Danica Patrick holds the power
But right there, three clicks into Angstadt's video display, a 105-pound gorilla displayed just how much power she has in affecting the futures of both NASCAR and the IndyCar Series.
Under the "brand attributes" list was a massive mug of Indy's most popular driver, media dynamo, and -- three hours later -- official member of NASCAR's JR Motorsports Nationwide Series team for part of the next two seasons at least.
She is the image, the marketing tool, the symbol of mainstream potential that will not be suppressed. Her power and her ambition assure that. She has been rather absurdly called the salvation of the Nationwide Series and blamed for being the possible undoing of all that the Indycar Series has recouped in the last few years with her assistance. All this before she ever takes her first laps in a stock car in seven years; even before she determines if she has the skill or the appetite for it.
But Patrick, all five-foot-nothing, overly-firm-handshake and tough-chick demeanor, creates a wave and a wake. Within the darkened room of that Orlando Hilton, four men with a personal interest in that ambition or a vested interest in her future, sat within feet of each other, discussing, debating separately the business of motorsports that she is so certain to impact for the next several years. They were, in effect, the ghosts of Danica past, present and possible future.
We spoke to each of them.
The three-time Champ Car champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500-winner noticed Patrick when she won the Pro Division of the Grand Prix of Long Beach Pro/Celebrity race in 2002. He signed her to a contract and began subsidizing her until she made her Indycar debut with Rahal Letterman in 2005. Patrick left after two seasons when they came to an impasse over a new contract, and she sought the greater opportunity provided by the larger Andretti Green Racing team.
The NASCAR thing: good team, although I don't know the relationship between (
It's a chance for her to make some money, I guess. NASCAR is a bigger pond than Indycar, although her popularity exceeds what's available in the IndyCar Series. So, how much bigger is she going to be in NASCAR? She's as big as anyone in NASCAR, to a large extent. So in terms of popularity, is it going to get any better? But she's got smart people, I would presume, behind her at IMG, and with a chance for her to make some money. I think she needs to do that. You never know how long your career is going to be.
The man charged with raising the profile of the IndyCar Series stood in a ballroom at the Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg days before the season-opener last spring and declared that the IRL would survive, Patrick or not. Even with that bold thesis closer to being put into the crucible, Angstadt remains confident that open wheel racing can survive, at least, without its most ubiquitous character. That said, he hopes she stays.
And we will derive IndyCar exposure because of who she is. I think she is known as an IndyCar driver, and it's fantastic. There are no concerns and we absolutely wish her the best and think we'll get a lot of exposure in the process.