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Let's hope Danica Patrick has even more history to make at Daytona

By RICK WOODSON
On Sports
Rochester Business Journal
February 22, 2013

Now that Danica Patrick has made history-becoming the first woman to win the pole position for the Daytona 500-what does that mean for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing or NASCAR?
 
Well, let's put it this way: How many young females wanted to take up golf after watching Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa dominate the LPGA tour? How many girls wanted to get into tennis after watching the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, take over that sport's female gender? My guess is, many more than who said to mother, "Mommy, I wanna learn how to cook."
 
How many tough young ladies climbed into the ring and put on boxing gloves after Britain's Nicola Adams became the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing last August? Same goes for women's wrestling, which one person has described as "possibly the fastest-growing sport in the United States today."
 
And there is no telling how many girls have been drawn onto the soccer field by our own living legend Abby Wambach, the greatest female soccer player of all time.
 
There is no doubt that Patrick's incredible performance in last Sunday's qualifier will raise the ante and public interest in stock car racing. She led the field with a lap speed of 196.434 mph and all of a sudden, NASCAR won't be what some call ho-hum boring anymore-which, by the way, it is not! And, as I've said before, if you think it is, next time you're driving 50, 60 mph with a car in front of you, pull up with 15 inches of it and see how boring that isn't.
 
Back in 1997, I turned on the TV to see the start of the Daytona and got so riveted I was glued to the race until Jeff Gordon crossed the finish line, winning the first of his three Daytona 500s.
 
I mean, with Patrick on the pole, who won't at least flop down in front of their TV Sunday and watch the start of the Daytona 500? And even stay there to see how long a woman who looks like a movie star leads the field? She probably won't win the race, but if she does it will be the equivalent of kicking down the door between men and women's sports.
 
At a local high school boys hockey game last weekend, Penfield's starting goalie, Patrick Massey, was ill and couldn't play. So junior backup goalie Meghan Browning started and made 44 saves in just her third start of the season and Penfield beat Pittsford 3-2 in two overtimes.
 
Women playing men's games is on the rise-and without them wearing skirts. Yes, even football-and that's tackle football, not touch or flag football. Recently down in Austin, Texas, there were roughly 200 women from more than 30 states vying to be invited to the U.S. National Team tryouts next week. The National Team will compete this summer in Finland at the second International Federation of American Football Women's World Championship.
 
Once upon a time in women's high school basketball, the guards were not allowed to cross midcourt, only the forwards and the center were. And most, if not all, of them couldn't hit the backboard from 20 feet. Now, from high school to college to the WBA, they hit a lot of 3-pointers.
 
If Wambach decided to play real football, there's no doubt in my gridiron brain that she would be an overnight superstar. Shoot, wouldn't even surprise me if she made an NFL team!
 
The late, great John Wayne once was quoted as saying, "I think a woman ought to be able to work anywhere she wants-as long as she has dinner on the table when I get home." He reportedly said it as a joke and no doubt he would be impressed by where the world of women has gone since his death in the summer of 1979.
 
After her history-making pole victory last Sunday, Patrick said she and women in general "have a lot more history to make." So, Danica, go out Sunday, put the pedal to the metal and open even another career window for women. Wish we could find out what the Duke would have to say about that!
 
Picking the winner of the Daytona 500, the Indy 500 or any car race, though, is right up there with picking the winning lottery numbers. It's a crapshoot because of the timing of pit stops, crashes, and drivers too aggressive or not aggressive enough.
 
Patrick, at age 30, hasn't had a good or bad racing career so far. In 2005, she was the Rookie of the Year for both the Indy 500 and that year's Indy series. With her win in the 2008 Indy Japan 300, Patrick became the first woman to win an IndyCar race. And, she finished third in the 2009 Indy 500, her personal best at the track, and the best finish by a woman in the race's history.
 
Otherwise, Patrick has had just a so-so record as an IndyCar driver and as a Nationwide Series driver, so maybe this will be her breakout Sunday in NASCAR. It would be great to see her be the first to get the checkered flag.

Rick Woodson's column appears each Thursday on the Rochester Business Journal website at www.rbjdaily.com. His book, "Words of Woodson," is available at www.authorhouse.com/bookstore. Listen to his weekly program, "The Golf Tee," at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280 and FM 107.2.2/22/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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