On Saturday, Indy Racing League driver Danica Patrick made history, becoming the first woman driver to win in a IRL race. Danica has been probably the most talked about driver in open wheel racing in the USA since her debut at Indianapolis in 2005, but now there are a lot more reasons for her to be the buzz of the racing world.
Traditionally, women have been racing since the very beginning, but very few have reached the top levels, and even fewer have actually won at the highest levels. Nascar has had several women racers since it's beginnings, but none have scored wins at the very highest level.
It's not uncommon to see women racing at short tracks all over the country, with varying levels of success. Some are track champions, and are highly respected among their male peers. Some just struggle to get a decent ride, and struggle even harder to be competitive on a weekly basis.
Danica's historic win in IRL proves what I've been certain of for many years; that women can win at the very highest levels of auto racing. Shirley Muldowney has been doing it for years in drag racing, and now Danica Patrick has proven that it can be done in open wheel racing. When will Nascar have a Danica Patrick moment?
A female winner in a Cup Series race may still be a few years away, but Danica's feat should give all women racers hope. Years ago, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. and brother Kerry were first getting into racing, sister Kelley wanted to go racing too, so their father helped her set up a car as well, and the 3 young Earnhardts went racing at short tracks around the Carolinas. Kelley gave it up after a few years, but father Dale Earnhardt once said that he thought Kelley had the most talent out of his 3 racing kids. Who knows what might have happened if Kelley had stayed with racing? She is still certainly involved, overseeing the operations at JR Motorsports and acting as her brother Dale Jr.'s business manager.
Danica Patrick's win in Japan Saturday showed that women can compete at racing's highest levels, and hopefully soon we will be celebrating our first female Cup winner or maybe even Cup champion.
It's just a matter of time now!