Danica triggers myfear of women drivers

Jun 7, 2005 8:03 AM

Annika Sorenstam, the world’s greatest woman golfer, does not frighten me.

Justine Henin-Hardenne, successor to the Williams sisters as the world’s greatest woman tennis player, does not intimidate me.

I would not be afraid to get into the ring with Ann Wolfe, the middleweight who will fight a man this summer, although I would rather be her corner cut man than her opponent.

But the thought of Danica Patrick behind the wheel of a racing car terrorizes me.

This 23-year-old steel-nerved, heavy-footed little wraith of a woman and newest American phenomenon will be an everyday icon in the coming months, appearing on television, magazine covers, and — you can be certain — in ads for every imaginable product.

Patrick says otherwise at the moment, claiming she will endorse only those products she uses and believes in. But, as the wolves of commerce close in on her, she, or her agent, will give second thoughts to the fortune that goes with fame.

So why does she terrorize me?

Certainly not because she is a woman who has successfully invaded traditionally male territory, almost winning the Indianapolis 500 and far overshadowing the actual winner, Dan Wheldon, in media coverage. She, not Wheldon, was on the cover of Sports Illlustrated, the first auto race driver to appear there in 24 years, since A. J. Foyt made it.

I majored in women in college, and have been smitten by them and worshipped them and fantasized about them ever since. So Danica Patrick’s womanhood and petite beauty does not turn me off. If anything, it turns me on.

But she still scares the heck out of me, and here’s why.

If you have ever been to Indianapolis for the 500 — an inane event by my measuring stick, almost as bad as stock car racing — you will recall leaving the track far more than entering it.

There are four major U.S. highways leading into and out of Indianapolis: I-65, which comes from Chicago and goes to Louis-ville and beyond to the Deep South; I-70, which comes from Pittsburgh and Columbus and heads west thru St. Louis and Kansas City to points west; I-74, which runs northwest and southeast from Davenport, Iowa, to Cincinnati; and I-69, which takes you northeast to Detroit.

Once you crawl out of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2½ mile track on 15th Street on the west side of town and get on one of those major arteries following the 500, your life is in danger.

Everyone except three old ladies and a few octogenarians leaving Indianapolis on Memorial Day think they are in the 500, and drive accordingly.

The thought of a whole future generation of young Danica Patricks driving out of Indianapolis is a horrifying prospect. And you can be sure they will be there.

Mia Hamm became an icon for young girls in soccer. The Williams sisters, at the height of their dominance, became role models for a generation of tennis stars still to arrive on the scene. As young girls all over America are asking their parents for golf clubs to emulate Annika Sorenstam, so will there be a wave of young ladies who fancy themselves suited out with emblems emblazoned all over their torsos, taking turns at 200 miles an hour and challenging every brazen young bull on the highway.

When I was in college two of my closest buddies dated two six-foot amazon sisters who did prodigious athletic feats, and drove an old Buick Roadmaster so recklessly fast that I refused to ride with them.

I don’t plan to ride with Danica Patrick either, or any of the clones she will inspire.

They will be out there soon enough. All that will be needed is that they are 16 and have their dad’s car, or their own. I have seen that steely eye of Danica, that iron will and determination to excel. I can tolerate it in the little dynamo from Phoenix, but I do not wish to tangle with carbon copies — or imagined carbon copies — of any highways I travel.

Call me a chauvinist if you wish, but it is the wrong word.

The right word is coward.