Danica Patrick became the first woman to win an IndyCar race with a victory in the Indy Japan 300. The race was Patrick’s 50th start, and she said Sunday that the significance of the accomplishment didn’t sink in until her racing team and her family showered her with congratulations. “Then the emotions came out,” she said, “and that was a little girly of me.” (Auto Racing Daily)
What the commentators said
Patrick’s historic win will have “far-reaching” effects, said Liz Clarke in The Washington Post (free registration). Her rise will almost certainly boost “interest in U.S.-based open-wheel racing, which has taken a back seat to NASCAR during the past decade.” For her, this victory means the “debunking” of “the growing assertion” that she “was more hype than substance.” Patrick has certainly changed racing by doing “what racing pioneers such as Janet Guthrie and Lyn St. James did not in previous decades: steer an Indy Car into Victory Lane and unabashedly shed tears of joy.”
This could still prove to be “nothing more than an anomaly,” said Bob Margolis in Yahoo! Sports. Patrick didn’t beat racing’s best in a “final lap, wheel-to-wheel battle, one that many close observers of the sport feel she will never win;” she won because her rival, Helio Castroneves, had to slow down so he wouldn’t run out of gas. She deserves credit, but this wasn’t a true first—drag racers such as the retired Shirley Muldowney have been winning for years. So Patrick’s big achievement was “more a triumph in public relations than auto racing.”
Racing has certainly come a long way, said Dave Caldwell in The New York Times (free registration). “There was a time when Patrick could not have competed in Sunday’s race. A few years before Janet Guthrie, an aerospace engineer and road racer, became the first woman to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1977, women were not allowed in the press box, the garage area or the pits.” And Patrick’s victory was hardly a surprise—she has an “extensive racing background,” and Guthrie herself said it was only a matter of time before Patrick shut up the "naysayers."
This should silence the sexists who refused to take a brunette "bombshell" seriously on the racetrack, said Gemma Briggs in the London Guardian's Sportblog. Hopefully now it will be Patrick's "race results that fans start to Google, not just those bikini shots."