The Driver Talks About her Support of Drive4COPD and her Versatile Racing Career
Recently, we had a chance to interview Danica Patrick. We talked with her about her support of Drive4COPD.com and her personal connection to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as driving in the IRL and NASCAR. And since you’re probably ready to skip over the introduction to get to the discussion, here it is, Drive’s exclusive interview with Danica Patrick.
DRIVE!: Hi, how are you doing?
Danica Patrick: Good, how are you?
D!: Great, thanks. So I understand you’re pretty heavily involved with Drive4COPD.
DP: Absolutely, we started the campaign last February. It launched for the Daytona 500, and it’s been an incredibly special campaign. We set a goal our first year of screening a million people and we did that. We’re at about 1.4 million now and climbing. It’s just been a really successful program.
It’s a cause that needs awareness. It’s the fourth leading cause of death in this country. Killing more people than breast cancer and diabetes combined, yet so many people don’t know about it. It was an opportunity for me to turn a situation where my grandma had COPD, and it took her life, to turn that kind of negative situation into a real positive and raise awareness so people can do something about it so they can you know live longer, healthier lives.
D!: Is there a place where you can go and get screened for COPD?
DP: Yes. Drive4COPD.com (http://www NULL.drive4copd NULL.com) is the website and the screener’s right there. You will see it on the front page. It’s just five really simple questions. You don’t have to give them your email address or anything like that. Just get screened. If you’re over 35 and you’re at risk, then you can print that off and take it your doctor and start a conversation.
D!: Now didn’t COPD used be called something else? Wasn’t it like emphysema or something?
DP: Well, ‘COPD’ stands for ‘chronic obstructive pulmonary disease’ and the most common forms of it are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Those are forms that are the most familiar to people, but they are classed under the disease COPD.
D!: So it’s like a big umbrella that covers a bunch of different diseases?
DP: Yep. The effects of it are just very sad. It must be really scary for someone to have it too because, shoot, I mean I know how uncomfortable I get when I get out of breath after running up a hill and you know that’s how they live their lives just doing normal things like walking up the steps or walking down the street. It’s a progressive disease. So the longer you don’t do anything about it the less and less lung function you have, and then unfortunately, you end up like my grandma, on oxygen 24 hours a day and in a wheelchair because you can’t walk around anymore.
D!: Can it get progressively worse?
DP: Yes, if you don’t something about it. Talk to your doctor about things that you can do to help yourself. It’s important for people to take notice of their health very early on and start to track it, because the effects are shortness of breath from doing ordinary things, and coughing, or coughing up phlegm. Those are things people just write off to getting old or out of shape, and the more that happens the less they exercise and the worse the condition gets. Pretty soon they’ve lost enough lung function that they can’t live a normal life any longer, and that’s sad. Doing something about it and being honest with yourself about how you feel is the most important aspect to diagnosing COPD.
D!: It’s probably good for you to be proactive about it because you’re a professional athlete.
DP: The purpose for me was my relationship with my grandma and the opportunity to raise awareness for a cause that really needs it. I think that COPD can affect anyone whether or not they’re professional athletes. Ideally, we’d all take care ourselves, eat right and exercise, and that can help, but even with all of that you can still get COPD. It’s an emphasis on trying to be as healthy as you can and take care of your body. There are so many things these days that hurt us; we can’t afford to not pay attention to what we’re doing every day.
D!: If it’s caught early enough what can be done about it?
DP: I’m definitely not qualified to comment on what kind of medications or actions a person can take, but I definitely know that simple things like being active and taking care of yourself and quitting smoking all help. Smoking is definitely a leading cause of COPD.
D!: Now that we’ve got all of the COPD stuff out of the way. At the end of August you are scheduled to race at Sears Point. Is that…
DP: Come on, it’s called Infinion Raceway now.
D!: Sorry I’m just showing my age.
DP: No, that’s okay. I’m old enough to have been there when it was Sears Point.
D!: Do you feel that is a track you are pretty strong at?
DP: I have definitely had success there. I’ve had a few really horrible races, but it was my first front row start in 2007, I qualified on the front row. I think it was either then or in 2008 or ‘09 I think I have some couple of top five or six finishes there. So it’s been a relatively good track for me, and hopefully, I can do well again there this year.
D!: The Indy 500 is also coming up. That’s kind of your guys’ Super Bowl, and it falls pretty much right in the middle of the Indy Car season. How are you preparing for that?
DP: Well, that’s definitely up next. We just got back from Brazil a couple of days ago, so my engineer said to me I think you should just think about Indy until it’s over, and then we’ll think about the rest. And you know, it’s about coming up with a plan for the month, the direction we want to go with the setup in the car, and how we want to structure the week leading up to qualifying. Back in the old days, when I was a young girl, we used to have one week of practice and qualifying and then another week of practice and the race. Now it’s one week of practice and then qualifying, and then the next week is the race. You have to combine your efforts for qualifying and a race, which are different beasts at Indy. It’s a bit more complicated and a little bit more everything. Everything is rushed. Coming up with a general structure for how we want to approach that week; what days we want to work on qualifying; what days we want to work on the race car—it’s a lot of work. We’re on track Saturday through Saturday/Sunday, and all five days of the week, so we’re on track for seven days before we go qualifying for six hours a day, so we’ve got some time, but in typical Indianapolis fashion—Midwest fashion in May—it’s bound to rain some of those days.
D!: Six hours a day in a race car is a long time.
DP: If things are going well, you’re not in the car for a solid six hours a day. If things are not going well, you sit on pit lane and stay strapped to the car for about five hours straight. You keep going out and they keep trying to fix the car. Hopefully, it’ll be the first option for me.
D!: You mentioned rain. San Paulo was quite a fiasco. What was that like?
DP: Oh Geez, that doesn’t make us look very good does it [laughing]?
DP: I would have to say that it is incredibly difficult to drive those cars on a street course. Low grip with nowhere to go, and there’s no water run-off cause you’re on a street. The water sits there; it’s not purpose-built for racing. It’s just really hard not to make a mistake in those conditions, and unfortunately, that led to a delay and restarts. Since the water just sits there, there’s so much spray you literally can’t see the car in front of you, especially down the straightaways. If somebody hydroplanes and gets sideways and spins in front of you, you won’t see it. You just hit them. Not all road courses are not like that; purpose-built like tracks like Watkins Glen or Mid-Ohio, they’re not quite as bad for spray but street courses are tough.
D!: Now you seem to do a little better on the speedways than you do on road courses. Is there something to that driving style that is more suitable for you?
DP: Yeah. One of the big things is that qualifying on a road course is really important. It’s difficult to pass on road courses, so the higher up you start the better your chances of finishing well. I haven’t qualified that well. Whether or not I’m fast in the race and pass people…when you’re starting twentieth you have a long way to go. But on the ovals qualifying is more straightforward. You’re running flat out the whole way around, and if for some reason you don’t qualify well and you do have a good race car, you run so close in a pack you can pass a bunch of people. On one lap on an oval you can pass five or ten cars if you have a good lap on a restart. You can be running in a pack of six cars and you can pick up three or four spots at one end of the track, so it’s just a little tough around the road courses. There are so many good road course drivers in the Indy car series; it’s very competitive. I guess I just like the ovals.
On the road courses you’re racing against yourself a lot of the time because there’s not a lot of passing, but on the ovals you’re racing everyone else. Because everyone’s pretty much flat out, you just have to pick the right lane. It’s a high speed chess match, so you know practice and qualifying are more straightforward, then when the actual race comes, you’re really racing. On the road course weekend, it’s really intense through qualifying and then once the race comes a lot of times you’re saving fuel. The race pace is not qualifying pace, so it’s a little bit more relaxed, but that’s the difference between the two. I’ve had really good results on road courses, just not when I don’t start up in the front. That makes it challenging.
D!: Way back when you first got noticed in Formula Ford it was primarily road courses. Now that you have raced on a lot of different tracks, do you find you have a preference for one over the other?
DP: [Formula Ford] was all road courses. I guess I surprised myself when I got in the Indy Car Series. I suppose it wasn’t until when I got in Indy Car racing that I really did do much oval racing. There was one oval race a year in Formula Atlantic, which I did in 2003 and 2004, but that was it. Those were the only oval races I’d done, and I did well, but I didn’t expect to. I didn’t expect to be good when I got into Indy car. I suppose I ended up preferring short ovals to most, and I thought those would be the hardest. I liked the big ovals and all of the rest of the ovals after that. The road courses come after that and then street courses after the permanent circuit road courses, which are exactly the opposite of what I thought I would like. Life surprises you.
D!: Your consistency seems to be a bit better on roundy-round tracks as opposed to road courses. But that must make the transition to the 12 nationwide races that you’re doing this year that much easier.
DP: It’s nice to know that I have more ovals on my schedule. Although I am doing Montreal this year, which is a road course in a stock car, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m a little scared because I should be good on a road course because I have so much more experience than stock car drivers, since stock cars races are on ovals. But I’m a looking forward to seeing how it goes, and seeing if I surprise myself. It’s nice to know that even in these road course structures this Indy car season, every now and again I get to do an oval in a stock car.
D!: You’ll probably see some familiar faces because a lot of the NASCAR (http://www NULL.nascar NULL.com) teams will bring in ringers.
DP: That’s true. You know they do. They get Boris and some of those other road course ringers…
D!: They have Montoya, too.
DP: Oh for sure. He’s very friendly. He’s very nice and so I’m sure I’ll be asking Juan what I’ll need to do to handle these big things.
D!: He almost won it that one year that he took out Scott Pruett, so don’t get too close to him [laughter].
DP: Nah, that’s all right. I’ll have to give him some crap if Juan were to take me out on the road course.
D!: Well, it has been an absolute pleasure talking with you. Best of luck in at Infinion Raceway, or Sears Point, as we called it.
DP: Thank you.