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The Score - Anthony Schoettle

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Sports Business

Full-page ad with Danica slaps IndyCar in the face

September 16, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

I’m not sure which is more surprising; the fact that race car driver Danica Patrick is one of the featured speakers at the Get Motivated Business Seminar at Conseco Fieldhouse Oct. 25, or the description of Patrick event marketers chose to put in a full page ad appearing in the Indianapolis Star this week.

First, Patrick, as popular as she is, seems just a bit out of place next to Zig Ziglar’s other sports star supporting cast. Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw have eight Super Bowl championships between them. OK, even if sports stars aren’t my role models, these guys have really produced at a high level. They may have something to teach the business types out there from Dilbert to Hilbert.

But I’m not sure Patrick’s resume proves she has much to impart. The title over her name in the ad, and presumably the thrust of her talk is “What it takes to be a winner.”

Well, if you're talking about winning top-tier racing events, I’m not sure Patrick will have much to say. If you want to talk about what it takes to be a woman in a male-dominated field, you could probably do better than Patrick. Several women have broken more ground (even in motorsports) and accomplished more than Patrick.

One IndyCar victory? Well, I guess that is one more than a number of open-wheel racers, but she’s no Al Unser Sr. Nor is she Jeff Gordon.

Which brings me to my next point. I’m sure IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard—along with Patrick’s IndyCar boss Michael Andretti—loved the description of Patrick in the ad as “Elite NASCAR Driver.” Forget the fact that Patrick has never come close to winning even an ARCA race in her first year on the circuit. The least event promoters could have done was call Patrick an IndyCar racer in IndyCar’s hometown.

Talk about a lack of respect. Perhaps it's  just another small dig at the open-wheel series, but things like this erode the series' remaining credibility over time.

Alas, before you think I have no respect for Patrick, that’s not true. I think she’s young and has some talent, and we need to let her career play out before we write her epitaph.

And I think the Patrick haters are a little too quick to give her grief in situations where they give other drivers a pass. Since IndyCar drivers are headed to Motegi this weekend, the site of Patrick's only IndyCar win in 2008, I think that’s a fair place to start this conversation.

Much was made about Patrick’s Motegi victory. Many detractors said Helio Castroneves let Patrick win or she won only by playing the fuel conservation card. I’m not sure Castroneves letting her win is a terribly plausible scenario. But instead of calling her fuel saving tactics savvy, many seemed to agree it was a cheap way to steal a victory.

Oddly, I didn’t hear the same crowing when Castroneves used fuel saving tactics to win at Kentucky Sept. 4. Instead the headlines screamed “Helio wins strategically.”

Whenever Patrick runs up front at Indianapolis, talk among detractors always shifts to her relative light body weight, and decidedly away from her ability to steer the car through traffic.

So while I might not think she’s quite worthy of hitting the motivational speaking circuit just yet, I think Patrick deserves credit for what she’s accomplished. She’s the first woman to win an IndyCar event, and that’s no small feat.

But before she tells others it takes to be a winner (on a consistent basis), she should figure that out for herself.

And she certainly doesn’t deserve to be called an elite NASCAR driver.

Not yet anyway.
 

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