Danica victory puts IRL in high gear

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DanicashirtDanica Patrick’s life is getting faster by the second. She’s not the only one moving at warp speed, as merchandisers and Indy Racing League officials hustle to capitalize on her historic victory Saturday in Japan.

Since becoming the first woman ever to win an open-wheel race, Patrick has flown into California for a West Coast media blitz. She was mobbed by media at the Long Beach Grand Prix on Sunday and did interviews with Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, People Magazine and USA Today, among others. Today, she did a round of interviews for national morning news shows, and will do another round later this week.

She is at Honda’a California headquarters today rubbing elbows with the series’ biggest sponsors. She will be in New York likely Wednesday and Thursday for another media blitz orchestrated by IRL officials, before flying to Kansas for the next series race April 27.

“We’ve had a plan in place for her first victory, how to deal with it from a marketing and public relations standpoint, ever since she entered the league,” said Amy Konrath, IRL spokeswoman. “We have been working very closely with her representatives and her team, Andretti-Green Racing, to maximize the exposure from this.”

Patrick’s merchandise is selling fast. Officials for Indianapolis-based MainGate Inc., which has an exclusive deal to handle licensed products for the 26-year-old driver, already is seeing major sales increases in items bearing her image. MainGate, which also operates Patrick’s Web site, had a T-shirt designed for Patrick’s first victory and rolled it out for sale at 6 p.m. yesterday.

“DanicaRacingStore.com traffic has increased 550 percent since her victory, and sales are up 900 percent,” said David Moroknek, MainGate CEO.

Patrick’s merchandise has been growing at a triple-digit clip for the last three years, IRL officials said. She sells more merchandise than all other IRL drivers combined, but sports marketers said she still only sells about 40 percent of what NASCAR stars such as Jeff Gordon do. MainGate officials wouldn’t divulge annual sales for Patrick’s licensed goods, but other sports marketers estimated it near $100 million. MainGate plans to have a complete line of new products commemorating the victory for May in Indianapolis, where the company will operate three mobile trailers dedicated to Patrick.

“With this victory, we think annual sales of her products will double,” Moroknek said. “We’ve seen absolutely unprecedented demand for her autographed merchandise and we’re working on a line of that too.”

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