When you live in the macho car world, it’s not cool to be a Danica Patrick fan.
While she may be the only woman to win an IndyCar race, there are lots of questions about just how much driving talent she really has. That one victory had more to do with fuel strategy than all out speed. Now she’s moving on to NASCAR with lots of people grumbling that it has more to do with her looks than her speed. The reality is, they’re probably right.
But don’t dismiss her too quickly.
I first met Danica back in 2004 when she was running in the Toyota Atlantic series. I interviewed her as part of the TV coverage plenty of times. Frankly, I was a little annoyed at her cockiness. Most young drivers were more than anxious to do anything we asked. Danica was always more complicated.
Our paths crossed again in 2010 when I started covering IndyCars for ABC. By then, she’d become really complicated. Finding five minutes for an interview was a pain. Breaking through her emotional armor was tough.
Danica Patrick Looking for Ryan Briscoe (ToledoBlade.com)
But I came to appreciate two very important aspects of Danica. First, she is driven. And I don’t just use that word so I can enjoy the racing pun. I may have mocked the pictures of her walking down pit lane during the 2008 Indy 500 with her helmet on so she could chew out the driver she thought had squeezed her into too tight, but I had to admire the fire. I’ve listened to a frustrated Danica venting over her team radio on more than a few occasions. She doesn’t always say the right thing. Danica couldn’t figure out why people were so mad during the 2010 Indy 500 after she threw the blame for her slow lap times on to her car (and by extension, her team). But it’s not like she can’t drive. Her race with Tony Kanaan for second at Homestead in 2010 was spectacular. Her ability to bring her car home in the points race after race set an IndyCar record.
The second reason I admire Danica is a little more philosophical: she doesn’t bring disrespect to our sport. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of drivers who are great role models. However, most of them don’t face the same pressures as Danica Patrick. The reality is that she is a megastar and I have no doubt that the slimy tabloid paparazzi would love nothing more than to get photos of her drunk at some nightclub or just screaming at the local grocery store checkout girl. And yet we never see them. She may not be the warmest person on the pit lane, but she knows how to protect her brand. And by protecting her brand, she protects our sport. It’s not easy living on the pedestal of fame, but so far she’s managed to avoid the dark side.
Interviewing Danica Patrick at Las Vegas
Towards the end of last season, I finally saw the ice melt a little. Maybe it was because she knew it was her last year in IndyCars. Maybe it was because I started to view her differently. At the end of the tragic finale in Las Vegas, I gave her a hug and wished her well.
So put me in the category of someone who is actually sorry to see Danica leave IndyCar, and who wishes her good luck in NASCAR.
I officially feel old.
It’s not the new music (much of which I actually like) or the high-tech world (I’m a techie kind of guy). It’s not the graying hair or the creaky back.
It has everything to do with teenagers lack of respect. Not for their elders, but for their driver’s licenses. You see, according to a study done in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention, only 31% of 16 year olds are getting their license. Back in 1983, 46% of that age group was begging for the car keys. Older teens and even people in their early 20s are showing similar drops.
According to Michael Sivak, research professor at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, “Some young people feel that driving interferes with texting and other electronic communication.”
They’d rather text than drive? I suppose that’s great news for people concerned about teenagers who might be tempted to do both, but I’m deeply disturbed. When I turned 16, I couldn’t wait to get my license. It was a ticket to travel the world, or at least my town. I may have done nothing more extraordinary than drive to the library or a friend’s house, but it was freedom. It was also a big step towards manhood. That license meant I could start dating or drive to a job.
Maybe the problem is that their parents have lost the thrill of driving. I remember when I was a kid and my dad would say, “Who wants to go for drive?” I never said no. We never went anywhere spectacular, although there was usually an ice cream cone found along the way. It wasn’t where we went that mattered, it was the ride!
Norman Rockwell's Excuse My Dust July 31, 1920 © SEPS.
Now I know that a lot has been written about how sitting down around the table for a dinner is important for family bonding and communications. But I think it’s time to bring back the family drive as well. I realize that today’s wired cars with multiple video screens and iPod plugs are not exactly a family communications hub. Still, why not unplug everything and go someplace new. Teach your kids about the world around them. Open up their sense of adventure.
Just make sure there’s an ice cream cone somewhere on the trip.
Most folks who see a BMW Isetta for the first time aren’t sure whether they should be amazed or appalled.
Unlike pretty much every car of the modern era, the Isetta only has one door. And instead of being on the side of the car, it’s in the front. In fact, the entire face of the car opens up. It’s a pretty ingenious system because the steering wheel has to tilt along with the door. Of course, it’s both ingenious and scary. Built during the 50′s when cars were hardly designed for safety, the BMW Isetta had deathtrap potential written all across it’s cute little facade.
But what do you want for a car that was designed by a refrigerator company?
The Isetta design originally came from an Italian company called Iso SpA. It’s bread and butter line after the war was fridges, motor scooters and three-wheeled trucks. In the early 50′s they came up with the design for the Isetta. It’s about as minimalistic as a car can get. Not only did it have just one door, it only had a single cylinder in its tiny little engine. The Iso company built it for a while, but then wanted to spend more time on a new sports car design, so the rights to the Isetta were sold to various companies around the world. Spain, Belgium, France, Brazil, UK and Germany built the Isetta at various times. In fact, before the Isetta lost steam more than 175,000 cars had been sold. Supposedly, it’s the top-selling single cylinder car in the world.
Isetta racing at the 1954 Mille Miglia (Courtesy BMW Historical Archives)
The Isetta even has some racing history. It finished 1-2-3 its class in the 1954 Mille Miglia road race in Italy. Not sure whether it was the teeny-tiny car class, or the fridge-on-wheels class. Either way that had to be one scary ride. By the way, while it looks like the Isetta, has three wheels, it really has four. The two rear wheels are very close together. (Although a three-wheeled version was built in the UK.)
While it was built by plenty of companies, the BMW version is probably the best known. The German car maker built them from 1955 to 1962. The original BMW engine had just 247 cc and a whopping 13 horsepower. It later expanded to 298 cc and the same whopping 13 horsepower. Various stories have said that the Isetta saved BMW in the 50s. While the BMW 507 was beautiful, the Isetta was the car the people could buy.
These days, the Isetta is an oddity that folks love. Decent examples sell for $20,000 and nicely restored models have gone across the Barrett Jackson auction block for more than $40,000.
But just because they think it’s cute, doesn’t mean they’d want to drive it at freeway speeds. After all, it’s just a fridge on wheels.
Incidentally, there have been rumors floating around for the last few years that BMW was planning to revise the Isetta name, but so far nothing has happened.
Here’s a fun video about the BMW Museum that stars the Isetta.