FOUNTAIN - Rip away the skin that covers Danica Patrick’s body and you’ll find Tiger Woods. Rip away that second layer and Michael Jordan is exposed. Competitors such as these are made from a similar gene. They walk the same way. They talk the same language. They have the same impact on their sports. “I’ve always had big dreams and big ideas for myself,” Patrick said Friday. “If things went well, there could really be an impact. There could be some changes and some growth in the sport.” That’s how special folks think, not about improving their status or their team’s status. The special folks preach about changing the look of an entire sport. Patrick, the only female driver in the Indy Racing League, finished eighth in Sunday’s Honda Indy 225 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. For her growing list of fans, however, the finish mattered little. Forty minutes after the race ended, a crowd of at least 250 gathered around Patrick’s trailer. Ropes marked the barrier between fans and Patrick, a 23-year-old IndyCar rookie, as she signed autographs. Young girls who could not get close to the ropes climbed atop the shoulders of their fathers, straining for a better glimpse of motorsports’ next rock star. Men with camera phones jostled like paparazzi on the red carpet. Poster-wielding little boys squirmed their way through the throng. “The one thing I didn’t ex- pect is for it to happen quite so fast,” Patrick said. “A few races into the season is pretty quick.” There were even cheers during Sunday’s race when Patrick passed another driver, which is amazing — the cheers, that is — given that Patrick never made a pass to take the lead. “That’s good,” Patrick said, soon after the race. “Those are the kind of fans you need. (They) are going to like you whether you’re first or 10th or 20th; that’s a good fan. . . . Not everyone is going to prefer me as their favorite driver, but as the fans come in more and more, all the drivers will gain more fanbase, too. So that’s really, really good.” Sound familiar? The PGA Tour was well established. Then came Woods. Golf had its plethora of stars, but Woods’ talent busted down the door and announced that the sport’s landscape would change. The tour received even more attention, and it generated even more money. Woods’ presence brought increased diversity to PGA Tour galleries, the nation’s courses and driving ranges, too. The NEC Invitational, won by Woods over the weekend in Akron, Ohio, had a $7 million purse, almost five times what the purses were 12 years ago. The same happened with Jordan. The NBA belonged to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird when Jordan arrived in Chicago. By the time His Airness was finished, little kids around the world wanted to be like Mike. And the NBA’s corporate sponsors cashed in. Years will pass before we’ll know Patrick’s financial impact on the IRL. But her impact with fans and sponsors is undeniable. Patrick is converting a wealth of fringe motorsports fans and even a host of non-fans. The only reason some people even watched a part of the Indianapolis 500 was because of Patrick. She was the only reason a lot of newcomers ventured to PPIR on Sunday. “I think what she’s done is particularly special, so I think she deserves a lot of the praise she’s getting,” said IndyCar points leader Dan Wheldon, who won Sunday’s race and the Indy 500. Some people say Patrick does not deserve that attention because she has not won an IndyCar race. I disagree. Twelve of the 22 drivers entered in Sunday’s race have won an IndyCar race. (Jacques Lazier is one of the 12, though he did not start because of a mechanical problem.) Those 12 drivers took an average of 33 starts before they stood atop the winner’s podium. Sunday was Patrick’s 13th career Indy-Car start and just her 14th career oval race. In other words, detractors need to stop hatin’ and recognize Patrick’s considerable skills. Patrick has had seven top five starts and two fourth-place finishes this season — as a rookie. Folks, Patrick’s time is coming, and when it does, be prepared for a fast ride. Columnist Milo F. Bryant can be reached at 636-0252 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Colorado Springs Gazette has disabled the comments for this article.