Danica Patrick doesn’t look tired, which is saying something because she was up early for the morning shows. She’s friendly and self-effacing, with a firm, lingering handshake (cold fingers indicating that the amped-up AC is getting to her or minor circulatory issue) that just might be engineered to show off her Tissot T-Race 2014, the latest piece to come out of her collaboration with Swiss watchmakers. There are diamonds in it because Danica likes diamonds. She’s very clear on this point. She’s very clear on every point.
Her no bullshit attitude is half the reason that Patrick is the favorite driver of just about everyone who doesn’t care about NASCAR. It’s also the reason that a fair number of people who care enormously about NASCAR – it’s either one or the other – have taken a shine to her since she made the transition from Indy Cars three years ago. The other half of the reason is that Danica Patrick looks like Danica Patrick. This is, by the way, no small feat. Most athletes look mildly terrifying in real life – too yoked, too small, too big, too confused – but Patrick looks pretty much exactly like the Patrick you’ve seen in commercials and this magazine. She’s not wearing a swimsuit and she doesn’t wear aviators indoors, but there’s no false advertising.
And, just as advertised, Patrick has opinions. She’s not the sort of interviewee who gets wrongfooted or nervous, but she’s not the sort to beat around the bush (or Busch) either. She talked to Maxim about how she manages her team and why her golf game is going to make her some money. And, yeah, she looked at her watch, but not as often as you’d think.
It seems like you’ve been speaking your mind of late.
I’ve always been like that to some degree. Eventually, in time, you earn credibility.
Public perception is basically a soapbox.
I would think that people think that, yeah, I’m aggressive, focused and a little intense – also funny sometimes.
I mean I’ve been lucky enough to be in the media since I was 14. So that’s been like 10 years, full time. Just kidding. I’m not 24 years old.
Is there anyone coming up through the ranks that you see as a natural ally or heir?
I’m like everybody else in that I see what you see on TV. And I’m not trying to make sure there are more women in this sport. I’m more about people reaching their potential, finding what they’re good at doing. And I think if you're going to be good at anything you have to love it. There are days that it’s going to suck, there are going to be days that it’s really hard and people will put you down, bring you down, or watch you fall down. If you don’t really love what you’re doing, then you might stay down.
What are the things that you enjoy most about racing?
The challenge of doing well and getting the car ready. When you have a good car and you’re passing cars it’s just fun. I mean that’s the real fun: the races.
What are some of your goals in the future as an immediate racer?
To win. I’d be an idiot if I didn’t say that even though it’s probably understood. I always set goals in the in terms of top 15 every weekend then top 10 and then…. You have keep your expectations realistic so that you’re not disappointed. If you just jump into something and say, “I’m going to win every weekend,” you’re in denial.
Is the culture of NASCAR significantly different that Indy Car?
Yeah. The culture is a little different; it’s full on.
It’s every weekend except for two for 40 weeks and being local in the Charlotte area and being by the race team. There is an expectation that the drivers will come to the race shop and participate and we have meetings after every race weekend. You’ve got to be present.
Given that, I’m imagining the team dynamic is incredibly important. How do you manage those relationships?
I don’t think that you could just make something work if it doesn’t work already. I think that you give it your best shot and keep morale up by showing your face - just like when the boss comes to the office. It’s a good thing for everybody and they want to see that it starts at the top and works its way down. I am one of the people at the top - not the only one but one of them – and having the driver around on off days demonstrates motivation, determination and commitment.
As you said, you’ve only been at this for three years. Do you ever struggle to listen and lead at the same time?
They go hand and hand. You learn from people so they don’t let anyone feel that this is not their thing too.
You boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., also races NASCAR. Do the two of you ever bet on races?
I think we understand what’s serious and we don’t really go there. Its more betting on the golf. He bet me $10,000 that I would never ever be able to beat him. So it’s really all upside for me. I either die, which is something that will happen anyway, or I get $10,000.
The life expectancy for woman is considerably longer.
Yep. I feel pretty good about it.
I’m sitting here looking at you and I’m also seeing you on this television behind you and you’re in this evening gown and the whole thing. Do you think that your experience of being a NASCAR driver is different because of the glamorous elements of your public image?
You know they all wear makeup. Any guy who has a photo-shoot or commercial has on makeup.
It’s probably not worlds different. Our attire is probably different, but in this sport it’s all about sponsors so they keep us working and that means photoshoots and commercials. We all do kind of the same stuff. We all dress up.
Photos by Sean Gardner / Getty Images