INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Danica Patrick's star status was cemented at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so for her racing career to finish Sunday at the 500 is fitting, and the two people who raised, supported, and started her on this remarkable journey could not be happier.
“We talked about an exit plan,” said her father T.J., who got her started in go-karts decades ago. “Go out on your own terms, nobody else’s and this is her terms.” Danica’s mother Bev can’t think of a better was to end things on the track. “Makes me so happy that she’s here because it was her idea, put this together, and it’s how she wants to go out and move on to the next chapter.”
Beverly and T.J. Patrick never expected their charismatic, head-strong daughter to turn the open wheel racing world on its ear.
“She was 10 when she started racing go-karts, and it was just a fun family sport,” added Bev. “T.J. was much more optimistic. And knew in the first year, as he says, he told me she is going to change racing…I was like, oh yeah!”
T.J. knows Danica has had her issues over the years. “It’s been a journey for sure. The last 25, 26 years have been long, had its ups and downs, but more ups than downs. It’s been emotional. We had highs and lows every weekend, and eventually it takes its toll on people.”
That’s including Danica. Her NASCAR years were difficult, nearly 200 races, zero wins, one pole at Daytona, but despite the struggles, she stayed positive.
“Her confidence level is pretty remarkable,” said Bev. “To keep fighting all these years, it takes a special person, it doesn’t matter if you’re a female or a male. She has ‘IT.”
Indy helped give her that ‘IT’ factor in 2005. In her debut at IMS, Danica became the only woman to ever lead the race, and nearly won. A memory her mom will never forget.
“The last 7-10 laps, I remember hardly being able to breathe, thinking oh my God, we actually might win this thing. Very surreal. Wow, she’s really had a great run at Indy, it’s so special.”
“I’ve been coming here since 1974,” said T.J. “I’ve been in the snake pit, everywhere, and to think your kid would ever be in it, and then to lead the race, it’s pretty special.”
The 102nd running will bring the Patricks full circle, one last run at the milk, the wreath, and the emotions.
“This place, this time.. for her is perfect,” said Bev. “I’ve been trying to slow every day down, enjoy it and not get overwhelmed. She’s the same way, enjoy this last deal here.”
Will there be tears afterwards?
“Yeah, tears,” added T.J. “Happy tears, not sad. I’m not sad she’s retiring. It’s been a long grind. She has other interests and she wants to do another journey. She’ll do as well or better in those than she did in racing, so I’m happy for her in that aspect, and she’s ready to move on.”
And if she wins?
“You just made my skin go crazy!” said Bev. “It would be a fitting end to a wonderful career, that’s for sure.”
T.J. can’t think that way. “Yeah, it would be great, but it’s so hard. If this track allows it, she can win it. I believe the track dictates who wins.”
And why not Danica.