What Really Drives Danica Patrick? It's So Much More Than Cars

Ryan Berenz
EPIX/Jake Giles Netter

"I don’t want to suck," Danica Patrick says. “For me, I’m extremely competitive, and so for me to just not be good at something is scary to me."

If all you know of NASCAR driver Danica Patrick is what you see and hear on the racetrack, then you don’t really know Danica Patrick at all.

Would you believe that the same Danica who smashed gender barriers in IndyCar and NASCAR also collects stupid coffee mugs? Or that the same Danica who angrily confronted Denny Hamlin in the pits after a race retreats to her “woman cave” to practice mindfulness? Or that the same Danica who had to be restrained from taking her frustrations out on Ryan Briscoe during the 2008 Indy 500 also talks about “crazy cosmic orchestration” and quinoa?

“She’s not this sort of one-dimensional person where the only narrative about her is that she was a trailblazer back in the day in IndyCar,” says veteran sportscaster and journalist Hannah Storm, director of the EPIX documentary Danica, an in-depth exploration of the auto-racing icon and celebrity entrepreneur’s enigmatic personality.

Patrick was a media sensation even before her IndyCar career began in 2005, and her shift to NASCAR in 2012 brought her more attention. She’s one of a few drivers ever to have led laps at both the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500. “Just the number of drivers, period, that have done what she’s done in her career and run at the top level as consistently as she has for that many years, it’s less than a handful. Maybe a handful,” Storm says. “But much less, she’s the only woman to ever do it.”

Despite Patrick’s consistent performance, the fact that she’s claimed only one victory — the 2008 Indy Japan 300 — remains a sharp point of criticism. “She hears that all the time,” Storm says. “‘When are you gonna win?’ I put that right at the top of the film. ‘When are you gonna win?’ But she’s kind of like, ‘OK. I haven’t won. Boy, would I love to, but it’s not everything. It’s not everything in life.’”

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“I don’t want to suck,” Patrick bluntly says. “For me, I’m extremely competitive, and so for me to just not be good at something is scary to me, anything. Playing cards, I don’t like to suck at cards even. So that’s why I felt like it was important with all of these new endeavors, including the documentary, that I go all the way.” That indomitable spirit is evident in how she approaches her business ventures that include a line of activewear, a wine label, and her Pretty Intense health and fitness book due in December.

“I hope that, ultimately, [viewers] feel that I’m relatable,” Patrick says. “But the driven side, the competitive side, I hope, is the inspirational vein that makes you want to just go kick ass after you are done watching [the documentary] — makes you want to set a goal and achieve it, or maybe set 10 goals and achieve them. So I hope it’s relatable and inspirational.”

Danica airs at a time of uncertainty for Patrick. She will compete in her final race with Stewart-Haas racing when the NASCAR season ends Nov. 19, as sponsorship changes have made her a free agent in 2018. “I like the fact that things are a little bit unsettled, and I like the fact that her story is far from over,” Storm says. “We really don’t know what’s next, but we know who she is.”

Danica, Wednesday, November 8, 8/7c, EPIX

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of OnDISH magazine.