It was the perfect storm: the vaunted Indianapolis 500 had lost its heart and its way since The Split and heroes on track were as scarce as major newspapers in the IMS pressroom.
Indy needed an injection of adrenaline, an exciting storyline and
somebody new to cheer for. It got all three in less than 10 minutes.
When Danica Patrick took the lead late in the 2005 Indy 500,
the roar from the grandstands resonated across the country’s
television sets and all the way into barber shop conversations.
This pretty, feisty, 100-pound American woman had driven
open-wheel racing back into the mainstream and gave the
comatose Indy Racing League an instant Q Rating.
For seven seasons Patrick has been the face of the IZOD IndyCar
Series which, depending on your view, was either the best thing
possible or, if you were a purist, false advertising. And now that
she’s headed for NASCAR full time in 2012, there’s either hand-wringing or joyous celebration from inside the IndyCar paddock.
“It will be noticeable that she’s gone but not as devastating as
it would have been a few years ago,” reckons ABC/ESPN analyst
Scott Goodyear. “The series was struggling for attention and it
would have been a huge hit. Danica was the only story back then
and now she’s just one of them. I think
the racing is the best story now.”
“I always thought if she was
successful, she’d be huge,” declares
Bobby Rahal, the man who made it all
possible when he signed Patrick in 2001
and put her on the fast track in the USA.
“She was a good looking young lady doing
something in a man’s world and if she
could drive, well, it was a huge hook.