In 2005 Danica Patrick made history by becoming the first female driver to lead the Indianapolis 500. Although she finished fourth, she was named “Rookie of the Year” for the race and garnered the attention of the racing world. She also finished that season with IndyCar Rookie of the Year honors.
The conventional wisdom was that it was not a question of if she could win, but instead when she would win. Since that time, I have watched as many of the races as possible, hoping to witness history unfold.
This weekend it happened. Halfway around the world, in Motegi, Japan, Danica Patrick became the first female driver to win an IndyCar race.
She (and two other drivers) pitted with 52 laps to go and pursued a fuel conservation strategy for the remainder of the race. Having to drive more conservatively to save fuel, she dropped to ninth place and things looked bleak. Then with about five laps to go, the other drivers, running low on fuel, had to pit. She soon found herself in second pace.
With only two laps remaining, she assertedly passed Helio Castroneves to take the lead for the first time that day. “Could it be, I wondered? I held by breath around each turn as she steadily increased her lead. One lap to go, then a half, a final turn, and she crossed the finished line to take the checkered flag.
My wife gave me a high-five as we celebrated her victory, glad to have watched the race. Sports Illustrated (SI.com) immediately labeled the race as an “instant classic.”
Then it began to sink in; what an historic event this truly was. Surely she will win more races and other women will win IndyCar races, but only one person can ever be the first — and that will never change. Danica Patrick made history — and I watched it happen.