MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED and I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
After Danica Patrick's record-breaking rookie season last year, the 24-year-old driver is preparing to race again in Indianapolis, this time hoping to top her fourth place finish. While she didn't take the checkered flag, Danica Patrick did become the first woman to lead a lap in the legendary race.
Patrick has written about her experience and her attitudes about her sport in a new book. It's called Danica: Crossing the Line. Danica Patrick visited our studios recently. The first thing you notice is that she's teeny despite the fact that she is wearing a pair of killer heels. You also sense a steely determination. Patrick says her drive to win began at home.
Ms. DANICA PATRICK (Racecar driver): I started racing when I was ten years old and it was really just something to be together as a family, something to get to know my father primarily. My mom stayed home and took car of us and my dad worked so much. He would go to work before we got up and he would get home after we were supposed to go to bed. So we didn't really know him and it was a way for us to get closer as a family.
NORRIS: I understand your father is your biggest fan and also your strongest critic. The two of you still argue a little bit every now and then. Did that in some way help you succeed in a male dominated sport, To have that kind of sort of open, honest and sometimes rough and tumble relationship with your dad?
Ms. PATRICK: Probably. Someone that pushed me. Someone that always made me push harder and harder for that little bit left inside of me that in turn translated into speed on the track or something that resulted in good race results. So yeah, from the racing standpoint, I think it did help. As well as that he did never think of me as a girl and so I never thought of me as a girl either. I just thought of me as someone trying to beat everyone else.
NORRIS: That's evolved though over time. You look at the cover of your book. You're posing in a way that most men wouldn't pose. You clearly now are presenting as a woman, as a pioneer really in this sport. When and how did that happen and did it happen reluctantly?
Ms. PATRICK: Well yes probably. It wasn't me saying, all right now I'm going to act like a girl and I'm going to use my feminity and I'm going to use being pretty. I'm going to use long hair to blow in the wind. What happened was I did a photo shot for FHM a long time ago.
Ms. PATRICK: It's called For Him Magazine. FHM. The girls look fairly racy in the magazine and I didn't know if I was going to be in my race suit or anything but I thought, I need sponsors. I need to go racing and it doesn't happen without money from a company or a product. So I did it and so much attention came from it and I noticed that nobody doubted my talent as a result or nobody second-guessed what I could do on the track. I was able to use being a woman to my advantage and being able to promote a product and make sponsors happy.
NORRIS: So it wasn't actually a necessary evil for you. You enjoyed it in the end.
Ms. PATRICK: I did and I still do. I very much enjoy being a girl and having my hair and make up done and looking pretty in pictures and I think it's interesting, too, because its such a contrast to what I'm used to seeing photos where I don't do my hair. I don't do any make up. I am sweating. I've just gotten off the racetrack. I'm in a race suit, something that is completely unflattering, and those are the photos I normally see. So it is fun for me to see pictures that show the other side of me and that's someone who likes to look like a girl.
NORRIS: Danica, I notice you use the word girl. Not woman, but girl. Interesting choice.
Ms. PATRICK: I don't know. I suppose I've been a girl for so long. The girl racing go-carts. The girl in IRL. The girl here. And I'm so short. I feel so, I don't feel like a woman even though I'm married and drive Indy cars now and one would think I could call myself a woman but I feel like that's almost, I don't know. I take the word woman and think it's almost old fashioned.
NORRIS: You mentioned your size. There is a little bit of controversy about that. Some of the racers have said that you have an unfair advantage because your power to weight ratio is such that you can travel faster. Some say that you get as much as a one-mile per hour advantage in the race. On the other hand some actually say that it's a bit of a disadvantage because you have a bit more instability especially in the turns. So, which is it? Is it an advantage or a disadvantage?
Ms. PATRICK: I can't imagine that it helps that much and the proof of that is that in the race if it was that big of advantage, I would have won them all or won a bunch by now. But I didn't and I haven't. There are more things that are far more important, like pit stops, like fuel strategy, how well you overtake other cars, that make up so much time. Seconds of time, seconds and seconds of time. And that is where the difference is.
So, and then on the negative side of it all, yeah I'm smaller. It is what it is. Racecar drivers are small in general.
NORRIS: You don't have a lot of room inside that car.
Ms. PATRICK: No, no. You really actually, if you're over six foot, I believe, six one, two maybe, you just can't fit. You're too tall. Your knees hit the top of the car and it's hard to get in and out. You sit too high. So, yeah it's much more beneficial to be small.
NORRIS: Be small, but I imagine that you need to be strong because you hold onto that wheel and have a certain amount of tork to handle that.
Ms. PATRICK: Absolutely.
NORRIS: What do you do to stay in shape? You have a pretty good idea of how basketball players, tennis stars, skaters stay in shape. What do you do to prepare physically for racing?
Ms. PATRICK: I focus really hard on my stabilization muscles. All upper body really. I don't really do anything to strengthen my legs at all. I work the muscles underneath the shoulder blades and the back and just the rotator cuff in your shoulder just to try and strengthen that from the inside out. Anything that helps you stay stable because the car moves so much and I don't even notice it. I feel like my hands are perfectly straight in the corner and then you'll watch an in car camera and you'll see that your hands are shaking and moving and I'm thinking to myself, wow. Not only is it hard, but it's rough and you're catching the car all the time. So yeah, you do have to work on all the muscles.
NORRIS: One last question for you. You had a great season last year. What are you going to do different this year as you head into the next season?
Ms. PATRICK: That's a good question. Everybody asks.
NORRIS: It's May. You're going to be back on the track soon.
Ms. PATRICK: They ask me what I expect, but they don't ask me what I'm going to do different for this year. So I guess if you, my husband told me this quote. Let's see if I get it perfect. If you want the same results just keep doing what your doing. So you do have to change a little bit.
I think that it's important for me to work very hard on the racecar. Keep developing my relationship with my engineer, Ray. Just get better and better, instead of being fast at a certain point. Just keep working past that. Get faster. That's the idea.
NORRIS: Danica Patrick thanks so much for making a pit stop in our studio. Great talking to you.
Ms. PATRICK: Thank you. No problem. Thank you very much.
NORRIS: Danica Patrick. Her new book is called Danica: Crossing the Line and you can read an excerpt at NPR.org. By the way, this year's Indy 500 is set for May 28.