She’s already published her autobiography, “Danica — Crossing the Line,” two years ago, and this year became the first woman to win an IndyCar race, bringing home first place in the Indy Japan 300.

At 26, professional race car driver Danica Patrick is now playing with the big boys, finishing 5,894 seconds ahead of former “Dancing With The Stars” winner and fellow race car driver, Helio Castroneves, and joining the gender-crossing ranks of drag racer Shirley Muldowney.

Growing up in the Midwest, Patrick was a high school cheerleader before first tasting racing success when she began local Go-Karting in 1992 at Sugar River Raceway in Wisconsin, later moving on to win national Go-Kart titles. 

When she turned 16, Patrick moved to England to further her racing ambitions, placing in various races all across Europe. Back in the states, the petite racer won her first pole position in 2005 in the Indy 500, and in 2007, she signed a lucrative deal to drive for Andretti Green Racing, with her car sponsored by Motorola, XM radio and Go Daddy. 

With inevitable race car crashes over the years, Patrick underwent physical therapy and later married her physical therapist, Paul Hospenthal. Now, she says, her life is complete.

Bankrate: When was the first time you thought you’d be able to make a living as a race car driver?

Danica Patrick: The first thought of becoming a race car driver that was a little more secure than for fun was when I was 16 and moved to England. I thought, OK, I really got to make this work. Obviously, when I got hired by Bobby Rahal, who owns an IndyCar team, I thought, you know what? I can definitely make a career of this.

Bankrate: What was your first paying job you ever had besides racing?

Danica Patrick: I worked at The Limited Too clothing store when I was around 18. I worked there for just one winter.

Bankrate: Car racing can bring in some big bucks or none at all, so what has been a financial lesson you learned the hard way?

Danica Patrick: I wanted to go on a spring break trip with one of my friends when I was 18 and my parents made me earn the money to go. So I had to pay for my flight, hotel and everything; I realized just how quickly that money goes when you’re the one earning the paycheck and you’re the one spending it. That was a pretty good lesson for me. I had always been lucky in having my parents pay for everything before that, so that was my first real big lesson in finances.

Bankrate: Do you ever save for a rainy day, since any sport can be such a tenuous occupation?

Danica Patrick: Absolutely! I know that an athlete’s career is not of a normal length and in general, is relatively short. Hopefully, you can be in a situation where you can make good money, you make good decisions with it and you are able to set yourself up for the rest of your life financially. I think one of the lessons my old boss Bobby Rahal taught me was that he said save your money because when I retired from racing, I wanted to maintain the same kind of lifestyle that I had when I was doing it, so I knew I needed to start doing some other things like investing in different areas and making sure that the financial flow would keep coming after you were done.  

Bankrate: You’ve received negative comments about your ability as a woman to race successfully. When you hear these comments, what is your reaction?

Danica Patrick: I would say that if anybody spoke negatively about me, they don’t know me and they’re uneducated in what I’ve done in my career. It’s not important, and to be honest, it doesn’t affect me. Those are not the kind of things that I read every day, and that I set out to learn about. Unfortunately, in this culture, people get as much attention from the negative — if not more — than the positive, so you can’t dwell on it. You just have to be confident in yourself.

Bankrate: What was your first big splurge?

Danica Patrick: Probably my car. I bought a Lamborghini a couple of years ago and that was my first really big splurge. I didn’t want to scratch it because I thought it would be too much money to fix. It’s silver. 

Bankrate: What is your No. 1 stress reliever? 

Danica Patrick: Pedicures. You can find them anywhere and it’s 30 minutes of your own time that you can grab that’s not too greedy or expensive.

Bonnie Siegler is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.

Photo courtesy Retna Ltd.

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