Phil Pash: The Danica Watch—Danica’s diamond

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-1119460491430.jpg’, ‘ photo’, ‘Former Roscoe resident and current Indy Racing League phenom Danica Patrick, 23, displays her emerald cut 4.25-carat diamond engagement ring.’);

Danica Patrick is the first woman nominated for SpeedTV’s Driver of the Year Award in the second quarter 2005. Concluding an exciting month of May, Patrick, 23, becomes a breakthrough driver for the fan vote. Driving for Rahal Letterman Racing, her late-race battle with eventual Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon has attracted media attention around the world. The list of nominated drivers includes Greg Anderson (NHRA), Greg Biffle (NASCAR), Sebastien Bourdais (Champ Car), John Force (NHRA), Jimmie Johnson (NASCAR), Steve Kinser (World of Outlaws), Patrick and Wheldon of the IRL. In its 39th year, the Speed Channel Driver of the Year’s award for this quarter will be determined by an independent vote of the 18-member panel of blue-ribbon auto racing journalists and broadcasters and one vote based on the cumulative tally of fans’ voting at

The Firehouse Pub and Hoffman House will sponsor a bus trip to the Milwaukee Mile IRL race July 24 to see former Roscoe resident Danica Patrick in action. Cost is $125 and includes a tailgate party by Hoffman House/Firehouse Pub, race ticket and bus trip. The bus leaves at 9 a.m. The race is at 1:30 p.m., and fans will arrive back in Roscoe around 6 p.m. Fans can sign up at the Firehouse Pub on Main Street in Roscoe or call (815) 623-8389.

Danica’s diamond, from Some have been fixated with the engagement ring she’s been wearing since Thanksgiving. The rock—4.25 carats, emerald cut in a silver setting—is as big as an eyeball and certainly would make Paris Hilton’s eyes bulge. The ring is on her left hand whenever she’s not in the No. 16 Argent-Pioneer Honda-powered Panoz. Younger sister Brooke, fiancé Paul Hospenthal or mother Bev takes interim possession while Patrick flies on the tracks during the IndyCar Series’ 17 events. “I didn’t want to know any of the details. I told him, ‘Just insure it, honey.’ All I know is that the jeweler who brought it to him, because a three wasn’t big enough or something, he’s like, ‘It’s got to be bigger; it’s got to be great.’ So he brought this and said, ‘The Queen of England would be proud.’ It’s beautiful.” The wedding is in November.

Danica Patrick says she would be interested in racing in Formula One at some point in the future if the right opportunity presented itself. The 23-year-old went to Europe when she was a teen-ager to try to break into single-seater racing, so she knows the ropes, unlike many Americans who find the switch to European ways rather bewildering. Patrick told the Dallas Morning News she would think about F1, but “only if the right situation came about, unless you are in the right team things can be difficult.” Patrick was to be in Indianapolis last week and spend some time with BAR-Honda, although she did not do any demonstration runs with the BAR-Honda F1 car as had been discussed. The Montreal F1 paddock rumor mill churned out information that Danica could do demonstration laps at the USGP at Indy, reported Honda, co-owner of BAR and engine supplier to Danica’s Rahal Letterman team in the IndyCar Series, would be eager to capitalize on the media frenzy surrounding the IRL rookie, who finished 13th at Texas but has become a household name in the U.S. following her fourth-place finish at the Indy 500 last month—a trend the Japanese manufacturer could expand to global dimensions given F1’s worldwide reach. BAR sporting director Gil de Ferran, who has met with Patrick a few times, conceded the commercial possibilities of a Danica F1 test would be “very interesting” for Honda. But even though a USGP test could be arranged, expect Patrick to get some BAR seat time later, predicted The Rahal Letterman driver had commitments regarding the premiere of the new Herbie movie June 17-19, hence she couldn’t stay in Indianapolis.

ESPN’s coverage of the June 11 Texas race had a ratings increase of 150 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research, making it the highest-rated and most-viewed IndyCar Series race in the network’s history. The primetime race coverage garnered a 1.0 cable rating, the equivalent to 880,000 households and more than 1.3 million viewers. According to Nielsen, the race produced a 200 percent increase in ratings for adults (18 and older) from 0.2 in 2004 to 0.6. The rating for men 18-34 increased 100 percent (from 0.2 to 0.4). Females 18 and older saw a 300 percent increase in rating (from 0.1 to 0.4), and males 18 and older saw a 200 percent increase (from 0.3 to 0.9). ESPN’s previous high rating was a 0.9 and 809,000 households for the Homestead-Miami race Feb. 29, 2004. According to Nielsen, 46 of the country’s top 56 markets saw an increase in ratings vs. 2004, with 20 of those markets showing a three-fold increase and ratings in 36 markets at least doubling. The Dallas-Fort Worth market had the biggest audience with 62,000 homes tuned in for a 2.7 rating and a 5 share. Indianapolis saw the biggest rating with a 4.3, representing 46,000 homes and an 8 share. Pre-race programming, which included ESPN Original Entertainment’s Danica Patrick: Road to Indy, earned a 0.4 rating and 383,000 households, matching last season’s race coverage from Texas, according to Nielsen.

The damaged wing from the No. 16 Rahal Letterman Racing Argent-Pioneer Panoz/Honda driven by Danica Patrick in the Indy 500 fetched $42,650.01 on eBay. The section retails for about $5,000 new, but the fact it is associated with the hottest sports personality in the nation contributed to the bidding frenzy, said All things Patrick up for auction on eBay—“from signed Sports Illustrated cover replicas to trading cards from her karting days—are attracting multiple bidders. The winning wing bid—by one cent—came in the final few seconds of the auction. On June 11 at Texas, she signed it “2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year—Danica Patrick.” Panther Racing (with the blessing of Rahal Letterman) placed the wing on eBay to raise money for its charity, Best Buddies Indiana. RLR has agreed to host the winning bidder at an IndyCar race, with Panther Racing providing tickets and pit passes. The winner also will meet Patrick and Tomas Enge, whose sidepod was recipient of the wing during an incident on Lap 154 at Indy.

With the IRL and Danica testing at Watkins Glen International June 15, track officials said there were 90 media requests for credentials, about 70 more than a typical NASCAR Nextel Cup session. “I’m pretty impressed with all the people that have come out here,” Patrick said. “I’m really embracing it and happy with it. The fact that it’s happening is so good for the sport, most importantly, and good for me. It brings a different level of excitement. It raises the bar. Everybody wants to do well because so many more people are watching.” She ran 52 laps with her fastest at 127.587 mph. Among the 19 drivers who tested, she ranked No. 17, ahead of only Roger Yasukawa and Ed Carpenter, and well behind Ryan Briscoe’s best of 132.272 mph. “We’re a little off right now, but we’re working on it so we can get fast for the race,” Patrick said. “As a rookie, you have small victories all over the place. The first one came at Phoenix when I finished my first race. And I finished at Homestead. I’m definitely out here to win. There’s no doubt about that. Some people win faster than others, and some people take years. Let’s understand what’s normal. There’s not much you can do. You just come out here and try.”

Two of the remaining IRL races are within a 60- to 90-minute drive from Rockford: July 24, The Milwaukee Mile (ESPN), tickets: (414) 453-8277; and Sept. 11, Chicagoland Speedway (ABC), tickets: (815) 727-RACE. The July 22-24 Milwaukee race is being sponsored by Ken Hendricks’ ABC Supply Co. of Beloit, Wis. The race is being called the ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt 225.

From the June 22-28, 2005, issue

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