She was the Danica Patrick of her day.
In the late 90s it was Anna Kournikova who was turning heads. She did this as much with her strong court play as the ease with which she made a tennis skirt look so damn nice.
Though at first blush Patrick and Kournikova might seem worlds apart.
One, a Soviet born, blonde tennis pro; the other, a raven-haired, Midwestern race-car driver.
But apples ‘n oranges they are not. Peel away the cultural and genetic variations and you’ll find two ambitious, attractive young women cut from the same cloth.
Like so many kids today, here and abroad, both girls were steered into the business of sport and molded into top-flight competitors. By age sixteen each knew as much about the play & profit sides of their respective games as most the agents & athletes in the biz.
Anna got her first taste of success as early as 14, winning two ITF titles after turning pro in ‘95 (Midland (MI) & Rockford) (Wikipedia). Though she’d quickly show her mettle in grand slam play, the more she lost, the more her focus turned from tennis to selling her good looks.
While Kournikova attained a world ranking as high as # 8 (2000) and was a semi-finalist at Wimbledon in ‘97 (losing to Hingis), a WTA singles title proved elusive.
Excepting the wide array of celebrity engagements, Anna’s days in the spotlight are long gone. Still a looker, her serious singles career ended near a decade ago, finding success in doubles (Martina Hingis) before back injuries ended the dream.
The accouterments of fame are served-up to all celebrities. Some drink in too deeply its intoxicating flavor, exiting the highway that first got them to Celebrity City.
The Russian prodigy wouldn’t be the first young athlete to lose her career compass. Be it addictions like gambling (Schlichter) and drugs (Bias / Marinovich), childhood demons (Tyson) or falling hard for temptation (Woods), wealth & fame are the great enablers.
Some might say Danica’s story is different, having first found notoriety at the ripe old age of twenty-one (IndyCar ‘05). That’s downright mature compared to Kournikova in her teens.
I might agree if there weren’t two striking similarities: 1) Danica’s as short on wins as Anna, having yet to build on her lone IndyCar title (Japan 300 / ’08); and 2) as the victories become more illusory, DP, like AK, has, by choice, become more identified with sex appeal (GoDaddy.com) than her athletic achievements.
Titles or not, Ms. Patrick is a corporate cupcake every Suit & Skirt in America wants to bite into. Her phone’s ringing off the hook. Danica’s handlers won’t even listen to deals under $5 million. And by TV standards her GoDaddy spots deserve high marks.
But to be more than a curiosity (Janet Guthrie)…to get her ticket punched, she’s gotta’ take a checkered flag in NASCAR. Daytona, Darlington, Talladega, Bristol, Charlotte, Kansas or Michigan, it doesn’t matter where. Just win (one), baby!
If she does, everyone and their grandmother is gonna’ want on board the Danica Express. At least, that’s what her backers are all banking on.
Tony Stewart’s had his day in the sun. If he can turn Danica Patrick from pretty prospect into racing royalty it’s just another feather in his cap and lots o’ loot to boot. “I think obviously she’s got talent. She’s been successful in every form of racing…and I don’t see why she wouldn’t be successful here (NASCAR) (2008 Autosport.com).”
The big question: Can Danica win on NASCAR (“Danica Moving” / Lexis / 8-26) ? Do Stewart-Haas (SC), JR Motorsports (N) and GoDaddy.com truly believe she can win, or simply hitching their wagons to the hottest rising star in sport? Her people should know as well as any that racing is far too dangerous a game for a simple marketing tool.
There’s a Russian proverb that speaks to performance: On the belly there is silk, and in the belly – just a click (Na bryukhe sholk, a v bryukhe scholk). Translation: All hat and no cattle. DP’s meager track tally suggests she’s just that: long on form, short on substance.
If she is, she’s not alone. Substance is in short supply everywhere, from jocks (LeBron, Melo, Romo, Vick, Ovechkin), to TV stars, to politicians (Mr. Boehner would’ve been wise to hold his House card, rather than putting campaign business ahead of the nation’s (jobs)). America seems content to feast on the “sizzle” and pass on the steak (Seinfeld).
You don’t have to be a auto-racing junkie to know it’s as much the car & crew as driver skill today that puts you in the winner’s circle. It’s not like it’s pre-ordained but sometimes you gotta’ wonder.
The brass ring‘s within reach. Danica’s got the equipment (car) and the people. Now she just needs to learn one more Russian proverb, one Anna forgot: Beauty may open the door, but only virtue enters (Po odyozhke vstrechayut, po umu provozhayut). Can you put that on the side of a car? She should make room.
If Daddy’s girl can fill-up on virtue, or focus or whatever you wanta’ call it and win on NASCAR, her next announcement will make Mr. James’ decision-day look like small potatoes.
About the Author
Written by Steven Keys
A native of the old Northwest Territory, my wife and I have lived in four Midwestern states and Arizona. Today we live in Duluth, Georgia. I have a history / legal background.