For IndyCar superstar Danica Patrick, February 6th is only the beginning as she sets to make her stock car debut in the ARCA Racing Series presented by RE/MAX and Menards Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200. After months and months of speculation, JR Motorsports recently announced that Patrick would drive a partial schedule in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2010 and 2011.
As I read all the media releases and articles about Danica’s debut in NASCAR, it brings back fond memories of my own race days when I was a young girl. When I was young, we were encouraged to look pretty with our sweet dresses and play with our doll babies. A message someone forgot to deliver to me.
See, I was my Daddy’s Little Princess. A princess who raced motorcycles and loved the feeling of speed. I wore jeans, t-shirts and had a picture of the Road Runner tacked on the wall over my bed. My older brother raced bikes semi-professionally and had a knack for building cars. And I watched him for 5 years being told I was too small, too young and a GIRL! Did I listen to him? No, not even a little bit. I’m glad I didn’t. On July 4, 1971 I made history for my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. A feat most thought I would fail at, but Daddy’s Little Princess knew differently.
The Soap Box Derby is a youth racing program which has been run in the United States since 1934. World Championship finals are held each July at Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio. Cars competing in this and related events are unpowered, relying completely upon gravity to move.
With the help of my Dad, we built our first racer. The baby blue soap box racer didn’t win first place that year. Although awards of Best Construction and Fastest Heat (a track record that was never broken) made Dad proud, I wasn’t ready to give up. We went back to the garage, changed the design and made two more consecutive appearances at the derby. In 1973 I was joined by 31 other competitors, including three girls. We all had our eyes on the checkered flag and the championship trophy.
After a semi-final defeat, I packed up my car and started planning for next year’s race. But there wouldn’t be a next year for the Charlottesville event. Why it ended is not clear. My car still sits to this day at my brother’s house. A reminder each time I see it of what you can accomplish if you set your mind to it.
Danica, we wish you great success on your new venture in racing. Hear our cheers of support at the track and across the States when we hear the words “Gentlemen, start your engines." Maybe they should change that to “Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines.” But that’s a blog for another day.