Danica Patrick has revved up some controversy, questioning whether NASCAR needs its Drive for Diversity program, which aims to increase female and minority participation in the racing car series.
“I have never benefited from the Diversity program,” Patrick said on Friday after a reporter from the Danville (Va.) Register and Bee asked her about diversity in stock car racing. NASCAR honored Wendell Scott, the only African-American to win in its top-level series, at its event in Martinsville, Va., this past weekend. Scott, who was born in Danville, won a Grand National (predecessor to Sprint Cup) race in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1963. Darrell Wallace, Jr., took the checkered flag at the Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville in 2013, becoming only the second African American to win a race in one of NASCAR's national series, and repeated the feat on Saturday in a truck wearing Scott's number and paint scheme.
Patrick cut short a follow-up question about what needs to be done for more women to enter NASCAR, saying, “Well, clearly then I wouldn’t think that there needs to be a diversity program if I’m here and I didn’t get in.
“It wasn’t like they asked me to be in it. They didn’t give my team or me any money. They didn’t say we’d love you … you know?
“So I would say that you have to just make it. And I’m not saying I’m here, just like, I’m not saying that being a girl hasn’t helped, but I didn’t need a program to make it happen.”
Patrick, the first woman to earn a full-time position with a NASCAR Sprint Cup team, is the only woman currently competing in the series. She also is the only woman ever to win an IndyCar event.
NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing operations, Jim Cassidy, responded to Patrick’s comments in a statement to the Charlotte Observer:
"We're fortunate that there are many different paths of entry into our sport for our participants. We have seen a growing number of talented diverse and female drivers compete in NASCAR thanks to our Drive for Diversity program started in 2004. We’re very proud of the program, which also recruits and trains pit crew members, and remain more committed than ever to it."
Bondurant asked Patrick, who has over one million followers on both Twitter and Facebook, if she has accepted her role as a trailblazer and role model for aspiring female racers. Patrick answered that she does not really think about it that much, but she enjoys her relationship with the kids.
“But it's not something that I set out to do,” she said. “My parents never brought me up to feel like I was any different. So, I was never taught to be the fastest girl. I was taught to be the fastest. Sorry, we're always hard on the young ones. I'm always hard on the young ones."
Patrick has not commented further on the diversity program issue.
Video of the full Patrick press conference can be seen below. Bondurant's question is at 16:00: