Danica Patrick is a former pro racing car driver. She stepped out of high school to pursue a racing career and signed with Rahal Letterman Racing in 2002. Patrick made history by being the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 in 2005.
Three years later, she became the first woman to win an IndyCar race. Patrick won the time trials at the 2013 Daytona 500 after switching to stock cars, becoming the first woman to take the pole position at the iconic NASCAR event. She began hosting the Pretty Intense weekly podcast after retiring from racing in 2018.
Early Life and Career
Patrick, who was born Danica Sue Patrick on March 25, 1982, in Beloit, Wisconsin, began racing go-karts with her sister when she was 10 years old and dropped out of high school to pursue her racing career in England. She finished second at the Formula Ford Festival, the highest finish ever by a woman or an American in the event.
Patrick joined Rahal Letterman Racing in 2002, which was co-owned by former racer Bobby Rahal and talk show star David Letterman. Patrick had moderate success over the next two years and was a constant podium finisher, but he never won a race.
Patrick became the fourth woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500 in 2005. Her fourth-place finish was the highest ever for a female driver, breaking Janet Guthrie’s 1978 mark of ninth. She led the race for 19 laps, becoming the first woman to do so in the Indy 500. Later that year, at Kansas Speedway, she claimed her first pole position, becoming only the second woman in the IRL (Indy Racing League) IndyCar Series to do so. Patrick was selected IRL Championship Rookie of the Year in 2005.
Patrick’s 2006 season began with the terrible death of teammate Paul Dana in a crash on the morning of the Toyota Indy 300. Patrick earned several Top 10 performances during her IRL season that year, finishing ninth in the standings. Among her many accolades, the United States Sports Academy awarded her Female Athlete of the Year.
Patrick made history in 2008 when she became the first woman to win an IndyCar race. She had a strong showing at the Indianapolis 500 the following year, finishing third. Another notable achievement came in August 2010, when she set a record by finishing her 29th straight race.
Patrick made the switch to stock car racing in 2010 when he joined the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The next year, she finished fourth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the highest finish by a woman in a NASCAR national stock car series.
Patrick won the Daytona 500 time trials in 2013, her first full season on the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. With this accomplishment, she became the first woman to take the pole position in the prestigious NASCAR event.
“I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl,” Patrick said, according to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway website. “That’s how I’ve always approached my racing career. I’ve been lucky enough to make history and be the first woman to do many things. We have a lot more history to make and we are excited to do it.”
She went on to place eighth in the “Great American Race,” and after competing in every event on the 2013 schedule, she finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Patrick continued to produce impressive results while chasing her maiden Sprint Cup victory. She finished sixth in her career at Atlanta Motor Speedway in August 2014, and the following year she had her sixth Top 10 finish, the most of any woman in Sprint Cup history.
After losing her sponsorship in early 2017, Patrick stated in November that she was retiring from full-time racing after competing in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 in 2018.
There was no storybook ending to Patrick’s career, as she bowed out after crashing in both events. “Today was really disappointing for what we were hoping for and what you want from your last race, but I’m grateful for all of it,” she said after her Indy 500 showing. “I just wish I could have finished stronger.”
Other Projects and Post-Racing Career
Patrick received countless media chances due to her unique status as a female race car driver, as well as her youth and stunning looks. She hosted Spike TV, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and appeared in commercials and music videos. Danica: Crossing the Line, her autobiography, was published in 2006.
Patrick started manufacturing wine through her Somnium Vineyard in Deer Park, California, and developed the Warrior apparel line to prepare for her post-racing future. In 2017, she published Pretty Intense: The 90-Day Mind, Body, and Food Plan That Will Totally Change Your Life.
Patrick launched Pretty Intense, an uplifting weekly podcast, in August 2019. Former baseball player Alex Rodriguez, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and feminist Gloria Steinem were among her early guests.
In 2005, Patrick married physical therapist Paul Edward Hospenthal. She filed for divorce in January 2013. Patrick wrote in her divorce filing that “my marriage is irretrievably broken and there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation,” according to Sporting News NASCAR. She revealed at the time that she was dating fellow stock car racer Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Patrick divorced Stenhouse in late 2017 and quickly revealed she was seeing Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Patrick’s rep confirmed in July 2020 that the couple was “no longer together.”