Danica Patrick will make history Sunday when she becomes the first woman to start in the pole position at the Daytona 500. In the macho world of stock car racing, that is no small achievement. At nearly 200 miles per hour, skill and experience count more than gender.
Patrick, through perseverance and savvy marketing, is bigger than auto racing. She also has earned the additional attention she will be getting this week. Before switching to stock car racing, she became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500, and she is the only woman to win an IndyCar race.
Like others who defy stereotypes and break through glass ceilings, Patrick's opportunities have been created in part by those women who came before her. In 1977, Janet Guthrie became the first woman to drive in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500 — five years before Patrick was born. In auto racing as in many other occupations, the playing field has become a little fairer since then.
"I was brought up to be the fastest driver,'' Patrick said after winning the pole position, "not the fastest girl.''
That is a message that should resonate far beyond the race track.