By Bruce Martin
May 08, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS -- When it comes to popularity at the Indianapolis 500, Danica Patrick is the big winner without even taking the checkered flag.

"Danica is the girl next door," said GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons, whose company is set to unveil its latest commercial featuring Patrick on ABC's telecast of the 93rd Indianapolis 500 on May 24. "Everybody identifies with her. There is no pretense. She is very attractive. She is very down to earth. She is a woman competing in a man's world and wins. Who doesn't like that?"

Patrick certainly has star power as she has combined the looks of a model with fiercely determined racing ability. She arrives at Indy with back-to-back top-five finishes in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and the Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway.

She has qualified 10th or better in all four of her previous Indianapolis 500s, and became the first female driver ever to lead the race when she led 19 laps her rookie season in 2005.

Her fourth-place finish that day was the genesis of "Danica Mania" -- the next frenzied chapter of which could be written in Saturday's Indy 500 Pole Day.

Patrick has the unique ability to reach outside of the niche world of IndyCar racing and become a mainstream personality. In fact, she already gets more web hits than NASCAR's fan favorite, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. When she appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated prior to last year's Indy 500, it was one of the best-selling issues of the year.

"That's very flattering," Patrick admitted. "Dale is a huge athlete and a very popular driver/personality. I think it's very flattering when you can be ahead of guys like that."

Parsons believes the reasons for that are obvious.

"She is, without a doubt, more recognizable than Dale Earnhardt Jr. because what she has going for her above Dale is he's a man competing in a man's sport and she is a woman competing in a man's sport. And the other thing is Danica is an attractive woman and Dale will never be an attractive woman."

After taking a look at the latest commercial, fans will have more reason to talk about Patrick because of the shocking nature of the ad.

Patrick is driving her passenger car in the desert and gets pulled over by a female cop for speeding. Patrick's speeding tickets have become legendary so the creators thought they would poke a little fun at her.

But when the female cop starts to take off her uniform in an effort to impress Patrick, the steam starts to rise from more than just the desert asphalt.

"I'm always the innocent victim in these commercials," Patrick said. "I'm not the one dancing around. She definitely had what it took to be a GoDaddy girl. She looked like it any way. I laughed the whole time. There was good chemistry and that is what made the commercial flow.

"That's their job, to drive people to their site and they do that."

Patrick admits there is a risk in exploiting sexuality, at least in part because so many girls look up to her.

"That's partially, true, but it's all in fun. I'm not the one in those commercials that is doing the provocative and showing of skin," Patrick said.

That has always been part of the genius of GoDaddy. The company has been able to push the limits to come up with edgier ways to promote not only their product but also their representatives.

"That's always the goal, to make the next one better than the last one, but it's not so easy," Parsons admitted. "What we were doing here was a little spoof on Danica's speeding tickets that she has been known to get every now and then. The acting in it from Danica's perspective is Danica was outstanding. We may see her in Hollywood one of these days."

Hmmm.....perhaps that is one reason why Patrick never turns down an invitation for a red carpet awards show in Hollywood. Maybe she's not looking to jump to NASCAR but to Hollywood, instead. Who says there aren't endorsement opportunities for an IndyCar driver?

On Thursday, Patrick was introduced as the latest celebrity in the "Got Milk" campaign complete with the milk 'stache. The ad will certainly get attention because Patrick is dressed in a skin-tight black leather cat-suit, her black hair blowing in the wind.

Patrick is the first driver used in the "Got Milk?" campaign since NASCAR's Jeff Gordon in 1997. She is also the only IndyCar driver ever to appear in the campaign that started in 1995.

"I would like to drink some milk in a couple of weeks," Patrick said, referring to the Indy 500 tradition of victors drinking milk after the race. "I definitely would like the milk at the end of the month. It's such a tradition at the Indianapolis 500 as much as the trophy and the checkered flag. It's a very traditional thing and being the 'Centennial Era' right now, the traditions are very deep-rooted here."

If Patrick became the first female driver ever to win the Indianapolis 500, imagine how big Patrick's possibilities in the endorsement world would be.

"I would love to see it but I would love to see it for Danica," Parsons said. "Her accomplishments just excite us to no end. What it would do for us would certainly help. She brings so much to the table I don't know how much more would be incremental."

Patrick's popularity would likely increase, if that's possible. It was on full display on Wednesday, even in the rain at the Speedway, when a group of school-aged girls squealed and screamed in a manner reminiscent of Beatlemania when their favorite driver appeared.

"I'm old enough to know who the Beatles are but it was a little before my time," Patrick said. "The fact they were screaming for me, what else was I going to do? They are out here on a rainy day, what is supposed to be our first day on the track on a Wednesday and there are 10 or 12 little girls and a mom and they are out here for the day so the least I could do is stop."

Patrick's popularity knows no age boundary, but the diminutive driver realizes her younger fans are her most important.

"They are going to pick their favorite driver and they don't worry about what you are signing, either. They are like, `Sign my arm.' `Sign this crumpled up piece of paper.' They don't care; they just want to be there. They just want to touch it. They want the autograph and don't care what it's on. They don't care if it's on a sellable helmet."

Patrick's GoDaddy commercial may not emphasize purity, but when it comes to her impact on the Indianapolis 500 and the sport of IndyCar racing, it's as pure as the "new mown hay and all its fragrance" as Danica is "Back Home Again in Indiana."

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