NEW YORK (Reuters) - If you ever wonder what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world, just consult the planet’s leading authority on the matter: Danica Patrick.
Racecar driving is a famously male-dominated arena, but that did not seem to unnerve Patrick as she developed into a champion racer and the most successful woman in the history of the sport.
So it stands to reason that Patrick, 36, might have a few things to say about standing up for yourself, following your dreams, and succeeding against tall odds.
As she transitions out of racing and steers her multiple businesses - athletic wear, winemaking, writing and speaking - she spoke with Reuters about the lessons learned from her high-risk, high-reward life on the track.
Q: Did you get your entrepreneurial spirit from your parents?
A: I grew up in Roscoe, Illinois, and my parents worked a whole lot. They started a glass business out of their garage, they had an oil exchange, they started a drywall company. So they were very much entrepreneurs, and always had that sort of mindset.
The business I probably remember most was the coffee shop. We were living in England at the time, since I was racing over there. We literally loved coffee, so we decided, ‘Let’s make a business!’ I even remember designing the logo on my little notebook paper. But my parents still say I was a terrible employee.
Q: As you first got started in racing, how did you deal with prejudice?
A: The challenge I always had was getting people to believe I could do it. Everybody deals with that on some level, but not with as much skepticism as I faced. Your confidence has to be pulled from your own knowledge. If you truly know what you are talking about, then you can hang with anyone, or even school them. People will usually respect you after that.
Q: When success hit, what was the best advice you got about handling fame and wealth?
A: It was from Bobby Rahal, my first IndyCar boss. I just saw him a couple of weeks ago, and told him it’s still the best advice I ever got. He said: ‘Don’t spend all your money, and make sure to create businesses that will still make money even after you are done racing. That way you can continue living the life you are used to living. Create that infrastructure early, so you can be financially secure even after you retire.’
Q: Any money mistakes that you regret?
A: The worst thing that happened to me is just learning from bad deals. With race teams there is a lot of money flowing in from different places, and the more hands it passes through, the more it gets confusing. So contract disputes develop, because one person thinks one thing, and another person thinks another. It’s sad to see money lost like that.
Q: You have done a lot of advocating for life insurance, as spokesperson for September’s Life Insurance Awareness Month for the industry’s trade group – why is that?
A: As soon as I started racing Indy cars and earning some money, I started thinking about life insurance. I thought, what if something happens to me? Who will pay the mortgage, or the monthly bills, or take care of my employees? Once things started getting risky on the track, I realized how important it was.
For me, I had to protect my house and my businesses, but for other people it might be their families and kids. You have to prepare for the worst, if your income stops coming in.
Q: How do you distribute your charitable dollars?
A: I thought about creating my own foundation, but it’s a lot of work, and there are already so many charities out there. So I would rather show up to my friends’ causes and support them, and draw attention to those charities. I’m the girl who raises her hand a lot at live auctions.
Q: What life lessons do you try to pass along to others?
A: Quite simply, follow your passion. When you do that, you are happier, and you are probably more successful because you really enjoy it. In life, you have to do what is calling you.
(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Editing by Beth Pinsker and Bernadette Baum