AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week Throughout the season, ticket sales spiked, TV ratings boomed and Danica quickly became the face of the series. Which brings us to this weekend, and Sunday’s season-ending Toyota Indy 400 at California Speedway. At a promotional event Wednesday, Patrick was peppered with silly questions courtesy of the goofs from “ESPN Hollywood,” who told a group of sports writers in the back of the room to shhhhhhh so they could hear the answers to truly pressing concerns. Danica, they asked, do you ever see yourself acting in a dramatic role? This is where the confusion begins. This is where the red carpet movie premieres, the late-night talk show appearances and the sexy magazine spreads fool people into thinking she is Anna Kournikova, Part II. LOS ANGELES – Danica Patrick is asked to look into the camera, smile and repeat the following line: “Hi, this is Danica Patrick, and you’re watching `ESPN Hollywood,’ where sports and entertainment collide.” If a statement existed to describe Patrick’s rookie season on the Indy Racing League circuit, and the so-called Danica Mania that surrounded the organization, that would be it. Save for a few hardcore racing fans and subscribers of FHM magazine, no one had heard of the 23-year-old driver before this year. Then, in one spectacular avalanche of publicity and hype, Danica Mania crashed down onto the United States – and suddenly she was everywhere. After May’s Indianapolis 500, where she finished fourth, Patrick was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, TV Guide and did 60-plus interviews with other media outlets in the three days after the race.
Patrick, first and foremost, is a race car driver, not a model or an actress. She has won three poles and has seven top-10 finishes this season en route to clinching rookie of the year honors. She thinks the glamour of the red carpet is fun, and being on TV shows and magazines is cool. But that’s just side stuff. What she really wants to do is win. Badly. She is serious at the track, with a game face that includes little or no makeup, and she always dresses down, not up. Besides the sex appeal, there is another, more frustrating comparison with Kournikova: Neither woman has won anything. Yet Patrick, with all of her major sponsors based in Southern California, has a decent shot to get her first victory Sunday. “I want to do so well this weekend,” she said. “The most magical and perfect way to end this season would be to win.” For now, participating in a somewhat normal life is still possible. She said going grocery shopping isn’t out of the question, and she doesn’t worry about crazy fans following her every move. But she fears the day when her fame might render even the smallest tasks burdensome. “It’s not unrealistic and that will then be the worst thing,” she said. This is someone who tends to conduct every interview with the same calm, reasoned manner. Her attitude is one reason she said she never gets nervous when meeting people. “People are people,” she said. “I don’t think anybody’s above anybody.” At one point in the interview, workers began rattling dishes and silverware in the back of the room. “That silverware is so loud,” she said to an assistant, hoping to silence the forks and knives. Aha! A diva-like statement? A crack in the humble armor? Not really. “I just want you guys to be able to hear this stuff,” she said, nodding toward the writers and their tape recorders. Of course, not every day is a good day, and the energy for her various obligations isn’t always easy to muster. Being evaluated during one of her ho-hum days is what she said is the worst aspect of celebrity. “People are looking harder, and they’re looking constantly,” she said. “I am human, and I have bad days just like everybody else has bad days. … Say today was the worst day of my life … and I could hardly speak – I’d be judged a little bit. “That’s one of the hardest things – people kind of expect more from you.” The IRL, however, couldn’t hope for much more. The series’ weekly conference call, originally designed to promote various drivers, ended up featuring Danica on a regular basis to help diffuse the media frenzy. “We were getting 12 to 15 calls in a given week (for interview requests),” said John Griffin, the IRL’s vice president of public relations. “She caught the imagination of the general public in this country.” Sunday likely is Patrick’s first and only appearance in Fontana. The IRL has announced the series will not return to Southern California next season, part of a slimmed down 14-race schedule. For someone who once said racing in NASCAR’s 36-event season wouldn’t provide enough coveted weekends by the pool, one might think fewer races could be a good thing. But she doesn’t plan to use the extra time for the beach or for playing dramatic roles in Hollywood movies. She plans to drive. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!