Monday, August 9, 2010

Guest Post (Kelly Crandall): The Month of May Means One Thing for Danica Patrick and Millions of Fans: Indy

From time to time the ladies of Skirts and Scuffs hand the reigns over to a woman who isn’t part of our usual group of contributors. Today we welcome Kelly Crandall who is a regular at Bleacher Report. (Read more of her work and her bio by clicking the link.) Kelly was quick to point out that this story is a bit “outdated”, but we don’t mind at all. We are happy to have Kelly’s post here on Skirts and Scuffs and welcome her back anytime.

You can see them line up rows deep at souvenir haulers around the country or talking about her on racing message boards. Danica. Danica. Danica.

It’s not a popular name or one that is heard often like those of Michelle, Kimberly, or Tiffany, but it’s a name that specifies a woman that is extraordinary. Even if it’s one name, one word, many know whom it refers to without any more information. If the question were posed though, “You know who Danica is right?” the answer nine out of 10 times would be “yes.”

“Is that the racecar driver?” others might turn around and ask.

Yes, that Danica, NASCAR Nationwide Series and IZOD IndyCar Series driver. With just one word, Danica has joined the ranks of other superstar athletes’ also recognizable by one word: Kobe, MJ, and Tiger, to name a few. She captured the hearts of millions from the beginning and “Danica-Mania” has been in full effect.

“Danica is everywhere: media, online, makes everyone very familiar with her,” says Jeff Smelser of Olympia, WA. Smelser is an avid NASCAR fan with a casual eye for IndyCar events.

The cause of her appeal could be any number of things. Maybe the fact that she does not have a normal nine-to-five job, more like zero to 100 in less than three seconds. Who would not want to be her for a day? Hard to do so might as well jump aboard her fan wagon and go to the top with her. Add in that she learned the art of marketing/branding and there isnowhere you will not see her. Well, except in victory lane.

In 89 races to date – pre-Indianapolis – she had one career win, which was ripped apart for coming on fuel mileage. She has also never won a championship, but did finish fifth in the final championship point standings in 2009. Still, many contend Danica is not a consistent driver and is an all around failure. Nothing more than a sex symbol that thinks she can drive is a common sentiment; having a sponsor like GoDaddy.com will do that.

Numerous photo shoots, magazine spreads, and commercials have made Danica a household name. Even those that are not racing fans have seen them and know her. To some it’s no big deal. If you have it, then use it Rebecca Kivak, 28, of Wilkes-Barre, PA said. To others it’s simply unacceptable and not where her energy should be.

“I wish she would concentrate more on her abilities as a racer and less on her physical attributes. They speak for themselves,” said Sue Simpson, 54, of Daytona Beach, FL. Simpson said over the years she watched Danica closely, has met her and will be watching Indy. Unfortunately, even if Danica were to win, it would not change one thing.

“I feel she is cheapening her brand [with all the advertisements]. I have a hard time taking her seriously, though I really want to,” Simpson said.

Ignore the fact that Danica is just like any citizen when she is not driving a racecar and can live her life the way she pleases. There seems to be an unwritten rule that not winning means she is not to grace TV.

“Winning is everything,” simply states Matt Kacar of Gallatin, TN.

He is one of many that say Danica is overhyped and overanalyzed. Something that could change by the end of May when IndyCar’s biggest race takes the stage: the Indianapolis 500. Since her debut at the track known as the Brickyard in 2005, talk has been how Danica is destined to win it. By far it’s her best track, but with statistics not reminiscent of how well she runs. Pretty decent in themselves though: average start of 7.4, average finish is 11.25, in five races.

As a rookie she led, becoming the first female to ever accomplish the feat, and finished fourth. That was the moment that Danica Patrick arrived. The moment everything changed in the racing world. If you did not think she knew what she was doing, you now did. If you had no driver to root for, you now did. Or if you were waiting for a competitive female, the search was complete. Last season Danica kicked it up a notch, finishing third and leaving fans anxious for the 2010 edition. Teams began their preparations for the big race and fans began to clear their schedule for Noon on May 30.

Every driver who qualifies has his or her enthusiasm matched by millions of fans around the world. Racing die-hards, causal watchers of just the Indy 500, and those that tune in to see how Danica does. Do not fear; there are plenty of them out there, whether they choose to admit it. Some curiously wonder if the female can beat the men at their own game. A few, like those mentioned above that criticize her still want to see a victory. It’s what makes her an asset to motorsports, Californian Rex Emerson said.

For fans of Danica’s, to those that feel she gets too much attention, the broadcast of the Indy 500 is bound to have plenty of Danica time. It will come over defending race winners, such as Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon, plus the possible four other females in the field. Only one, however, will have the hopes and dreams of men and women, boys and girls, around the world on her 5-foot-2 inch, 100-pound shoulders.

The pressure and expectations that have been set upon Danica by both her and others will never be stronger than when it comes to Indy. Heading to a place where many know she is one of the best in the field brings more anticipation for a spectacular run. Of course, that is before the whispers begin of her doing the unimaginable.

“Can you imagine if she wins that race?”

The Indianapolis 500 is the biggest auto race in America with a steep tradition like no others in sports. Drivers put their lives on the line for over three hours, at 220 plus mph for the victory of a lifetime: A glass of milk and to kiss dirty, greasy bricks that make up the start/finish line. Repulsive to some, but once a year 33 drivers reach into their heart and soul more than anywhere else for the chance to be able to do it.

When the garages opened for the 94th running, the feeling was already different. The attitude of Danica’s No. 7 GoDaddy.com car and team were not what they should have been. Qualifying 23rd, her first non-top 10 ever at Indy, did little to ease the minds of fans even with another week left to get it right.

“Indy is one of Danica’s best tracks, if not her best,” said Kivak. “I normally would have expected a top five, but knowing of her struggles with her car during qualifying, I was hoping for a top 10 finish.”

Down and out for the win wrote the media while fans said it was no shock she was complaining and making excuses. For 15-year-old Camille Jones of Clayton, NC no matter what happens she stands firm that Danica would never let down the fans. She can drive a racecar like the best of them, even a car that was ill behaving. Somehow she would get it to the front.

Jones is not just another fan of IndyCar’s fastest female; she might be one of the biggest.

Her time is spent on the social networking site Twitter where she fights with those that speak ill of her favorite driver. Other times she is updating the page, which is decked out in a Danica Patrick background, profile picture and colors, with words of praise and encouragement. Any article about the driver she finds is linked for her followers to read.

When it came time for Indy, Jones once again stood out. She made cupcakes on qualifying day that featured number sevens with lime green and orange sprinkles. From there she followed all the news online, driver “tweets,” and anything else associated with Indy. Jones was ready for the Danica show.

“I knew her car had been really acting up the past few weeks and I was really anxious to see how well she pulled it towards the front of the pack,” she said.

Ratings for the race will show over 252 million people in the United States and abroad had their television stations tuned in. At 1:04 p.m. ET “Back Home in Indiana” was sung by Jim Nabors, by 1:07 the cars were fired and rolling off the grid for the 1:13 green flag. The time for speculating and predicting was over, nothing but pedal to the medal mattered now. Early on contenders fell by the wayside; others asserted themselves as the ones to beat.

With the sun setting on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the early evening, Danica was at the front like Jones predicted, just not the preferred place. Dario Franchitti chugged the milk for the second time in his career, Danica settling for fifth spot after a month happily forgotten. Hearing boos after qualifying, frustration during the week, and ending with members of the team digging deep, Danica’s 2010 Indy 500 was hard fought.

“Overall, I thought her day was pretty darn successful compared to the past few weeks,” Jones said. “Seeing her with a top five sent Danica fans roaring with excitement, she was finally back where she belonged. Until of course the camera shot over to her teammate, Marco Andretti, sitting on the pit wall, visibly frustrated and already whining.”

Andretti’s post race interview was not filled with compliments or congratulations. The young driver insisted three competitors passed him under caution and took his third place spot. For the next few hours as league officials reviewed the tapes, opinions on Danica’s finish continued.

She backed into it, she got lucky because of the wrecks, and it was a matter of strategy by her team played perfectly. Fans will be fans, with their own opinions and theories on every little detail. In the end though the officials get the last word and late that night the announcement was made: Danica made an illegal move and finished sixth, not fifth.

Jones was one of the many that did not agree, but dwelling was no use, Indy was finished. Weeks of working out every detail, car kinks, and aerodynamic numbers were all in the rearview mirror. When asked, relieved and thankful was what Danica told viewers as she took a deep breath. Around the world others did the same.

“Other than that [changing her position], I believe Danica showed us that she can rally to the front and give her car a good finish,” Jones said. “Danica Patrick never disappoints.”

No argument there. Everything she does is broken down, analyzed, and put out for all to see. It’s hard to blame any of them though; these are the fans that live for racing. They do not apologize for it or pretend not to understand. They are the ones that buckle up and experience the thrills and spills with their idols.

A year from now Danica Patrick will give it another shot, leaving Camille Jones and other fans ready to do it all over again too.

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