Danica to kids on life as female driver: ‘I don’t think about it’

Danica Patrick mingles with children on Sunday afternoon at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

 

Danica Patrick arrived 10 minutes late Sunday afternoon for her first scheduled public appearance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

At least she had a good excuse.

Joining her on stage for the opening moments of an event where she answered kids’ questions in an open-microphone Q&A was none other than Dallas Stenhouse, the 10-month-old Siberian Husky that she and racer boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. call their own.

This was the first time Dallas has accompanied Patrick to such a fan event, although the affable blue-eyed canine is often seen near Patrick’s No. 10 Chevy on Sprint Cup race weekends.

On this Sunday afternoon, the presence of a dog proved to be the perfect icebreaker, as dozens of kids immediately clamored to pet Patrick’s furry friend.

“I think I underestimated how overwhelming it can be when there’s like 20 kids trying to touch her nose,” Patrick said just after posing for a photo with each of the first 100 children — including one who arrived at 6:30 a.m. — at Sunday’s 1 p.m. event. “I think if 20 people tried to touch my nose, I might try and like get away from it, too. She was a cute little sort of entry to the day, but she made her way back to the car where she’s sleeping really peacefully right where the pedals are. That’s where she likes to sleep. Even during my race (weekends) actually, she sleeps right underneath the driver’s seat, right by the pedals. That’s her spot.”

After introducing her young listeners to Dallas, Patrick joined NASCAR Hall of Fame executive director Winston Kelley in announcing the formation of the all-new NASCAR Hall of Fame Kids Club, formally dubbed “Rookie Racers.”

From there, it was on to the Q&A portion in which Patrick fielded her young listeners’ questions.

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The first one drew laughter from everyone in the room, including Patrick.

“Do you get mad when your boyfriend wrecks you?” a girl named Katie asked, eagerly awaiting an answer.

“Did you come up with that question yourself? … Oh, dads,” said Patrick, who has tangled more than once with Stenhouse on the track since the two became full-time Sprint Cup drivers in 2013. “Yes, I have been mad before. I have been mad before, but we talk about it, and then we get over it and we don’t go to bed mad. Or we’re just not going to bed. Sometimes we don’t mean to. They’re just accidents.”

Patrick later reminisced about the opening question, which she clearly found amusing.

“I thought it was adorable the first question was if I get mad when my boyfriend crashes me on the racetrack,” she said. “That was too insightful of a question — I feel like it might have come from mom or dad. I blame dad. Sorry. I generalized on that one, but all the kids had really cute questions. I smile through all of my events that I have to do. I am happy to be where I am and have the people follow me that I do, but it’s just like extra happy when it’s kids. They’re so excited to meet you and their hugs are so pure and their questions are so pure.”

Among the other questions Patrick tackled:

• What’s it like being a race car driver? (“It’s mostly really fun,” Patrick said. “It’s a lot of work at times, too. My office is very hot sometimes. It gets like to over 130 degrees in my office — that’s my race car.”)

• If it wasn’t for racing, what career would you have chosen? (“I have no idea,” Patrick said. “I started racing when I was 10. But before I raced I wanted to be a singer, a veterinarian, but then when I was 10, I started racing and then I thought I would go to college for engineering so that I could learn how to work on my race car. I really didn’t have to think about anything after that. My dreams came true, because I always kept in mind that I wanted to be a race car driver.”)

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• How does it feel being the Sprint Cup Series’ only female racer?

On the final query, the driver about to embark on her third full season at Stewart-Haas Racing didn’t hesitate.

“To put it simply,” Patrick said, “I don’t think about it. I don’t look at myself as being any different. I’m just a race car driver like they are.”

The formal portion of the event ended with Patrick initiating a “group hug” with all the children, who sat in a kids-12-and-under-only-area at the foot of the stage.

Patrick — who has a young niece, but no children of her own — seemed right at home interacting with the kids, whose excitement to be in her presence was palpable from the moment she entered the room.

“I have definitely spent a lot of time lately with my niece, but I think it’s really come a lot from spending time at the racetrack with kids and just seeing them in autograph lines or seeing them around the track,” she said. “I’m also trying to break them (in) if they’re shy or they don’t want to come over. I always try and make them soften up and get excited to meet me. So it always starts off with the really good questions like, ‘What’s your favorite color?’ and, ‘How old are you?’ because they know those answers, so you can get them to talk to you that way. So I like spending time with them, and I’ve learned it really from being at the racetrack.”

Danica Patrick poses with a young fan on Sunday afternoon at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.