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Danica Patrick has already changed racing

Danica Patrick at the Daytona 500 qualifying event, February 16, 2014
Danica Patrick at the Daytona 500 qualifying event, February 16, 2014
Jared C. Tilton Getty Images

When Danica Patrick performed poorly during the speed trials at Daytona last week, Richard Petty said, “Danica will win only if everybody else stayed home.”

What Mr. Petty fails to realize is that Danica has already changed racing.

Danica has popularized the sport in a way similar to how Richard Petty did in the 1970s: By inspiring kids to get involved.

In the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2013, four of the thirty-three drivers in the field were women. If Danica Patrick had not made the switch to NASCAR in 2012, there would have been five female drivers in the field.

Women in racing was unheard of only a few years ago. The only previous female driver of any regard was drag racer Shirley Muldowney who won three NHRA Top Fuel between 1977 and 1982.

If Richard Petty wants to discuss below average racers, he need not look further than his own family. His son, Kyle Petty, only won 8 times in 884 starts over a 30 year period. During an on-the-air broadcast in the summer of 2013, Kyle Petty called himself a “journeyman driver” who never amounted to much.

Since her IndyCar Series racing debut in 2005, Danica Patrick, at the age of 31, has already changed racing by inspiring young women to follow in her footsteps. No longer a “men’s only” club, motor sports has embraced several female drivers who are becoming competitive in their own right.

Much more than just a pretty face, Danica Patrick is popular with young children, especially in the 8-12 year old age group. In 2013, Danica won the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award for Favorite Female Athlete, which makes the 3rd time she has won this award. No male driver has ever won the Favorite Male Athlete category.

The young women that raced in last year’s Indianapolis 500 are:

Simona de Silvestro
Age: 25
Hometown: Thun, Switzerland
Racing Circuit: IndyCar Series
Record: 65 starts, 6 wins

Ana Beatriz
Age: 28
Hometown: Sao Paulo, Brazil
Racing Circuit: IndyCar Series & Indy Lights
Record: 25 starts, 1 win

Pippa Mann
Age: 30
Hometown: London, England
Racing Circuit: IndyCar Series & Indy Lights
Record: 27 starts, 1 win

Katherine Legge
Age: 33
Hometown: Guildford, England
Racing Circuit: IndyCar Series, Formula Three, Champ Car
Record: 60 starts, 3 wins

Please view the slideshow for pictures of these pioneering women.