respect for any female, that kind of comment should have been at least a little offensive.

    As to the idea that she somehow has impeded other female drivers in IndyCar or will do the same in NASCAR, can you point to any cases? It hasn’t hurt Sarah Fisher, Milka Duno, Simona de Silvestro or Ana Beatriz. I think you see comparisons made between female drivers because there are so few (and Danica is an IndyCar winner), but to say the success of one somehow determines the success of another is illogical and ridiculous. Danica is not the first female to race in NASCAR, not the first to race in the sport’s top series, and she won’t even be able to say she is the sport’s first female winner, should she ever win a race. Danica is another driver in the sport, she just happens to be female.

    Is it unfortunate that she has to sexualize herself to sell sponsorship? Absolutely. But it is an absolute reality of sports business today.

  31. Journo says:

    Jay – Please feel free to put the comments in context if you don’t think I did them justice. I’m not really sure how else to take them. This is also why we post back to the original content. But again Brad talking about how he has raced against great female drivers does not make up for a pretty sexist comment about how he respects Danica for not being distracted by “boyfriends” or wanting to start a family.

  32. Jay says:

    Journo – Unfortunately it seems many of the commenters here haven’t taken the time to check the original series of comments made and have decided to paint Brad as a misogynist, sexist, chauvinist. Christa, Becky, Leslie, ninja3000, fireball doowah should all be encouraged to become more informed before making a quick judgment.

    “keselowski Brad Keselowski
    Growing up racing against girls in quarter midgets, I have no problem with females racing. the sport has always been about mental strength,
    25 Aug

    keselowski Brad Keselowski
    And raw talent. Not gender, or freak of nature genetics. Btw, Some of the best racers I competed against as a kid were girls.
    25 Aug

    keselowski Brad Keselowski
    Although I never raced against Danica growing up I’m sure she was one of those exceptionally talented and skilled girls.
    25 Aug”

    When taken as a whole it seems Brad is actually being honest about the facts of Danica’s ascent to the top league, as well as other female racer he has raced in the past.

  33. Josh says:

    Journo- First thing, I never said she has “impeded” other females, only that this whole thing could if it fails. Generally speaking, her prescence in Indycar may have helped others, like DeSilvestro, get rides in Indycar. But it feels like a fad, and if danica washes out I fear it will be.

    Second thing, I can see the “boyfiends” comment bordering on misogynony, but the family thing? No way. Yes, no one really says that about males, but males don’t get pregnant and racing while pregnant, I think we all can agree, is a big “no-no.” Perhaps it could have been worded differently, but I think Brad was admiring Danica’s sacrifice of those things for her racing career. In the 70′s, that might have been interpreted as a feminist comment.

    Third thing, there is no way you can convince me Danica is “just another driver” who happens to be female. Who else ever got that much unwarranted attention for running mid-pack? You might say Jr., but in his case it has been mostly negative (“what’s wrong with Jr.” etc.).

    Fourth thing, yes I believe the success of one driver can help/hurt the success of another, especially in the opportunities they get. I think we have to clearly define “success” here. The sad thing is that success for sponsors is just increased revenue through brand awareness. Danica does not have to do very well on the track for this. But if the whole “sex-doll-racer girl” thing flops with Nascar fans, who else will take the risk? You can’t really believe her stats warrant a ride with Stewart and Jr. without the cash she brings? And if this thing flops will anyone (sponsors) be looking for a Danica clone the way they have in Indycar the past few years? And what if the higher prfile Nascar ride prompts some sort of feminist backlash in the media over Danica’s ads? What value has she to her sponsors when dressed modestly? I know that is a stretch, but news gets slow from time to time.

    I hope it fails. It needs to fail. Already motorsport is devolving into both a “show” and a playground for rich kids. It doesn’t need to be both a beauty and popularity contest too.

  34. jim2 says:

    Good points, Jay. The other part that some may be missing is future coverage. Yes, media and play-by-play will continue to talk about Danica (good, bad or otherwise…fact of life and gender dynamics of audience).

    All Brad K. has done is make himself part of the conversation and a potential rivalry storyline in the future at Cup level…if he and she are lucky enough to be there when it happens. Takes me back to an established Rowdy Burns and newcomer Cole Trickle (Days of Thunder), or in real life, Everybody in NASCAR establishment (early 80′s) vs. Tim Richmond.

  35. Neon says:

    RE Josh: I absolutely agrees 100%.

  36. Kevin says:

    She has proven to have mediocre skills, but looks great in a bikini. After 6 seasons in IRL, she has just one win to show for it. Much better drivers have come from IRL and gone nowhere. She will join them soon. You can rag on BK all you want, but do you think Danica has half his skill?

  37. PhilStigers says:

    Oh, GROW UP …. Half of you don’t have the slightest idea of what you are talking about. There are athletes in EVERY sport that never make it to the top level because they are too lazy, too dumb or too timid to do the work required to be successful. Give the woman credit for setting her goals early in life and sticking to them. Better yet, she’s working hard at what she wants to do and not sitting home playing on a computer. By the way, the AD AGENCIES choose the clothing worn in the ads.

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