Bev Patrick enjoying the journey
Bev Patrick had taken up her customary pre-race perch near the bow of the electric-green-and-orange Chevrolet. Danica Patrick was beginning the second Speedweeks of her Sprint Cup career that February day, and her pit stall remained a confluence of the curious at Daytona International Speedway. Diminutive but determined, as is the Patrick way, the mother stood her ground in the gathering crush.
Dignitaries and officials ambled by for a nod or a handshake with Patrick's team members and her father, T.J., leaning against the No. 10 race car. In the gathering, a tall fan in a sleeveless, unbuttoned shirt was so intent on photographing the scene that he unwittingly had lowered his outstretched hands almost onto the crown of Bev's head, as if she were some sort of tripod. She turned, politely, gazing up at the man with an admonishing smile. He relented.
By the time Bev restored her gaze, her daughter had pierced the human cordon surrounding her car and, finding an envelope of open space, inhaled deeply before she began her pre-race salutations. Bev moved in, and as the overzealous man with the smartphone winced, got her hug.
Bev Patrick is too often lost in the crowd. Her willingness to allow her husband to command the stage, to opine or incite if he deems it necessary, underscores that the ardent father and his ardent daughter are very much kindred spirits, sharing temperament and enterprise as much as DNA. But Bev has been there, too, the most longtime and best fan of the multimillionaire, ubiquitous spokesperson and gender pioneer race car-driving icon who sprung from the go-kart tracks of Roscoe, Illinois, to the hallowed bricks of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to the high-banked expanse of Daytona.
Bev instilled traits and characteristics that allowed Danica to become the athlete and business force that she is today.
"She helped me more than people know,'' Danica said.
Good bits and bad bits
The Patricks jokingly refer to them as the good bits and the bad bits, the little traits and quirks that T.J. and Bev passed on to their daughters, Danica, 32, and Brooke, 30.
"We used to go through the good and bad bits together, which was kind of funny," said Brooke, a physical therapist at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. She gave birth to a baby girl earlier this year. "Danica got a good bit from Dad's hair. She has always had thick and pretty hair, and I got Mom's hair, which is thin and shorter. I got Dad's muscle and body type, and Danica's body type resembles Mom's more."
"She likes to cook and she likes to do normal, everyday, stay-at-home things," Bev said of her elder daughter. "That's probably me a little bit. She definitely favors her dad in a lot of her interests and talents and demeanor. She's got some of me, but she's a lot of her dad."
Perhaps Bev undersells her addition to the talent-and-demeanor equation. Granted, the spunky bar was set high in her household, but this is the same Bev Patrick who raced and wrenched on snowmobiles for her all-female team in Wisconsin three decades ago, earning the nickname "Captain Traction."
Mark Dyer, Danica's agent, said Bev is "like her daughters: really smart and really tough."
T.J. said Danica acquired Bev's "desire for fitness," cooking skills and "politically correct speaking ways or patience, whatever you call it. I don't have the patience to answer the proper way. I am too frank and to the point."
And she acquired something that ultimately became important in May 2005, when Patrick became a mainstream sensation after starting and finishing fourth and leading 19 laps as a rookie in the Indianapolis 500 -- all new standards for females. She had a chance to become not only famous, but beyond financially secure. Transcendent. And she didn't squander it.
"Danica," T.J. said, "does get her mom's business sense."
That business sense was honed keeping various family businesses solvent back in Roscoe. Bev didn't realize she was preparing for a career in multinational sports marketing and finance. There was just the glass business and the coffee shop -- neither of which grew into empires -- local staples that provided the Patricks a middle-class life, allowed them to continue to dabble in snowmobiles and afford Danica a Mustang as a high-schooler.
The eventual drain of funding Danica's increasingly expensive racing career was a lesson in austerity and decision-making, but once she advanced to IndyCar, her parents began divesting to work for her full time. Among Bev's duties were managing finances and helping T.J. with contracts that were quickly dwarfing anything she had handled in Roscoe. It was, T.J. admits, beyond them. And so, eventually, the family, with Danica at the center of the process, made a tough decision. Her parents would become just her parents again.
Five years after gladly relinquishing the increasingly weighty duties of running the Danica Patrick empire to the IMG marketing agency, Bev doesn't pine for lost responsibility or influence.
"Sure, you miss the excitement of being involved in all the activities," she said. "But it is nice when things go down and you think, 'Oh, I'm glad I didn't have to deal with that.' That's kind of the retirement thing. I'm all about it."
Time to take it all in
Though the Patricks' racing affections still include IndyCar -- they'll miss the inaugural road course race at IMS only because they're traveling to the Sprint Cup event at Kansas Speedway this weekend -- they enjoy NASCAR in a large part because they have the time to take it all in.
"When we first got into IndyCar, we got into it because we were involved with Danica and helping her business side and day-to-day activities,'' Bev said. "It was just so busy we didn't really enjoy the many things we could. ... Now in NASCAR, we're just Mom and Dad and spectators like everybody else, so it's very laid-back and just watching everything unfold."
The Patricks hope to attend a dozen or so races a year. It's flexible. They like that. Among those they will attend for the first time is the Coca-Cola 600, which is held the same day as the Indianapolis 500. Fully adapted to real-world speed after hopping from their daughter's rapidly accelerating train in 2009, they're happy.
And then there are the perks. There were the backstage passes for a country music show in Indianapolis featuring Eric Church and Jason Aldean -- she met him; she loved it -- and watching the show with Brooke near the soundboard even though Danica couldn't attend. There was an evening sitting next to Sara Evans' and Scott McCreery's mothers at the American Country Awards co-hosted by Danica in December, discovering their perspectives on the business side of country music and how it had affected their children.
Those mothers had watched their children attempt to apply the rules and sensibilities they'd imparted as fame and fortune forever changed their landscape. And in Bev's case, it involved watching from close range as celebrity exacted its toll of pressure, scrutiny and, at times, vitriol on a daughter who engenders strong sentiments, both positive and negative.
That said, she believes fame, which got another spark last year when Danica became the first woman to win the pole and lead laps in the Daytona 500, has been a fair trade for her daughter.
"I think so. She always says, 'I just try to stay true to myself,' " Bev said. "She says the things she believes in, backs the things she believes in. It's not going to be what everyone else thinks or believes or follows. So as long as she is true to herself and does the things she likes to do, I don't know what else you could ask for.
"She does what she loves to do in racing. She obviously makes out OK. They would say something about her if she won every race or came in last every race. I think she can let it roll off pretty well."
The they are everywhere, though not nearly as identifiable as the scores of fans brandishing Danica Patrick merchandise on race weekends. Sometimes they scowl, sometimes they boo. And sometimes, without realizing they are standing next to Bev Patrick, they bellow something a mother struggles to ignore.
"You kind of want to choke people sometimes," she said with a chuckle. "Do you really know what you're writing about or saying? You've never walked a day in her shoes.
"I find myself saying, 'Oh, what are they gonna say next?' I find myself going kind of 50-50. There's 50 percent that love her and 50 percent that hate her, and that's OK. There's 40-some other guys out there they can latch onto. You can't please everyone."
A rewarding journey
Back in Roscoe, before Danica and Brooke had ever taken their first go-kart ride in the back of an industrial park near the glass shop, Mother's Day entailed a large family breakfast, with all the mothers and grandmothers at the Holiday Inn.
"Wherever the mothers didn't have to cook," Bev said.
The setting changes again this year to Kansas Speedway, where the Sprint Cup race will be contested on Saturday night and the family of Patrick's boyfriend and counterpart Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is scheduled to join them.
They could straggle in their motor homes in the infield until Sunday and allow Danica, an avid cook, to concoct something with a gourmet flair. They could dine in one of Kansas City's finest restaurants. And if they're feeling nostalgic, there's a Holiday Inn on East 39th Street.
Bev will probably be content either way. The journey from Roscoe to Kansas City has been winding, but ultimately rewarding. And she's most interested in enjoying the present. Her daughters have made it. That her part in raising Danica is often left on the periphery of the photograph doesn't seem to matter to her. She'll still get her hug.
"Life is good," she said. "I have no complaints."