Q&A with Danica Patrick
(Note: Numbers in parentheses are the approximate time codes on the audio MP3)
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We appreciate you joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Our guest today is IndyCar Series driver, Danica Patrick. Good afternoon, Danica.
DANICA PATRICK: Hi.
MODERATOR: Danica is preparing for her fourth season in the IndyCar Series, and her second driving the No. 7 Motorola car for Andretti Green Racing. Last year she finished a career-best seventh in points while recording four top-five finishes and 11 top-10 finishes. Her best finish came at the Raceway at Belle Isle where she finished second.
First of all, before we talk too much racing, it's been kind of a long off‑season, Danica. We know you've been busy with Super Bowl commercials, the Swimsuit Issue. How much time have you been able to spend racing, whether that be testing the IndyCar Series car, or do you do some other things like karting and other sorts of driving to kind of stay in the game?
DANICA PATRICK (1:00): As far as staying in the game and getting going and staying sharp and fit, I don't drive anything else. I test as much as they'll ask me and let me. But you know, that's fairly limited in and of itself. We have so many drivers on our team that it gets spread out.
And so I did a few tests in the off‑season, which is good, and all that went well. Some different stuff than normal for me. So it was really good. You know, it's a change from the year before where I was held to a contract until December, and then only got one test day before anything official started. So it was like I was starting so raw with the team that this is going to be much different for me.
But as far as keeping busy, other than that as far as staying fit I definitely stay physically fit and stay strong throughout. I never stop working out. Because I have things like swimsuit issue stuff to do and commercials and print advertising, and there's always a reason to stay looking good.
So that keeps me busy in the off‑season.
You know, some of the stuff that we do in the off‑season is groundwork for the future, and some stuff that will play out later on. You know, it's an investment of your time. But other things are things that pay off and put you in front of either the second-highest rated show in history or, you know, the biggest-selling magazine of the year. So those things do pan out and do show right away.
Between Danica racing, the business and the brand, and keeping the sponsors and everybody else happy for the immediate time, I stay pretty busy.
MODERATOR: As you mentioned, testing is very limited in the off‑season. Tell us a little bit - with the next two weeks us being at Homestead and then Sebring how much you're looking forward to being back in the car on a regular basis? But also what are the important things that need to be accomplished at the upcoming tests, both from an individual standpoint and also as a team?
DANICA PATRICK (3:00): Well, you know, as far as getting ready for the year, the most important things are, well, something important that you can't really do necessarily at the test is hope that your off‑season R&D that's been done at the shop and by the engineers works and pays off and gives you an edge. If not, then you need to work hard to try to find other ways to go faster because everybody's working in the off‑season to find speed.
That, and then just as a driver, pushing yourself really hard to get into that uncomfortable zone where you get comfortable for the season, because you put yourself in so many predicaments when it comes to race time that are not always the best and the easiest, that you need to get there early.
You need to really, I think for me, the beginning of this season I really feel like I'm becoming some sort of an old person in racing. Like four years, this is my fourth year. So I'm going into this one instead of some of the others saying, look, if I want a shot at winning championships, everything, you've got to get out of the box fast. You have to go hard early and get some good results in. You know, don't be too complacent.
You know, you have to finish. Because those DNFs at the beginning of the season will come back to haunt you later. But you really need to make sure you get good finishes.
MODERATOR: Last season, had you two front row starts, two top-five finishes on the road courses. As we head into 2008, do you see yourself as a stronger racer on the ovals or on the road courses?
DANICA PATRICK (5:00): Probably both. I mean, I think that last year on the road courses I drastically improved from the beginning to the middle of the season, and that was due to the fact that I had great teammates to lean on and a good engineer that helped dial the car in for me.
But then the same thing happened on the ovals because of them, too. I think I was probably a little bit better off to start with on the ovals than the road courses. But I think that means that I'm just that much further along and that much closer to winning once and so on the ovals.
I feel like on the road courses it's going to be a little bit more work to do before I feel as strong as I do on the ovals. But, again, I still had some good things happen there. So I think I have a better shot at winning on the ovals. But I think the level of increased confidence and results will come really equally.
Q. First of all, Dario said at Daytona he expects you're going to win your first race this season. Secondly, on the swimsuit issue, do you expect to get any criticism on that?
DANICA PATRICK (20:30): As far as your first question, sounded more like a statement, didn't it? Dario (Franchitti) is a great guy. I guess I never thought in my career I'd be toe‑to‑toe with him at any point and earn those kinds of respectful and honoring words from a guy like Dario Franchitti. He's a great friend and a great guy. I think that I'll hope that his words are more of a statement than a question or anything.
Then as far as your other question about the swimsuit issue, you know, I think, I guess I would ask are you criticizing it or have you heard about anything? Because, to me, the swimsuit issue is beautiful. It's women looking beautiful. They do a tasteful job.
I am one of a long line of celebrities that have been in that magazine. You know, it's the biggest issue of the year for magazines. So I am completely honored to be in it. I had a great time. Everybody was very respectful and did a great job of putting together that magazine. I think it's one of the best swimsuit issues I've ever seen. So it was beautiful.
Q. I agree with you that the SI thing looks great. And I have to admit I laughed pretty hard at the GoDaddy commercials.
DANICA PATRICK: Good. It was meant to make people laugh.
Q. Well, good. It succeeded with me, anyway. But it was pretty edgy. What's the line? What would you not do and where is the line between sort of promotion and distraction?
DANICA PATRICK (8:30): Well, I think that the line for me is my line of how I feel. If I get into a situation that I feel uncomfortable in, if you get that gut feeling of, 'Yeah, this isn't right,' or you feel self-conscious or embarrassed, that's where I draw the line. So I would never do anything that I feel uncomfortable in.
I've had situations where if a photo, somebody wants to take a photo a certain way, I'll say, 'Look, I'm not real happy with this idea. But, take a Polaroid. Let me look at it and see what I think.' Then I can look for myself to see what it looks like as well. So I take very many precautions to make sure that I feel comfortable in every situation, and then I can never really be embarrassed.
It doesn't matter what people say. I've respected my own line. I haven't crossed it. So, for me, I think that swimsuit issue is probably, obviously, about as far as I'd go with as little clothes. But I have a hard time with never saying never, because I think that that can come to bite you later on. But let's just say I'm pretty happy with that line right there.
Q. Do you see a correlation between the fact that we're ‑‑ the series has lost two champions and two Indy 500 winners. And the fact that all the promotion lately is about a guy who dances and a girl who wears a swimsuit?
DANICA PATRICK: No, those are great things. I think that as I was saying earlier in the call, let's take Helio (Castroneves) for instance. A lot of people do that show. Twenty million people watch it, which is great. And the things that I've done, 97 million people watched the Super Bowl. And the swimsuit issue sells more copies than any other issue of the year. So I think those are amazing things for the Indy Racing League to have as far as marketing tools and personalities.
I've always known that the IndyCar Series has great potential for personalities and interests within the media. So I think it's just great that it's showing now. You know, I think it's great for everybody.
Q. One sort of topical racing related question, what is your take on these open wheel reunification talks and how it could affect your racing?
DANICA PATRICK (11:00): Well, I would imagine I'm probably speaking for many people when we say it's about time. You know it's been a tough process for everybody. It's been disappointing for a lot of people. I think it's distracted and taken away a lot of good sponsors that were discouraged by the split. So I hope this is like a new birth of sponsorship and interests.
I've always said that fans need something easy. Fans need something simple that's easy to understand. When you try to explain it ‑ which, trust me, I barely understood it initially about the two series and everything ‑ it's crap. It makes it difficult. So this is going to make everything so much easier.
We're going to get great races put together. We're going to have all the best events put into one series, and more drivers, and that always makes for more passing, more excitement, more interest. So it's a win, win, win, win situation.
Q. Besides the swimsuit issue and your business and the Super Bowl ads, did you do anything fun during the break? Did you get any vacation time?
DANICA PATRICK: I did go on vacation, actually. My husband and myself and another couple, we took a trip back to Fiji. We went there for our honeymoon, so we went back there to a different place. We had met a couple of really nice people at a charity event that let us stay at their house. So not an all‑bad situation. So we had a nice time.
We've been fairly busy. We've had sort of probably two different times during the off‑season where we've had maybe a week to 10 days of pretty slow. But that's nice. It helps you get refreshed and get energized and want to get back to work. Because, you know, there's nothing worse than waking up and not having anything to do and no reason for the day. It's like, 'Oh, I guess I'll workout today for four hours because I've got nothing else to do.' So, yep, we had a good time.
Q. With the season coming up, are there any particular goals you've set for yourself?
DANICA PATRICK (13:00): I'm consistent on this one. I don't set any goals that I have to achieve or do, and I guess if I had to say one it would be win. But I'm not very much different than every other driver out there and that is their goal as well. Then follow that up by, win with the words 'as many times as you can.' I wouldn't think I'm much different than any other driver out there.
Q. With the second season with Andretti Green, do you feel a lot more comfortable with the team now since you've been through it once before?
DANICA PATRICK (15:00): I do. This is the most excited I've been going into a season, most comfortable I've felt. This year I feel like excitement is sort of maybe number one to nervousness. Where normally every other year I was more nervous than anything. So I'm really excited about it.
I feel confident as a driver. I feel like I've really come into my own and feel like I'm able to really push those limits to where I need to be. And I'm just really excited.
Q. With Sam Hornish leaving the series this year that, leaves you and Marco (Andretti) as the most significant American drivers of substance. Does that add any pressure to you this year?
DANICA PATRICK: No, no, I didn't even know that until you mentioned it. I think we have so many. I guess it's hard for me to really look at it like American drivers, because there's a bunch of us. I guess if there were only a couple you'd feel that pressure, excitement to be kind of someone that the home team would cheer for, hopefully.
But not really, you know. I think for me I look at every competitor as being one in their own - a competitor in the IndyCar Series, regardless of their background and where they're from. I guess you kind of forget all the accents after a while. So, no, I don't feel anything for that.
Q. With the talks on unification, do you feel all the drivers are eager for that to finally happen? Do you think it would be a smooth process?
DANICA PATRICK (16:00): I would think all the drivers and probably the owners and the series owners are probably excited. I think there's been a long string of years that have been financial burdens, probably, for those who own the series and trying to keep them going.
So will it be an easy transition? Absolutely not. It's going to be probably difficult, it's probably going to be a little messy. Probably going to be a little bit of that transition of what is going where? Who is doing what? What are the new rules?
But from my standpoint, I think that the IndyCar Series has kind of prevailed as the successful series that's really made a difference and really come through and brought the fans out.
I think that probably most people recognize that. So I don't see a lot of things changing as far as the people that are in the IndyCar Series and the people that exist there.
So it will probably be tougher for the drivers and teams coming over from the other series just because it's going to be, you know, they're going to be walking into our series. But I think it's the best thing that we can possibly do.
I think there are so many people that believe it's long overdue. I'm one of them. I've been working really hard since I came to the IndyCar Series to make it bigger, better than ever. And this is one of the things that I had always hoped that would happen so I'm glad to be a part of it.
Q. To kind of build upon the merger talk, when you combine that with some of the things you're doing in the off‑season such as the Super Bowl ads, SI swimsuit issue, Castroneves with the dancing, how can the IRL turn all these things and create positive momentum and bring out a larger fan base in 2008?
DANICA PATRICK (18:00): I'm probably not exactly the right person to ask. But I have my own ideas so I'll give you those. I think that in this, where we're at right now, we're kind of at a pivotal stage right now where we can really make it big and we can really push ourselves out there.
I kind of have a theory that it takes money to make money. I wish there would be more ads. I want to see more commercials. I want to know when our races are on TV because I'm watching the shows that I watch on TV, and I don't see that. So you watch TV and you see advertisements for every other sporting event, every other big sporting event 10 times during a program. I think that we need that. I think that we need mainstream exposure.
The race fans that are going to watch are going to watch. We need to make sure we reach out to all of those people that are watching "House" or "Desperate Housewives" or something. We need to really push and come up with some clever commercials that display some personality and funny is always funny. Funny is always good.
That's what I'd like to see happen. But I'm not the one with the checkbook, and I'm not the one calling the shots. I'm just a little driver with ideas.
Q. First season last year with Andretti Green Racing. Were you pleased with the year or disappointed with seventh in points?
DANICA PATRICK (19:30): You know, I think that whenever you come to the end of the season you always think this, this, and this could have gone right and I would have been there. I had a chance in the last race to actually finish fifth in the championship. Things needed to play out right, but I was that far into the game. I was close enough in points. So fifth I would have been ecstatic for that.
Given the year and how the previous years had gone, I think that would have been great. But you know, I think that I'm very happy with how the road-course racing progressed through the year. And I think I'm going to be really strong on the ovals and excited. I feel like I've got a lot stored up inside me to let out, so I'm excited.
Q. Just wanted to ask you as far as you know when you do extracurricular things outside the game that you sometimes might get some criticism for, do you think you're criticized anymore than if Dario Franchitti went in the magazine in his Speedo?
DANICA PATRICK (20:30): Yeah, probably. I think there is some sort of thing out there about women showing their bodies. Yeah, I think there's always been that. We're always going to get some of that - at least for another decade or so. Whenever that transition happens, it's going to be a slow one, I'm sure.
But, yeah, there's always just people are always talking about it. And you know what though, fine, because people are paying attention. That's what it means. I think that as long as I stick to my guns with what I feel comfortable with, it's just more exposure and more interests and more people reading about myself and the series and my sponsors.
So, you know, I take it all in stride and I feel comfortable with all of it. That's all I can say. I'm not defensive. I'm not insecure. I have fun with everything I've ever done.
Q. My question is about the chemistry of your team this year.
DANICA PATRICK (22:00): Oh, good, because I thought you were going to ask me about chemistry, and I don't know a thing about that. No, just kidding.
Q. I was wondering if you analyze the difference in the way the team's going to be run this year in terms of your position on it? You're not a rookie there anymore, and maybe you're in more of a position to be some sort of a team leader. Also wondered about your new teammate. I think it's Hideki Mutoh, is that right?
DANICA PATRICK: Correct, yeah. I think every driver's dream is to be a leader on a team. I think it's probably pretty clear that Tony Kanaan is that right now. He has the most experience and most accomplishments, and he's a very generous person when it comes to offering up information and help.
I made a habit of going to him all the time and asking for help because I think it's foolish to waste that kind of opportunity and ability to ask a guy like that. You know, probably as long as he's there, he's probably going to be seen as that. That is just the experience.
But I think that if I could be even seen on a near level of him, I think at this point in my career I'd be very happy and very honored. So I'm going to do the best I can to earn that respect, to earn that position. We have a great team to make that happen. We always work together, and we always work together well.
And then as far as the new driver, Hideki (Mutoh), he's ‑‑ I haven't talked to him a lot. We've always been busy testing or running around whenever he's been there. And I don't know how great his English is, but all I'm going to say is with how much talking we do as a team and with the drivers and engineers, his English is going to get better real fast or he's going to struggle. Because we talk a lot. It's what helps the team go forward.
So I think it's going to be great. I trust every decision that the team makes, and believe that it's for the best of the team. I guess I'm looking forward to somebody else with information that can possibly make us a better team.
Then to play that honoring role of being some sort of a mentor, role model to a young driver that is new to the series, I think that's always flattering when people look to you for information. So that will be new.
Q. I guess I have a two‑part question, you may or may not have answered this. In your mind, do you feel that the acclimation process with Andretti Green is complete? And, if so, how can the things you picked up last season, how do you think those can help you win races and contend for the title this year?
DANICA PATRICK (25:00): Well, I think I'm acclimated. I think that first year plays a big part. I think Indy plays a big part because you spend so much time with them. You spend 30 days together talking for hours. It's impossible to not learn each other and get along.
But I think that all of the things that I've done from last year and to be honest, it's every single year, everything you do helps you get that much further down the road and experience and what you need to succeed.
I think that for me, you know, pushing the limits and putting yourself in predicaments that might be a little bit iffy and being aggressive come from being comfortable in the car. And I think the only thing that makes you comfortable in the car is time. And so I think that with all the time that I've had now, I think that I'm really feeling comfortable with the car and able to push it really far.
It's always nice as a driver when you get to the point where you feel like it's kind of your little toy. You just do what you want with it, and you're in control of it. And I think that I'm, you know, to that point now where I feel good.
I mean, you can never drive around a car that, you know, is trying to go in the wall and scare you. If a car isn't right, it's not right. But I think when a car is close to right or right, you know, a driver, a seasoned driver, can do a lot with that.
Q. Are you concerned at all when open wheel racers go to NASCAR, especially given you are one of those who might have? And number two, as the most popular name in open wheel, do you feel any pressure from the outside to get your first win?
DANICA PATRICK (27:00): All right, the first part about drivers leaving. Yeah, well, that's never good, you know. You always want to keep drivers in the series and you definitely always want to keep the leaders in the series. Makes for better racing, more respect for the series, and it's good for everybody, and they become marquis names. So I think that's always a little bit tough.
But I think that the important part would be that everybody on the inside has a look and trying to understand why it is that they're leaving and fix that so they don't. So more don't. So that's, you know, not up to me to do, but that's what I would say would be the best advice to try to keep the drivers to try and understand why they left and make sure that's not one of the situations that still exists.
Q. As the most popular name in open wheel, do you feel pressure from the outside? Obviously you want to win internally, but do you feel pressure from the outside?
DANICA PATRICK (28:00): I think for me, I want to win for them. I want to win for me, of course, for my family, for everybody close to me, for the team, for sponsors. But I want to win for those fans who cheer week in and week out. I want to do it for them. I want them to be excited that weekend that it finally happens. You know, that's what I want to do.
I want them to stay my fans. I think the way you keep fans is to be exciting and to, obviously, do well. It's always a good thing. So I feel like I have some really great little fans out there, and I just want to do it for them to give them a great Sunday.
Q. I want to say congratulations, because I think you've been a great spokeswoman for the IndyCar Series. And you came in sixth last year at Infineon, much better than the year before, and you seem much more comfortable on the track. What, if anything, have you learned about Sonoma from last year?
DANICA PATRICK (29:00): Yeah, I feel more comfortable. I think it's always a nice feeling when you've finally kind of overcome those hurdles that, you know, stand in front of you in your life in certain spots. So I definitely feel much better.
You know, I think the only thing you can do is just to keep pushing. Remember how you got there. Remember what made you go forward and never stop, because nobody else is.
Q. How much pressure do you feel this year to get your first win? Do you feel as much as last year? Maybe a little less? Little more relaxed about it?
DANICA PATRICK: You know, I just want to get it done. Is that so bad to say? I feel like there's been times where I've come close. There's been times where I've been maybe more preoccupied being a team player. And I think that I really feel like it's time. It's my time to do it. It's overdue, and it's going to be a big relief when it finally happens.
I mean, I don't know. I think that I always put so much pressure on myself. I don't know if anybody ever sees how mean I look at the racetrack on race weekends. But I always put tons of pressure on myself, and I'm always very serious and very focused. I'd be lying if I said that there was more or less pressure from the first year till now.
Q. Is it the time that you've now spent on the road courses that's made you a better road course driver?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I think it's having the time, sure. Because if you think about it in the old days when the series used to have half, you know ten or so, 12 races on the road courses. I mean, when we started the series, we had three, and then it was five. You don't have that many races in the road courses, so it takes a couple of seasons to even equal what used to be a full‑time on the road courses. And we don't get that much testing.
So I think that time has played a big part. I think having the teammates that I do that just push you so hard to be good, especially on the road courses. When you have guys like last year with Marco was great on the road courses, and Dario's fantastic, and Tony's amazing. They're all so good that I put a lot of pressure on myself to not be the slumps.
No driver wants to be fourth in anything when it comes to teammates. You want to all be the same. Obviously, if you're not the same time, you want to be a little bit better. So I pushed hard.
Q. Do you feel better about coming to Sonoma this year? Because two years ago you got hit and last year you did so much better.
DANICA PATRICK: I didn't like Sonoma so much in the beginning. I kind of had a bad feeling about it, didn't like it. Didn't care if I ever came back. But maybe it's not so much the same anymore. After last year I feel much better. I think that now I see it as more of a fun track.
I'm no different than any other driver, every other driver's going to say the tracks that they like are the ones that they've done the best on. So doing better, has definitely made me more excited to go back. And I love the wine country, so that's another reason.
Q. I was wondering what you think this season's going to look like as far as balance of power? Do you see another Andretti Green versus Ganassi deal with maybe Penske not as strong with Sam gone?
DANICA PATRICK (33:30): Well, I think that it's funny. Somebody asked me a couple days ago how do you know who is going to be good like in other sports like football and basketball they have an idea. But in racing you really ‑‑ you know, there are top teams and within those top teams you just don't know until you get there.
You don't know who has done the best work in the off‑season to make a difference, to go faster. Because everybody's working, it's just who has done the most and who has been the most successful.
So I see the top teams as being the same. I see it still being Penske and Ganassi and us. But you know, I wouldn't be surprised if, Penske felt a little bit of a loss from Sam (Hornish Jr.) leaving. I think that he was a major contributor to that team as far as set‑ups.
I think while Helio's good and accomplished a lot, and Ryan (Briscoe) is going to be great on road courses, I believe. He's going to be very as fast as he was the first year. Maybe it will be a little bit harder. I think that Sam was a great driver in the IndyCar Series. So I'm sure he'll be missed.
Q. Have there been some changes made to the cars drivability‑wise this year, and maybe I'm wrong on this, about the power steering, and maybe the shifter with the steering wheel or in the column there? Is that going to help you on road courses? And then follow it up with is it maddening to you sometimes how close you've come to victory, but how much luck plays into this? And how do you compartmentalize that part of this game?
DANICA PATRICK (35:30): As far as the new addition to the cars for the drivers, we have paddle shifting now on the back of the steering wheel. So presumably that's supposed to make it a little bit easier for you physically because you won't have to take your hand completely off the wheel.
But it's still going to be pretty ‑‑ it's not going to make a huge difference, because you're really only driving with like your thumb and part of your pointer finger, because you're going to be reaching back with the rest of your fingers, but it will help a little bit.
They've also added a piece to the steering that is a progressive steering rack that when you turn the wheel a lot, it makes it harder. And when you turn the wheel only a little bit, it makes it easier, so it sort of changes with different degrees of steering lock. Too technical to really go into. But anyway, that should make a little bit of a difference.
Then with frustrations of coming close to winning and bad luck, compartmentalizing, they're all the same thing. In racing, you have to get lucky. You have to be good, and then, you know, if you have both of those things then you win races and you finish up front all the time.
So for me, I feel like I have the same good and bad luck as anybody else. When it comes to being good, I think that I'm better than I've ever been, so I think, therefore, I have the best chances I've ever had to win.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. Appreciate it.
DANICA PATRICK: You're welcome. Thank you.