You don't have to be a NASCAR fan to know Sprint Cup driver Danica Patrick. She has appeared in a record 13 Super Bowl commercials for her main car sponsor GoDaddy.com, has been featured on a Sports Illustrated cover twice (and made it into their swim suit issue), and is still the only woman driver now in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Patrick, who recently place eighth at the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, spoke to us about her meteoric rise, race habits, and her large, loyal fan base.
What's it like being a pro racecar driver?
It is in my nature to drive fast, so it's just nice that I have a job where I'm not going to get a speeding ticket for driving as fast as I can. Driving fast comes naturally.
What do you feel was the biggest leap you took in your career?
I moved to (Milton Keynes) England when I was 16. I left high school and moved over there without family. I slept on a couch. That was a big leap.
How have your skills as a driver evolved as you progressed from Formula Ford, Formula Vauxhall, the Barber Dodge Pro Series, the Toyota Atlantic Championship, IndyCar, and NASCAR?
You can't change who you are as a driver. You are who you are. It's just whether or not those skill sets — and the things that I do well — fit well with the car that I'm driving and the sport that I'm in. That's part of the reason why I came to NASCAR because some of the things that I'm good at fit well in the Sprint Cup Series.
What's your favorite memory from your racing accomplishments thus far?
My first Indy 500 in 2005 was probably the biggest one and my favorite memory. That whole month of May was great, winning in Japan was great. And then I remember looking back to the very first time I raced a stock car, which was in an ARCA series car at Daytona. I had never had so much fun in a racecar before.
Do you have any superstitions before a race?
I try not to have them. In general, there are little things here and there you do because you think, "Oh, I did this last time or I had a good day, maybe it's lucky." But they're only real if you believe in them.
How have you seen the Internet and social medial open up new opportunities for NASCAR and its sponsors?
It's not necessarily about NASCAR, it's about everybody. With the Internet and with social media and everything it just streamlines it so everything is available to anyone who wants to find out more information about it. It allows people to get interested in our sport by seeing videos or results or photos, personalities of drivers, or team people, personnel. Basically, anybody that wants to be successful needs to have a presence on the Internet.
What's it like to have over 1 million Twitter followers?
Man, I don't know. What do they see in me? I've always been curious about that. I always just tell people whatever it is. If I stop doing it, let me know, but I'm just very fortunate that people are curious about me. All I know is that with my social media I try and show people a different side of me, something they can't see on TV, something that doesn't' get covered like my results for the day. I try and talk and do other things like the other day I got a hole in one. Nobody would have known that, but I posted a picture.
Having raced in Europe, why do you think NASCAR hasn't translated globally like Formula One has?
We don't really race globally. Formula One races around the entire world. I think that maybe NASCAR tried to race in Japan once and Mexico, but for the most part we are domestic American series. We attract some foreign drivers, so we do have international representation as far as drivers go. But we don't race internationally. The good news is that with technology comes accessibility. I think that there actually is a pretty big fan base of people that are outside the United States for not actually doing our sport in their countries. They have access through computers, through TV. There's a thousand channels now to choose from so you know you can probably get packages with NASCAR racing. We are in a better position than we ever have been to grow a fan base internationally.
What would you be doing if you weren't a professional racecar drive?
I don't know what I would do. I think that's kind of the story of my life. I'm lucky enough that I've been able to do something that is really the only thing I've ever wanted to do, and haven't had to think about anything else.
When you've retired, what do you hope people remember you for?
I hope that people remember me as a great driver, period. I'm always proud when I do things for the first time or set some sort of a record, but I'm even more proud when I do things that are genderless in the record category. I just hope people remember me as a great driver, it's really as simple as that.