Patrick Attracts New Interest to Indy 500

Sunday's 89th running of the Indianapolis 500 auto race features a rookie driver who has a good chance to become the first woman to win: Danica Patrick. Car and Driver columnist Brock Yates assesses Patrick's chances.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Today, ladies and gentlemen, the engines start at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 89th running of the Indy 500. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway began on a farm. The track expanded and was once owned by air ace Eddie Rickenbacker. It survived the Depression, and in the post-World War II years the contest between cars became the greatest spectacle in racing. Today the Indy 500 has lost some of its luster and audience. Brock Yates is a columnist and editor-at-large for Car and Driver magazine, and he is here to tell us why.

First, welcome to the program.

Mr. BROCK YATES (Columnist, Editor-at-Large, Car and Driver): Nice to be here, Liane.

HANSEN: Why aren't there fans in the grandstands?

Mr. YATES: Well, I think for a variety of reasons. In the main, because the marquee value of the stars. We've got 33 drivers, 18 of them come from overseas. And this--the Indianapolis 500 is basically a heartland event. It's an event that has built out of the racetracks of the Midwest. And those young men are not there anymore. They've gone--either departed to NASCAR in the South or are just not being able to afford to run in this race. Remember now, we're talking about probably a million dollars. You want to have that much in your wallet before you begin to enter a car at the speedway. And it's become an expensive and very exclusive sport. And in many cases, the Europeans are the only ones that have been able to afford to run there.

HANSEN: So why is NASCAR more appealing?

Mr. YATES: Well, just the raw, sheer action of NASCAR, I think, the showmanship and the fact that the drivers are recognizable household names in many ways around the United States. They've done a great job of promoting that series.

HANSEN: There is a star, Danica Patrick, this year. Now in 1977, Janet Guthrie was the first woman to qualify, and they had only allowed women in six years prior to that. What's with Danica Patrick?

Mr. YATES: Well, she is the star. She could save the day for the television ratings. Believe me. She's a charming, young girl. She's really a serious race driver. Unlike, perhaps, the other women, who didn't have, perhaps, first-class automobiles, Patrick's got an absolutely first-class car, a first-class team, and she's intent upon winning. I think, personally, the one disadvantage that she has, and it's not her fault, it's not her skill or intelligence or intent or whatever. She's a very small person. She's just over five feet. This is a three-and-a-half-hour endurance race. And I'm a little concerned, I think some people are, that just the physical strength will begin to wane for her near the end of it. I don't know. I hope not.

HANSEN: Brock Yates is a columnist and editor-at-large for Car and Driver magazine.

Thanks for joining us.

Mr. YATES: Thank you.

HANSEN: It's 22 minutes before the hour.

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