Dear Danica Patrick,
Hey, girl! I just wanted to drop a note to let you know how sorry I was to hear the news of your “departure” from Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of the 2017 season. (Good job on your decision to get ahead of the story and make the announcement yourself on Facebook, by the way. Gutsy move.)
In the interest of full disclosure, however, I have to admit I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t see this one coming.
It’s a bummer for sure, but you have a good racing resume to fall back on, so I know you’ll be fine. Remember that time when you became the first woman to lead a lap in the Indianapolis 500, and when you won that IndyCar race in Japan? That was cool. So was that one top-ten finish you’ve scored so far this season in the NASCAR Cup Series. And winning that Daytona 500 pole back in 2013? What a great story that was.
I guess maybe the problem with that list is that all of those achievements — leading laps, earning poles and most importantly, winning races — are all just part of the job description for professional race car drivers. They shouldn’t carry more weight, or garner bigger headlines, when they are achieved by a woman.
Those pesky sponsorship problems don’t help matters, either. After all those times you had to wear skimpy outfits in those racy — get it, “racy?” — TV commercials you did for GoDaddy, they up and left you; they were GoneDaddy.
When you posted those photos of your perfect, healthy yoga-fied figure all over Instagram, I’m sure it was just part of promoting your health and fitness initiative, and not meant to be intimidating at all. And when Nature’s Bakery jumped ship on its sponsorship agreement two years early, that had to sting.
Yes, Stewart-Haas Racing did pick up Smithfield as a sponsor for next year, but somehow I just can’t see you hawking ham. Stewart, definitely yes, but not you.
Speaking of Tony, he had nothing but great things to say about your working relationship.
“I’ve always been a believer in Danica’s ability as a race car driver and that continues to be the case,” he said. “She’s one of the most fearless people I’ve ever met. She has never backed down from a challenge. In fact, she’s sought out new challenges throughout her career, and that’s what brought her to NASCAR and Stewart-Haas Racing.”
Jill Gregory, NASCAR’s chief marketing officer, put a slightly different spin on things “Our sport’s about competition,” she said. “The number one thing that resonates with fans is success on the race track.”
That comment may not be entirely true. I would hope that the one thing that resonates with NASCAR fans is its fierce spirit of competition on the track, and its equally fierce “We are family” attitude off the track. I could list on one finger the number of professional sports capable of surviving the rigors of traveling, living and competing together 38 weeks a year. It isn’t easy.
Obviously — at least I hope it’s obvious — this letter is written in the spirit of fun. But on an entirely serious note, I want to take this opportunity to go on record as saying that you have been very, very good for NASCAR, and for young girls, in particular.
In an era where we just love to talk the talk about how girls can grow up to be anything they want to be and do anything they want to do, the fact remains that NASCAR is a sport dominated by men. Janet Guthrie, Shawna Robinson and far-too-few others blazed the trail for women drivers in NASCAR, but you were the one who really made things happen.
Your example encouraged young girls to jump into the fray. You have competed against mostly men during your career so far, and have done well enough to stick around.
During your six years in NASCAR Cup Series competition, you have earned 10 top-10 and 60 top-20 finishes. You haven’t stirred up any controversy, or any gossip about bad behavior off the track, because there hasn’t been any. You are highly regarded as an ambassador for your sponsors and for the series overall.
In marketing terms, you have been a NASCAR bonanza. You have also sold a lot — and I do mean a LOT — of souvenirs over the years, including a well-worn black-and-green No. 10 Go Daddy hat which is a particular favorite of yours truly.
Most importantly, you have served as a true source of inspiration for every young (and not so young) woman who ever dreamed of racing a car around a track, of choosing her path and sticking to it, regardless of the obstacles.
We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that just because your time at SHR is over doesn’t mean your NASCAR career is over, too. There are currently a number of seats in the Cup Series that need filling, and there’s always a chance that one of them could be filled by you. I’m pulling for you; I know I’m not alone … and neither are you.
Cathy Elliott can be reached at email@example.com.