Monday, April 21, 2008

You Go, Girl!

Check it out: that's not a "podium girl" posing with the trophy. That's Danica Patrick, who made history over the weekend by winning the IndyCar race at Motegi, Japan.

It's the first time a woman has ever won an IndyCar race. To put it in perspective, the first time a woman raced at the Indianapolis 500 was 31 years ago. Only a handful of other women have ever driven those high-speed open-wheel cars, considered by many to be the pinnacle of American motorsports.

I was a big fan of Danica Patrick before this breakthrough win. She's smart, cheeky, sassy, tough as nails. She's made a ton of money off the track because sponsors love the way she connects with consumers.

But without a win, Danica Patrick was--let's face it--a novelty act. She was Ana Kournikova in a Nomex driving suit (when she wasn't posing in a swimsuit).

Patrick's win at Motegi is no fluke. They don't stand back and let you win just because you have a winning smile. She beat the boys at what has always been their own game, and then reveled in the groundbreaking nature of the win as only she could. Her notable quote: "Crap, that's history, dude!"

It sure is. It'll take time for everyone to digest this, but I'm going to argue that Danica Patrick's victory is the single biggest gender-equalizing moment for women in sports history. Many would point to Billie Jean King's "Battle of the Sexes" win over Bobby Riggs in 1973. I mean no disrespect to Billie Jean, who I rank as one of the greatest Americans ever--not just American athlete, but American--but that was a made-for-TV farce. Patrick's win was in a real competition.

Danica Patrick will arrive in Indianapolis in a few weeks for the Indy 500. She was always an attention-getter. Now, she's a history-maker.

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