Where's the bigger draw, Danica Patrick fans, what she does behind the wheel or in front of the lens?
Patrick, the IndyCar Series most popular driver and one-race winner, may be far more widely known through her two appearances in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and as a spokesmodel for GoDaddy.com and Tissot watches, among other ventures. Such is her star power that she is joined by NASCAR’s runaway most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., in the bullpen for the Internet outfit.
And now, even her tattoo may be pulling away from Patrick’s driving in attention span land.
“Dude, SI is Lame!,” L.A. Snark proclaims on TheWeek.com. Quoting heavily from TheScore.com, Sir Snark reports that Sports Illustrated’s photo editors digitally removed Patrick’s American Flag tattoo.
“What is the deal with that, they show nipples through shear bikini tops and painted-on bikinis, but NOT an American Flag tattoo? Plus here is the kicker, Danica was in last year’s swimsuit issue and the tat wasn’t airbrushed out.”
And, both sites say, SI offered little in the way of explanation.
Said TheScore.com: “Officials for Sports Illustrated acknowledged digitally removing Patrick’s tattoo. Patrick’s handlers said she was aware of the touch-up before the photos were published and was fine with the adjustments.”
Also noted was a photo editor’s controversial and digital removal a decade ago of a tattoo and earrings from a cover photo of NBA player Allen Iverson. In some places, such practices have prompted the writing of firm policies and even scarred the permanent records of some who would dare.
But back to Patrick.
She’s won once in the IndyCar Series, the top American open-wheel racing outfit. And that was on a fuel-mileage gamble her team took during a race in Japan last season. But a win is a win. NASCAR crew chief extraordinaire Chad Knaus has, after all, been hailed as a genius when that roll of the dice helped three-time champion Jimmie Johnson pass “go” and proceed directly to victory lane.
But now Patrick is being mentioned as a potential candidate by the Formula One start-up team to be based in Charlotte. U.S. involvement in the world’s biggest and richest auto racing series has diminished is recent decades, to put it charitably. There are only two men with U.S. citizenship listed among world driving champions, Phil Hill and Mario Andretti.
There is no U.S. Grand Prix on the current schedule and even Canada has lost its place on the F1 calendar. But the fact that Patrick would be the only woman on the grid has certainly not been lost on those in the elite paddock, on the yachts moored nearby or anyone involved with the fledgling U.S.-based team.
Only Patrick, her agent and the new team’s principals know if she has gotten the call – she hadn’t earlier this week, she said - even while her name is being bandied about with those of other drivers, none of whom are Sports Illustrated models in their second jobs.
In scoring for this week’s open testing for IndyCar teams at the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway, Patrick was listed 14th fastest at 209.333 mph.
That was somewhat off the pace set by Ryan Briscoe at 212.156, but was faster than Milka Duno, Patrick’s sometimes rival. (But who isn’t?) Duno, who put up 208.984 mph, is the Venezuelan model-turned-driver with the distinction of scoring the best finish of any woman in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The IndyCar Series teams go to a road course near Birmingham, Ala., for more testing in late March. Then they’ll open their season with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg the first weekend of April.
It will remain to be seen if Patrick’s on-track persona or that of America’s fastest model will be The Story that race day. Same for how any news will be played - or remembered - about the driver and team that actually win the race.
But to quote the great poet-philosopher Tony Soprano: “Whatta ya gonna do?”