Danica Patrick’s heart remains in Roscoe, but she only makes brief pit stops there during her busy IRL racing schedule. “Roscoe will always be home for me,” said Patrick, who lives with her husband in Phoenix.

Danica Patrick’s heart remains in Roscoe, but she only makes brief pit stops there during her busy IRL racing schedule.

“Roscoe will always be home for me,” said Patrick, who lives with her husband in Phoenix. “But of course, that is because my parents still live there.”

She stays with them occasionally during the race season.

“I do end up staying with my parents a few weeks during the summer just because it makes sense to stay in the Midwest versus going home to Phoenix when we only a day or two off between races,” Patrick, 26, said in an e-mail.

She still keeps in touch with a couple of childhood friends, such as Mary Ann Matus and Marni Ueck.

“I talk to her during race season a couple of times a month,” Matus said. “But when she is in her offseason, we keep in touch a lot more. We hardly ever talk about racing. It’s kind of one time she doesn’t have to talk about it.”

Finally a winner

The national spotlight has refocused on Patrick after she became the first woman to earn an IRL IndyCar Series victory, winning the Indy Japan 300 on April 20.

The victory brought an end to any doubts about Patrick’s ability to win. She had gone 49 series starts without a victory.

“It will be nice to not have to answer questions about when and how and why it hasn’t (happened),” she said of the victory.

She hopes to make history again Sunday at the Indy 500.

“There is no question she can become the first woman to win the Indy 500,” her former team owner, Bobby Rahal, said in 2002.

In 2005, Patrick had her first opportunity to fulfill Rahal’s prediction. She set three Indy 500 records in a fourth-place effort, which was the best-ever for a woman. Janet Guthrie’s ninth place in 1978 had been the record.

She also became the first woman to lead the race — she led 19 laps — and finish on the lead lap. She finished only 4.5515 seconds out of first and led as late as lap 194 of the 200-lap race.

She followed that effort with back-to-back eighth-place finishes in 2006 and 2007.

A start in go-kart

This historical journey started when Patrick was introduced to go-kart racing at age 10.

Her first race was far from successful as she was quickly lapped by the winner. But it wasn’t enough to discourage Patrick, who instantly fell in love with the excitement and competition.

By the end of her first season, she had set the track record for her kart class.

Motivated by her competitive nature and aided by her ability to communicate with her father, T.J., in their driver/crew chief roles, Patrick started collecting victories. Within three years, she captured her first national points championship.

The next couple of seasons, she added several more national titles and began gaining attention from prominent figures in open-wheel racing, such as Lyn St. James, a former Indy car driver, who helps provide opportunities for women in motorsports.

Patrick made a major decision to advance her racing career in 1998. The 16-year-old quit high school and moved to Europe to race open-wheel cars. Her parents supported her choice, but missed their daughter.

“It was a long three years. It wasn’t easy,” her father told the Register Star in 2005.

Her European career was highlighted by a second-place effort in the 2000 England Formula Ford Festival, which was the best-ever finish by a woman and tied Danny Sullivan (1974) for the all-time top performance by an American.

Becoming part of a team

In 2002 Team Rahal signed Patrick to a multiyear driving contract. She ran some Barber-Dodge races to hone her skills and then entered the Toyota Atlantic Series in 2003, finishing sixth in season points. She followed that with a third-place finish in 2004.

In 2004, Rahal Letterman Racing announced Patrick would be the team’s third driver in the IRL IndyCar Series.

In 2007, Patrick began racing for her current team, Andretti Green Racing.
In front of the camera

Along with her rise in the auto-racing world, Patrick also excelled in front of the camera, playing on her good looks and congenial personality.

She appeared on Fox Sports Net’s “Best Damn Sports Show Period” and raced go-karts with host Tom Arnold in 2002.

Since then, she has been on the major late-night talk shows, featured in a sexy shoot for FHM men’s magazine and in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition.

And last week, she was on the SI cover for the second time.

Female racers, such as Stephanie Mockler, also are reaping the benefits of Patrick’s success.

The 20-year-old Westfield, Ind., driver started racing at age 6 and has competed on the elite USAC National Midget Championship tour for three years.

“She is always helping females, letting people know females can actually do this,” Mockler said. “I’ve never met her or anything, but I look up to her. She helps me out and she doesn’t even know it.”

Doug Goodman can be reached at (815) 987-1386 or dgoodman@rrstar.com.

Profile: Danica Sue Patrick

Birth date: March 25, 1982
Family: Husband, Paul Hospenthal; parents, T.J. and Bev; sister, Brooke
Birthplace: Beloit, Wis.
Hometown: Roscoe
Residence: Phoenix

Danica’s racing through the years
1992
Began karting at age 10.

1993
Finished second in the WKA Midwest Sprint Series in Yamaha and US820 classes.

Finished fourth in the WKA Manufacturers Cup national points in the Yamaha Sportsman class.

1994
At age 12, captured her first national points championship in the WKA Manufacturers Cup in the Yamaha Sportsman class.

Collected the WKA Grand National Championship in the Yamaha class.

Won the WKA Great Lakes Sprint Series in the Yamaha Sportsman and US820 Sportsman classes.

1995
Won the WKA Great Lakes Sprint Series title (Yamaha Restricted Junior and US 820 Junior) and was second in the WKA Manufacturers Cup National Points titles in the same categories.

1996
Established herself as a rising star in the karting ranks by winning 39 of 49 feature races. At age 14, won the WKA Manufacturers Cup National Points title in the Yamaha Junior and Restricted Junior classes.

Was runner-up in for the WKA Manufacturers Cup National Points title (HPV 100 Junior) and the WKA Grand National Championship (Yamaha Restricted Junior).
Captured five WKA Great Lakes Sprint Series and WKA Midwest Spring Series titles.

Won the IKF Division 7 event in Willow Springs, Calif., (Yamaha Junior) and finished second in the IKF Grand Nationals in the Yamaha Junior group.

1997
In her final full season of karting she captured the World Karting Association Grand National championship, HPV class.

Won the WKA Grand National championship in Yamaha Lite class.

Won the WKA Summer National championship in Yamaha Lite class.

Finished 10th in the Elk Constructors championship in Formula A.

1998
Made her debut in England at age 16 in the Formula Vauxhall Winter Series.
Ran a limited karting schedule while attending the Formula Ford racing school in Canada.

1999
Finished ninth in the Formula Vauxhall Championship in England, her first full season in the UK.

2000
Finished second at the Formula Ford Festival in England, the highest finish ever for an American in the event.

Drove for Andy Welch in the British Zetek Formula Ford Championship in England and for Haywood Racing in the European Formula Ford Series.

Served as the lead test driver for Haywood Racing and Mygale Factory Team.

2001
Won the Gorsline Scholarship Award for the top upcoming road racing driver.

Recognized as the top female open-wheel driver with international experience.

Competed in England in the British Zetek Formula Ford Championship.

Returned to the United States seeking a top open-wheel ride. Had successful test runs in USAC Midget, Toyota Atlantic and an ALMS car.

2002
Signed a multiyear driving contract with Team Rahal. Named the team’s driver for a Toyota Atlantic entry in 2003.

Ran a limited Barber-Dodge Pro Series schedule of five races.

Made her Barber-Dodge debut at Toronto, qualifying 11th and finishing seventh.

Collected her highest Barber-Dodge finish, which was a fourth at Vancouver.

Tested a NASCAR Busch Grand National car with PPC Racing in June.

Captured the pole for the Long Beach Grand Prix Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race and won the pro division, topping former Trans Am champion Tommy Kendall and IRL driver Sarah Fisher.

2003
Piloted the Argent Mortgage Company Toyota/Swift to a sixth-place finish in the Toyota Atlantic Championship. Claimed a pair of podium results and five top-five finishes in her rookie season.

Became the first female to post a podium (top-three) result in the 30-year history of the Atlantic series with a third-place finish at Monterrey.

Posted top-five results at Cleveland, Trois Rivieres and Denver.

Ran a single ALMS race for the British Prodrive team in June at Road Atlanta.

2004
In December was named the driver of the third car for Rahal Letterman Racing’s IRL IndyCar Series program joining Buddy Rice and Vitor Meira.

Finished third in the Toyota Atlantic Championship with 10 top-five results in 12 races.

Was the Toyota Atlantic season’s only driver to complete every lap.

Became the first female driver to win a pole position in Toyota Atlantic.

Collected three podium finishes: third at Monterrey, Mexico; second at Portland; and third at Cleveland.

In October tested Rahal Letterman Racing’s IndyCar Series car at Homestead Speedway and at Kentucky Speedway.

2005
Made her IRL IndyCar Series debut at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the Toyota Indy 300. Started ninth and was running in the top 10 when she was caught in an eight-car incident on lap 158 and knocked from the race.

Took fourth place in Indy 500, the highest ever finish for a female driver in the race, besting the previous record of ninth set by Janet Guthrie in 1978. Patrick led 19 laps overall.

IndyCar Rookie of the Year
2006
Finished eighth at Indy 500.

Took fourth at Nashville and Milwaukee.

On July 25, announced she had signed a deal to drive for Andretti Green Racing.

2007
Finished eighth at Indy 500.

Took second at Belle Isle.

2008
Won at Twin Ring Motegi in the Indy Japan 300 on April 20, becoming the first woman to win an IndyCar race.