I suppose we should file Danica Patrick’s recent divorce under the “Why Should We Care” category.
But, of course we won’t.
Danica is a celebrity, the most famous woman racer since the invention of the wheel, and celebrity is a double-edged sword. It cuts both ways, conveniently and inconveniently.
If as a Waffle House waitress, she decides to split with her old man and take half of the double-wide trailer that’s not news. But as the racing star and Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, shedding her ring makes inquiring minds want to know about it.
Let’s be honest: Danica didn’t become rich and famous just because of her driving ability. She became rich and famous because of her good looks and sultry persona.
She parlayed those attributes into media attention that boosted her racing career, and she continues to cash in with a lucrative GoDaddy.com sponsorship and its titillating TV commercials.
Danica is a racy racer. And now, at age 30, she’s also a divorcee.
For seven years, she had been married to Paul Hospenthal, 17 years her senior. They met when Hospenthal, a physical therapist, was treating Danica for a non-racing-related injury.
I met Hospenthal when he accompanied Danica to her Indy Racing League visits to the Nashville Superspeedway. He was quiet, almost shy, and seemed content to remain in the shadows of his wife’s dazzling celebrity glow.
Danica, on the other hand, was drawn to the bright lights like a moth to a flame. She reveled in the fan and media attention.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Danica’s a bright, spirited young woman, and she uses her physical assets the same away Shaquille O’Neil used his to become a wealthy sports celebrity. Shaq was born big, Danica was born pretty.
But there’s more to Danica than just looks; Miss America doesn’t swap her tiara for a racing helmet and lead the Indy 500. Danica is a determined, talented racer.
There’s no questioning her dedication – she’s been behind the wheel since she was a little girl growing up in Roscoe, Ill., and spent a year in Europe honing her driving skills.
No one can dispute that she works hard at her profession. Her talent? That remains a matter of debate.
Danica did fairly well in the IRL, but that was against a meager field. The competition toughened when she moved to NASCAR, and her results wilted proportionally.
She finished 10th in the second-division Nationwide Series standings this season, with no wins, and next year she plunges full-time into the much-tougher Cup Series.
Despite her so-so results on the track, Danica remains one of NASCAR’s hottest drivers in terms of fan following, just as she was in the IRL. A couple of weeks ago she was voted the most popular driver in the Nationwide Series.
Throughout her racing career, Danica has had a husband at her side to counsel and console, advise and assist. What effect her new marital status will have on her racing remains to be seen.
Next season, Danica starts running in the big leagues. Off the track she’ll be running single file.
That’s two huge adjustments for the little lady with big ambitions.