Control. When pinpointing what motivates one of the most prominent athletes in a sport that features cars careening around a race track at 200 mph, control is not the first word that comes to mind. But the new documentary “Danica,” which premieres tonight on EPIX, shows that control is at the heart of Danica Patrick’s successes — and her struggles. In fact, it’s one of the biggest reasons she decided to let cameras into her life.
“I was going to have creative control,” Patrick told Excelle Sports about the documentary, which was directed by Hannah Storm.
This film comes at a pivotal moment for Patrick, who is currently dealing with her own lack of control. The driver is in her final season with the Stewart-Haas team and has yet to find a new one. She says she’s “minutes away” from making a decision about her racing career, but she has very little say over what happens next.
Despite her uncertain future in NASCAR, she remains firmly in the driver’s seat of her life.
“I enjoy racing, but I love a lot of other things too,” she said.
Outside of NASCAR, the 35-year-old stays busy. She’s got her own vineyard, her own clothing line and a health and fitness book coming out next month.
Her many extracurricular activities will keep her occupied — and employed — long after she’s done racing, but they have also made her the target of criticism from NASCAR fans and pundits, who think she doesn’t focus enough on the sport. Patrick’s response is that her outside ventures prove how driven she really is.
“I work my ass off on everything that I do, and if there was something I felt that would help my racing, of course I would do it,” she said. “I want people to know that, no matter what, I’ve worked this hard because, like I said in the documentary, I don’t want me to suck.”
Patrick controls what she can — her driving, her diet and fitness regime, and even her image — but she struggles with the facets of the sport that are outside her jurisdiction.
“The challenging thing about racing is that I have less control,” Patrick said. “Somebody else builds the car, and somebody else runs the team. Somebody else hires the personnel.”
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But she has come to terms with the one thing she’s never been able to control: what other people think of her.
“Usually [people saying] things that are mean or angry come out of a place of fear in them, more than them really not liking me,” Patrick said. “If there’s anybody that I’ve ever not done an interview with, that’s only because they don’t ask for me. I think that if they asked for an interview, then they’d actually have to learn that I’m an okay person. And they don’t really want to admit that because they’re so strong in their stance of me.”
If nothing else, the documentary will give Patrick’s fans and critics alike an idea of the adversity she has overcome in her racing career, which started more than 25 years ago when she began go-karting at age 10.
“Overall my life has seemed really hard,” Patrick said of the film. “I just didn’t really get that feeling living in it. When you pack 26 years of racing into one hour, all of a sudden you get a little bit more of a 30,000 foot-level of what my life’s been like. So that definitely is a little bit surprising to me, how many challenges there were.”
One of the biggest challenges was breaking into a male-dominated sport. While the documentary shows glimpses of the sort of sexism that she faced as one of the only female drivers, Patrick herself sees her gender as an advantage.
“I’ve enjoyed being different and unique,” she said. “It’s been part of what’s helped me get to where I am today.”
Where she is today appears to be a place of contentment. Although she can’t control what happens next season, Patrick is mature enough to know that it won’t define her.
“A common question is, what is your definition of success? I think that when you’re young it tends to be something like … I won a lot. But then when you get older, it’s like, am I happy? Am I true to myself? Am I doing what I really wanted? Am I honest? Am I a good person? Those are things that are a little bit more important to you and your grade of success.”