The Interview: Danica Patrick

Nick Laham

What do you say to people who say NASCAR is boring?
> I would agree completely that sometimes it’s very boring.

Whoa, I thought you’d defend your sport.
> Do you not ever watch a football or a basketball game and think, “This is boring”? There are definitely times that are boring during any sport. But when NASCAR’s exciting, it’s very exciting. That whole thrill of crashes and tempers, and are they gonna get by the car, and dramatic restarts at the end.

A lot of people have opinions about you. How would you describe yourself?
> I was trying to think of a clever answer. I was gonna say, “I’m hungry most of the time.” [Laughs.] I would describe myself as someone who is passionate and driven and aggressive, and up front and honest.

I hear you want people to think you’re funny.
> I would love that, but it’s never gonna happen. I think it’s ’cause my sister’s so funny—it just reminds me how not funny I am. I wish that I had the comebacks she does.

You swear a fair bit while racing. That can be funny, maybe.
> Maybe some people think that’s funny, but I think they’re not children, parents, or my boyfriend. I try and be as good as possible, but it happens, and I’m at work and it’s a high-pressure job. Every now and again the worst in me comes out a little bit.

That’s tough, having a microphone on you at all times at work.
> Yeah, imagine there’s a big huge argument in the war room and everybody’s goin’ at it and you’ve got opinions and people are taking advantage of you and you’re all monitored the whole time. There’s probably gonna be some swear words.

Definitely. What’s the best part of being a woman competing against mostly men?
> I enjoy being different. I enjoy standing out. I’m so fortunate that when I do good things, people are paying attention.

You like the attention?
> Yeah. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I’m flattered and there’s a little more instant gratification for what I’ve done. I understand that I get attention when things go well more than a guy would.

You also get more attention when things don’t go well.
> Sure, but that’s the part I don’t think about. At least if it’s attention for not doing the right thing, it’s an opportunity to be yourself and be honest. I think that’s what sports is all about—real emotions.

Did you ever dream you’d hit this level of success?
> Yeah, sure. When I was a little kid I really believed that if I was given the opportunity to compete at the highest level, that it could be a big deal, because it’s so different. I guess I didn’t really think about all the things that included. I remember being a younger driver and thinking, “How does somebody make a full-time job out of being a race-car driver? There’s nothing to do during the week.” Then I found out what there is to do during the week, and it’s now a very full-time job, including the weekends.

What mindset is required to tear around a track at 200 mph?
> You have to have a certain level of comfort and bravery, and faith in safety and everything going OK. But as I explain to people, it took 15 years of racing before I started going 200 mph. So it starts out slow and builds up. I’m finishing my 23rd year of racing.

Does it require a thick skin to be you?
> Probably. I think it’s something that I just got good at, or got used to.

Sometimes you get mean messages before a race. Do you just have a sense of humour about that?
> My sense of humour is that I feel so bad that they took the time to write that. They took the time to post a message that they hope I crash, and I feel bad for them. I feel much worse for them than I do about myself.

You work with your boyfriend, fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. You crashed with your boyfriend…
> Crashed on his couch, or? No…

See, you are funny. But really, what’s that like, racing against each other?
> It’s kinda weird. You wanna beat everybody out there and you wanna go home the winner, but yet I have these weird moments in the race where sometimes I’m thinking, “Where’s he at? Oh my gosh, I hope he didn’t crash!” Or “I hope he didn’t break down,” or “I hope that he’s running OK.” But then when he’s next to me I’m like, “I wanna beat him.” [Laughs.] What I always hope for is that we both have good days, even if that means beating each other.

And a really good day is when you beat him?
> It’s not a bad thing.

This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.

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