This article originally appeared at INDYCAR Nation on January 31, 2012. To view More Front Wing’s exclusive INDYCAR Nation content as soon as it’s released, visit indycarnation.indycar.com.
It’s been a common refrain in the past few months: “Who will be Danica’s replacement? Where’s the Next Danica?”
This needs to be settled once and for all. There is no Next Danica. Danica will never be replaced, nor does anyone want to replace her.
Those familiar with American history will have heard the story of when Thomas Jefferson was appointed as America’s representative to the Court of France in 1785. When first presented to the Court, the Count de Vergennes inquired of Jefferson, “You are Dr. Franklin’s replacement?” To this question, Jefferson quipped, “Not his replacement, Sir, for no one can replace Dr. Franklin. I am merely his successor.”
So it is, too, with Danica Patrick. No driver, male or female, will be Danica. There are many drivers who would like to achieve the same success and recognition beyond the IZOD IndyCar Series, but not a single one will set out to be Danica v. 2.0 — nor should they.
What the IICS needs is for drivers to be themselves and let their own personalities shine. Sure, fans will take to Twitter or TrackForum when drivers do something they don’t like. Sure, the drivers will occasionally find themselves on the wrong side of the fan base’s opinion. But as the great Dale Earnhardt so famously said, “It doesn’t matter whether they are cheering or booing, just as long as they are making noise.” It’s apathy, not disagreement or hatred, that tears a sport apart.
Perhaps the direct extension of fans not wanting drivers to be censored is that fans don’t want drivers to be people they are not. Nobody wants Will Power to pretend to be Helio Castroneves. Nobody wants to see Ryan Briscoe try to be Dario Franchitti. Each and every driver who sits on the grid of an IZOD IndyCar Series race has a fascinating story to tell that should be heard in his or her own words.
And not every driver needs to be argumentative and controversial at every turn. Just as there is a group of people who enjoy the young, brash ways of Graham Rahal, there is another group that just as fully appreciates the cool, quiet demeanor of Scott Dixon. Different strokes for different folks.
The IZOD IndyCar Series doesn’t need Danica Patrick to survive or even to thrive. Moreover, it certainly doesn’t need someone to pretend to be Danica Patrick. Asking one of the female drivers to assume such a role is not only counterproductive, it’s also disrespectful. Whether one is discussing Simona de Silvestro, Pippa Mann, or Katherine Legge, each of those women wants to carve out her own niche and find her own path to success in this sport. Forcing any one of them to artificially take on the Danica role just because she is female is asking that person to be someone she may not want to be.
Open-wheel racing has had many generations of great drivers going all the way back to the early part of the 1900s. As the years have passed, more great drivers and great personalities have added their names to the lineage, but not a single one of them was a replacement or a fill-in for a driver before them. AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti were obviously drivers the like of which we may never see again, but neither of them were replacements for Eddie Sachs, Sam Hanks, or Bill Vukovich. Rick Mears, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser, Jr., Tom Sneva, Emerson Fittipaldi — all of them were great drivers, but none of them were replacements for AJ or Mario. And now, Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Will Power, Justin Wilson, Oriol Servia, Graham Rahal and many others are great drivers and great personalities, all unique and talented in their own ways, but not a single one of them is a replacement for the image of Mears or Fittipaldi or Rahal.
INDYCAR is moving on, and for the time being it is moving on without Danica Patrick. With so many wonderful stories lined up for 2012, it’s a shame that one of the ones that will likely garner the most attention is, “Who will be Danica’s replacement?”
The real question should be, “Who will be Danica’s successor?”