Auto racing legend Danica Patrick has used lessons learned on the racetrack to fuel new successes. Her ethos can help you take your dreams to the finish line too.
Rachel B. Levin
On a rainy December morning at her home in Scottsdale, Arizona, Danica Patrick was feeling rather happy about a flat tire. If you know anything about Patrick—namely, that she’s widely held to be the most accomplished woman in the history of auto racing—it may seem unlikely that car trouble of any sort could please her. But the flat tire in question was not her tire. It belonged to a workout buddy who had been planning to drive to Patrick’s house for an exercise session but never made it due to the flat. To Patrick, who earlier that morning had floated the idea of postponing the workout because she was feeling tired, the flat tire was a stroke of serendipity that allowed her to get some rest that she otherwise would have neglected. “I was like, ‘Wow, the universe just made that all so easy,’” she says. No one could argue that the universe has made Patrick’s successes—during her racing career or in her roles as author, podcast host, and entrepreneur—come easily. She has a “can-do” attitude that’s helped her break through barriers, and her historic performances in races like the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 are literal proof that reaching your goals requires putting your foot on the gas. Still, for Patrick, the tire incident is just one small example of her belief that sometimes, to get what you want, you need to take your hands off the wheel and have faith that forces outside of yourself are working in your favor. She explains that when you tap into your innermost desires and make them known, “Things happen for you really quickly and easily, and manifest and work [themselves] out.” Patrick’s formula for success—cultivated along the many twists and turns of her career—involves balancing “can do” with “let it go.” Her journey provides a roadmap for dreaming big, adopting a mindset to propel you forward, and creating the life you really want.
Patrick, who’s 39 as of March 25, began racing go-karts when she was 10 years old. At first, the activity was an outlet for family fun on the weekends, but it wasn’t long before Patrick got serious about racing. The idea of becoming a professional race car driver came to her during her first year of go-kart racing, she says. “I went from not being able to keep up on parade laps to winning.”
Given that auto racing has long been a male-dominated sport, it was a bold dream for a young girl to have. But Patrick has always believed in dreaming without limits.
“If you don’t know what you want, how do you get it?” she muses.
At 16—an age when many teens are excited just to get a driver’s license—Patrick left her home in Roscoe, Illinois, and moved to England to train and compete in European road racing.
Patrick explains that the hurdles she encountered as she advanced in the sport apply to anyone—regardless of gender—who aspires to race cars professionally: “The challenge is finding people that believe in you … that believe that you have the talent and the ability to be the best and make the most of the equipment.” At the same time, her gender upped the ante. “Just being obviously a woman and being more unproven … it was probably a little bit harder,” she says.
The key to not letting the naysayers stand in her way was having unwavering confidence in herself. “Believing in your ability … there’s magic in that,” she says. “If you don’t believe that you deserve to get [your], then the universe meets you right there.”
Three years after moving to England, she returned to the US, where her tenacity led her to shatter the glass ceiling in both IndyCar and NASCAR racing. In 2005, she became the first woman to lead laps and score a top-five finish in the Indianapolis 500. In 2008, she claimed victory in the Indy Japan 300, becoming the first woman to win an IndyCar race. And in 2013, at the Daytona 500, she became the first woman to win a NASCAR Cup Series pole and finished in eighth place, the highest finishing position ever for a woman in the legendary race.
Patrick credits positive thinking as much as hard work for her trailblazing achievements. On the racetrack—where decisions get made at speeds of over 225 mph and fixating on roadblocks only increases the chances that a driver will crash—Patrick would sometimes remind herself, “Keep looking forward,” she says. “You go where your eyes go.” She believes those mantras can be applied along the road to realizing any goal: Focus on the openings, not the obstacles.
Since retiring from racing in 2018, Patrick’s drive to succeed and inspire hasn’t waned. The athlete hasn’t let up on her dedication to fitness and health, either. With the publication of Pretty Intense: The 90-Day Mind, Body and Food Plan that will absolutely Change Your Life in 2017, she introduced an exercise, diet, and mental-conditioning program that coaxes readers to pursue the physique and lifestyle they desire with intensity.
A CrossFit enthusiast who typically works out every day, Patrick designed 12 weeks of daily workouts for the book. In fact, making up workouts is one of her strategies for staying committed to her exercise goals. “Once I’ve made the workout up, I have to do it,” she says. “You need to have systems in place that don’t give you excuses.”
Yet despite her pedal-to-the-metal approach to fitness, Patrick also emphasizes the need for resetting yourself both physically and spiritually. She turns to yoga when she’s looking to recharge. “I recognize the mental aspect of [yoga],” she says.
Patrick created a dedicated room in her home—which she calls her “WOman cave”—for yoga and other rejuvenating activities, from art to daydreaming. She recommends carving out such a space in your home, no matter how small, for focusing your mind and connecting with your passions. Going to that physical space makes self-reflection “almost ritualistic,” says Patrick. “There’s a destination to do something.”
She happened to paint her WOman cave dark blue, a color she later realized is associated with the fifth chakra. Located in the throat area, this chakra is thought to help us speak our truth. And in 2019, Patrick began speaking her truth—literally—when she launched her weekly podcast, <Pretty Intense>, in which she swaps nuggets of wisdom about manifesting your true best self with luminaries in fields ranging from athletics to business, entertainment, nutrition, wellness, and spirituality.
For Patrick, dreaming and doing have always gone hand in hand with risk-taking. A quote she often thinks of comes from the first female president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”
Embracing the unknown has let Patrick dream outside of her immediate knowledge base—including a dream of having a vineyard of her own. This dream shimmered into focus when the wine enthusiast traveled to Napa Valley in 2006 and fell in love with the region. Three years later, she took the plunge into viticulture when she purchased a property there and established what would become a certified organic vineyard. She named the vineyard Somnium, which means “dream” in Latin.
At the beginning, “It was just a bare piece of land,” says Patrick. She assembled a team of experts to cultivate the grapes and produce wines, and in 2017, Somnium released its first wine, a cabernet sauvignon. In 2020, she launched a second wine brand, Danica Rosé, which is produced in Provence, France.
Patrick embodies “growth mindset,” a term popularized by psychologist Carol Dweck, PhD. In the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck writes that those with growth mindsets view stumbling blocks as invitations to improve, rather than evidence of their limited ability.
The concept offers a handy framework for rethinking your limitations. “If you’re like, ‘I just don’t know how’ and ‘I can’t’ … you’re going to keep getting the same [results],” says Patrick.
Patrick hopes her example helps people put negativity and self-doubt in the rearview mirror so they can realize their dreams—and find joy in the journey.
As she puts it: “You can’t get a new future with the thinking mind of the past.”
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