Phil Pash: Danica creates buzz for Indy 500 May 29

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-111703940031113.jpg’, ”, ‘Janet Guthrie’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-111703940931113.jpg’, ”, ‘Danica Patrick’);

Even women who made history by racing in the Indianapolis 500 will be cheering for former Roscoe resident Danica Patrick in the Sunday, May 29 race.

Janet Guthrie, the first woman to compete at Indy, told she believes Patrick can be this year’s champion.

“All the ingredients are in place,” said Guthrie, who made her debut at the Speedway in 1977. “Danica is the first woman to arrive at the Speedway with top-notch equipment and the full backing of a winning team. And she has the talent and determination to make the most of her opportunity.

“Despite her inexperience at Indianapolis, there’s no reason Danica can’t win if she gets the right breaks on race day,” Guthrie added.

Much like Patrick this year, Guthrie caused a wave of interest when she qualified for the 500 for the first time. She started 26th and finished 29th (timing gear). Guthrie finished ninth the next year and 34th in 1979.

Lyn St. James (seven starts from 1992-2000) and Sarah Fisher (five starts from 2000-04) also have competed in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Neither finished in the top 10.

St. James said Patrick, a graduate of St. James’ driver development program, is the “real deal.”

“She’s young and talented,” St. James told “She’s ready. She’s prepared. She’s been dreaming about this for a long time. I think it’s awesome. I think she’s capable of winning, but the racing gods have to be in her corner that day. If she doesn’t win it this year, I think she will be a future winner. She’s still one in 33 and the odds are tough.

“I think what Bobby (Rahal) did, by recognizing that talent and putting her in a couple years of Formula Atlantics for grooming and testing, is great,” St. James added. “Now she’s a part of the Rahal Letterman team. What we still need to focus on is not her be the acceptance of one. Not just say we don’t have to worry about this because we have Danica. If we’re going to get sponsors and fans to flood our gates to show that this sport is really open to women and other minorities, then we have to have more than one carry the banner. The one we have has to do an extraordinary job, which is exactly what she’s doing. That’s awesome.”

Patrick, the rookie who qualified on the inside of row two, has been THE story this month—transcending motor sports, said She has been interviewed by national and international media and has been a guest on radio and TV shows from Jim Rome to Late Show with David Letterman. Letterman, a partner in Rahal Letterman Racing, technically is one of her bosses.

All the drivers were in New York City May 23, and lunch time patrons of Sardi’s nearly dropped their salad forks when the gaggle of athletes wearing colorful attire walked past to converge at 44th and Broadway, said

On “Indy 500 Day in New York City”—so proclaimed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg—the 33 drivers lined up in traditional 11-row order (wearing their firesuits and with helmets tucked under their right arms) in Times Square for an unprecedented media photo opportunity behind a “yard of bricks” graphic.

The Borg-Warner Trophy, which was making its first New York appearance since being unveiled at the Roosevelt Hotel in 1936, and a Team 7-Eleven show car of pole winner Tony Kanaan flanked the field. In some photos, former U.S. Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, who will drive the pace car in the May 29 classic, joined the drivers.

People clogged the street, ignoring honking cabs and dodging bicyclists, to capture a photo on their mobile phones of their favorite drivers, said Others filled balconies and pressed against windows of Planet Hollywood, the ESPN Zone and the Good Morning America studio to catch a glimpse.

“I heard people yelling my name, yelling, ‘Go, girl,’ when we were doing the photo shoot, so that’s terrific,” said Patrick.

It was a full day of activity for the drivers, who were swarmed by media during a luncheon on the ninth floor of the New York Marriott Marquis after photojournalists had their fill in Times Square.

For Patrick, it was especially busy. She began her blitz May 22 by being the guest on a satellite media tour at the ESPN Zone. She kicked off May 23 by appearing on ESPN2’s Cold Pizza with Kanaan and on the Fox Morning News. A taped interview was broadcast on ABC World News Tonight.

By the time she was able to pick at her salad while fielding questions from the print media, Patrick had been interviewed by 25 TV outlets in 18 hours, said

In the afternoon, Patrick was a guest on the syndicated Jim Rome Show on Fox Sports Radio, taped a segment for CNN NewsNight with Aaron Brown and was a guest on Late Show.

“I’m sure I’ll just thank him (Letterman) for my job, and ask him that if I go out there and do really well, do I get a job next year?” she said.

Letterman, an Indianapolis native, is scheduled to cheer on Patrick and RLR teammates Kenny Brack, the 1999 race winner, and Vitor Meira on race day. Last year, the team won the pole and race with Buddy Rice.

The marathon talking sessions didn’t faze the 23-year-old Phoenix resident, said

“I want this to be a kick-ass series,” said Patrick, who will be featured in an upcoming “speed edition” of FHM. “I want people to feel the excitement that we all feel out there and get into it. (The media event) is great for all the drivers, and I hope it will go a long way in the media. I hope that more people will tune in and more people will come to the Indy 500 because, no matter where you’re sitting at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you’ll get goose bumps on the first lap.”

From the May 25-31, 2005, issue

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