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Athletes Then & Now: Danica Patrick


As SI's annual swimsuit issue continues to make headlines. looks at one of the most famous athletes to appear in the issue -- Danica Patrick.

Nine-year-old Danica Patrick climbed behind the wheel of her first competitive ride, a go-kart, and took it for a spin across the makeshift track fashioned by her father in the parking lot of his glass shop in Rockford, Ill. She collided with a wall before she was through, but she'd found her life's calling in the need for speed. Patrick claimed a number of World Karting Association titles before moving to England at age 16 to compete in the Formula Vauxhall and Formula Ford events. She took second in the latter in 2000, becoming the highest-finishing woman - and American - in its history. The following year she returned to her homeland, where she soon began driving for Rahal Letterman Racing, well on course to IndyCar glory.

Nearly five years after her Indy 500 debut (she's only the fourth woman to compete) and Rookie of the Year honors, Danica's transcended the sport to become a cultural phenomenon -- not to take anything from her professional accomplishments; She's finished in the Top 10 in four out of five Indy 500s and finished fifth overall in the 2009 IndyCar standings, a personal best. Off the track and out of her bulky uniform, she's titillated non-racing fans as a girl and has posed twice for Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue. Last weekend she mixed business with pleasure, following a sixth-place finish at the ARCA 200, her first stock car race, with a memorable spot that aired during the Super Bowl and a guest spot on Wednesday's CSI: NY. This weekend, however, she's all business, suiting up for her NASCAR debut in the Nationwide Series.

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(Created by NASCAR Wants Danica To Get RacyVideo: Danica's 2010 Go Daddy Superbowl CommercialVideo: Danica Patrick's 2009 SI Swimsuit View Danica Patrick's 2008 Swimsuit View Danica Patrick's 2009 Swimsuit Is it Danica's time to win at Indy? (5.19.08) her first stock car test, Danica got a passing grade (12.28.09)