By ALLISON KUGEL
As a race-car driver, Danica Patrick broke barriers and set records with her on-track performance. It wasn’t long before she joined the mainstream ranks by succeeding in the male-dominated world of professional motorsports. With stunning good looks and an unrelenting ambition to top her personal best in every race, Danica was named to TIME’s 100 Most Influential People list, while her figure graced the pages of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Making her mark in pop culture, Danica has appeared in a record-setting 14 Super Bowl commercials. In 2005, she stunned the world by leading 19 laps and finishing fourth in her first Indianapolis 500. In 2008, Danica made history again becoming the first woman to win a major-league open-wheel race in a North American series with her victory in the IndyCar Series Indy Japan 300 race. She became the first woman to win a NASCAR Cup Series pole when she set the fastest time in qualifying 500, and then finished in eighth place, the highest finishing position ever for a woman in the “Great American Race.” Now retired from racing, Danica is focused on her podcast Pretty Intense, her speaking career, and her new role as vigneron and sole proprietor of Somnium Wine, her vineyard in Napa Valley, California, as well as her Provence Danica Rose wine brand.
You started Go-Kart racing as a kid, with your family. What was the impetus for turning that hobby into professional racing?
I don’t think there was a specific point where I said, “I’m going to try this.” It was more of a natural progression. I remember when I was ten, I thought I would go to college for engineering to learn how to work on my race car. That was my first thought. The next jump was when I was 16 and I moved to England to continue pursuing racing. I left high school. It was my junior year, and I pretty much didn’t even go [to high school] that year. I left halfway through my junior year, during Christmas break. I guess at that point in time I thought, “Hey, let’s see where this can go,” because there was a talent and there was an interest. I moved to England when I was 16 and lived there for three years without my family. Then I came back, and I didn’t have a ride. I wasn’t racing, and at that point in time I think a lot of people, and I think probably a lot of parents would be thinking, “You better get it together and figure out what you’re going to do.”
Did you have a moment of “Yikes, what have I done? I left school!”?
Honestly, I didn’t. I always had a lot of what I would call “blind faith,” that it was going to work, and I say blind faith because there is no way it should have worked. I’m not from a famous family of racing names. There wasn’t a fallback if I didn’t make it on my own in racing. It was just me. There was no good reason why I should make it, other than the fact that I had a lot of confidence that it was going to work out. I believed that if someone gave me a chance it could be a big deal, and I could do the job. I stuck with it, and it was when Bobby Rahal hired me to drive his Formula Atlantic car, which was one step under Indy cars, which was probably the next step for me. The next point after that, because you never know how long stuff is going to last, was four races into my Indy car career. I had a big Indy 500 month. I almost qualified on the pole, and I almost won the race my first time there. It wasn’t one moment; it was a series of moments that got me there.
Were you aware at that young age, that, for the most part, this was not a woman’s sport? Like, “I’m doing something that women don’t do.”
No, because that wasn’t the way I was brought up. It wasn’t like I was the only one. Sometimes there was another girl out there. At first my sister did it too. It wasn’t a complete anomaly, it was just more rare. My dad taught me to be the fastest driver, period. All through my Go Karting career, it was not about being the fastest. It was not about being the fastest girl. It was always about, “How fast can I go?” And so sometimes that meant I was half a second quicker than anybody else, because just being the fastest wasn’t my best. My best was more.
You had an awareness that you were not competing against the other drivers, you were competing against your own best performance?
Yes. I think that was a core value. It’s almost like, there is no ceiling on this; how far can you take it?
Were there naysayers? Was there any bullying or sexism that you encountered?
That’s such a common question, especially being a girl in a guy’s sport, but that is not what happened.
That’s good, that it didn’t happen.
You know, any amount of it is human. Trust me, living in England and being a teenager with a bunch of teenage guys and having them gossip, or make jokes, or you could tell they’re whispering about you… but it wasn’t about being a girl. That was about being that age, you know? Maybe part of it was about being a girl, but that’s not what I chose to focus on. What I chose to focus on was that I was at a pivotal age. Teenage years … boys will be boys, and this is just human nature. If this didn’t just happen at the racetrack, it would have been happening in school. Look, if someone is pinning me down for something that I’ve done that they don’t agree with, okay. But they’re also talking about me when I finish fourth, and you know what, they’re not talking about the guys when they finish fourth. You can’t go off and criticise the bad, because it seems like they’re coming at you because of your gender or something like that, because then there are other things that are happening [because of your gender] that are great. I’ve always chosen to focus on the good that came with it, not the bad, and I think it’s given me a really good non-victim mentality. Playing the victim is like an epidemic, and it’s hindering to progress. There is nothing good that comes from it.
Do you think the age we are living in now, with cancel culture, is that what you are referring to as the “victim epidemic?”
I think it’s just a dangerous place to be. I think that anytime you are focusing outside of yourself, is not the right focus.
During your racing career, did you ever think about the possibility of grave injury, or the possibility of death?
It is an awareness, but I don’t think it’s something you really think about a lot. I guess sometimes it’s contrast that gives you that perspective, in hindsight. I did the broadcast for the Indy 500 the year after I was finished, in 2019. I’m sitting on this pit row in the pit box with [sportscaster] Mike Tirico. We do a lot of the pre-race coverage, and then it shifts to the booth after that, and we’re done doing the majority of the work. The cars were coming down the front straightaway to take the green flag, and I remember I was having this moment where I was laughing and thinking this is such a different place to be [sitting]. Then I remember also thinking, “They are so crazy.” I knew how dangerous it was. From the vantage point of a spectator, I was able to let it get into my mind more, and into my body, and realise what the consequences were of a bad day, of a crash. Our perception is what creates our reality. If I would have had the perception of how dangerous it was, maybe it would have changed me as a driver, or changed how long I did it, or even if I did it. But I didn’t have that perception. There was an awareness, because I’m human and I’m not blind, but it wasn’t something that I put any huge amount of attention on.
Has there been any type of fear or phobia that you have had to overcome?
A million! There are many things that I’ve had to overcome. I’ve had to overcome the fear of not being good enough. I think that was a programming I got from a young age, from my dad pushing and pushing me. But if I had to choose between a dad that pushed me hard and got me to where I am or have a dad that let me just do whatever I wanted and was easygoing and not hard on me, they both have consequences. I’m happy to get the one that I got, but it doesn’t mean that I didn’t have something to deal with. My dad pushed me a lot and I had this sort of narrative in my head that nothing was ever good enough. If anyone ever criticised me for being lazy or not trying hard enough, I would get defensive. I would get triggered by it, because that was a wound, that feeling that I wasn’t good enough. That could show up in perfectionistic ways in work or in my relationships. It’s something I feel like I’ve had to deal with, and I’ve had to learn how to take compliments and to own the good things I have done, and to acknowledge that they are enough and that I am enough.
By the way, that is one of the most common things I hear from people I interview. These are all people at the top their respective industries. It’s a common trait among high achievers.
I think the more it’s talked about, the more we understand. It’s important for people to understand that you get your patterning and programing from your family; from your parents, generally speaking, and that there is work to do later. My biggest accomplishment outside of my racing career, my biggest personal accomplishment, has been accountability and taking ownership for my part in things. It’s knowing that I attract my current reality based on my perceptions, based on my fears, based on my frequency. All of that stuff gives me my reality, and I am the creator. What we resist persists. If you constantly have a fear of not being good enough, you are going to constantly attract people that make you feel not good enough.
That reaffirm that, yes.
Exactly. What we are trying to do is correct the original wound, right? We think, “Well, I’ll prove it to this person, that I’m enough.”
Yes, and that shows up, big time, in our romantic relationships.
We can’t fix it. It’s a pattern showing itself over and over again to get you to change, do it differently, and see yourself and your part in that pattern. Another one is the mom stuff. This sort of fear of abandonment, which lends itself to co-dependency and being afraid to be alone. Once I was alone, I was like, “Wow, there is a lot of empowerment here.” I realised that the way I would show up would be really not as empowered and not as confident. I think the professional lessons have been more along the lines of effort, and I’m not going to mess around, you get out of it what you put into it. Sometimes things happen that are wonderful and they’re natural and they flow. When you are in flow, you’re doing what you should be doing, and things do come to you when you’re doing what you should be doing. Once you know what you want, things just happen, and it flows.
Whenever somebody says to me, “Well, I really wanted to do this, but I have to make a living,” my response to that is, “I don’t care where you get your paycheck from. If you want to do something and it resonates with your soul, do it. Do it at night, on the weekends, join a club for it. Don’t let anybody take that away from you and don’t short-change yourself.
You can turn your passion project or something that you do on the weekends into your whole world. I always feel like the ceiling for things that are your job, but not your passion, at best is like an eight out of ten. There is no ceiling to what happens when you do something you are passionate about. All of the best stuff we have in this world comes from someone’s passion. When you set out solely with the goal of making money, I could almost guarantee you that it’s not going to last forever, or it’s not going to be that successful. Even if it is, it won’t feel good because that’s not what the human experience, your emotions, and your heart wants. Your heart wants something so much more expansive. Money is just energy. It’s just an exchange of energy. You do something great, and you get money. It’s over. That’s transactional. When you set the goal to change people’s lives, to inspire people, to give people hope, to make them smile, there is no end to that.
Absolutely. It just expands and expands. Let’s talk about your podcast, Pretty Intense.
The name of the podcast comes from the title of my book, which came out in 2018, as a three-part book. It’s the mind, food, and then it’s fitness and the body. It starts with the mind, because what stops us from finishing anything that we want to accomplish? Our mind. We all know what it takes to eat healthy, we all know what it takes to work out or to lose weight and get fit and strong or build muscles. It’s not rocket science, but it’s our mind that stops us from being consistent and disciplined. So, the mind is where it starts. Then it gets into food and talks about the diet and how I live and eat, along with recipes that I wrote and photographed. The last part is on the body, with a workout program that I wrote that takes you through 12 weeks. I love health and wellness, and anything to do with physical and mental wellness is just my jam. The idea for the podcast, Pretty Intense, really got going in the beginning of 2019. I love to talk to people. I love to ask questions. I learned that I had to learn how to listen better, because I’d never done interviews, previously. I’d always been the one being interviewed, and my job is to ramble on to give you things to write or to air on TV, but I had to learn how to listen which was a good lesson. My podcast is all about diving in with people, and the most rewarding thing is when I get to the end of the interview, especially if it’s someone who does a lot of interviews, and they say, “You ask questions and got me to talk about things I ‘ve never even talked about before.” I believe one of my jobs here is to wake people up and to be a little bit of an initiator and that spark. I want to teach people that we are more alike than we are different. Division is another epidemic right now. We are finding and figuring out every possible way for people to divide. It just seems like it continues to compound, and it’s such a detrimental process to the human experience because community is literally the foundation of wellness. When people are taken out of community, just like in the body, when you take a cell out of its cell community, it goes rogue or kills itself. The same thing happens in the human experience, and we have been put in the worst of positions in the last year and a half to be out of community.
If you could travel back in time and be able to alter any famous historical event, where would you go and what would you attempt to change, or bear witness to?
I just want to go back to the time of Jesus and see how that really went down, be there for it, and see what happened. I also have such a deep fascination for Egypt, for Egyptian mythology, and for the ancient times of the pyramids. I would really want to go back to how the pyramids were built, who built them, who used them, and how people were living back then. What was the technology that was used? And to be able to see if there were really giants, was it extraterrestrial, was this anti-levitational or gravitational technology they had back then, that they decided to not use anymore? The building of the pyramids, I would love to see what that was like, what living was like then, and how they did it. And maybe Adam and Eve. Was there really Adam and Eve? Was it just two people and where was the Garden of Eden? Did they just appear? That would be interesting, because I think I’d just be sitting there watching nothing happen. Things in books from that long ago, we get the story wrong. If two people look at exactly the same thing happen, there are two different stories, and now you’re expecting these stories to get passed down in the Bible years after it actually happened. You’re telling me they got it verbatim? You’re telling me they didn’t get poetic with it? You’re telling me there wasn’t interpretation being written? I think there was probably a lot of stuff that didn’t happen exactly like we think it did.
Let’s talk about your wine company, Somnium Wine. Why have you chosen to purchase a vineyard and invest in your wine brand?
I bought a piece of dirt, planted it, and made Somnium Wine. It started from nothing and then Danica Rose came about more recently with the opportunity to make an authentic rose. I always felt my brand has been rooted in authenticity, so I felt like this was in alignment, to make a rose from Provence, the birthplace of rose. The purpose of wine is about being present with the people that you are with. The goal is to get people to connect and to create memories together, to tell stories, to open up to one another. I want my wine to facilitate old school gatherings where you talk to each other, spend time together, make a meal and sit down at a table together. Communities are, again, a hallmark of wellness.
Hear the extended, unfiltered Danica Patrick interview on Allison Interviews. Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment journalist and host of the Allison Interviews podcast. Listen at Apple Podcasts, Spotify and YouTube. Follow on Instagram @theallisonkugel.