The first 29 years have been exceedingly fruitful for Danica Patrick. The spunky girl from Roscoe, Ill., who started go-karting on a family lark has become one of the most recognizable figures in American sports: a curiosity, an unwitting gender pioneer, a provocateur, at once the most popular and most polarizing of drivers.
She unapologetically wields her abilities to drive a race car and move product while she still has them because she knows both are finite resources. She is adored and begrudged. She conjures some emotion in most race fans whether they like it or not, whether they like her or not.
Once an IndyCar driver, now a full-time NASCAR convert, she turns 30 years old Sunday. And now, she said, things should really get good.
"GoDaddy hasn't said they're going to kick me out of being a GoDaddy girl because I'm in my 30s, so that's a real positive for me," she said with a laugh. "That means I don't have a total expiration date. But I think my 30s are going to be my best decade yet."
As illuminating as 30 candles, here are 29 more Danica Patrick tidbits:
• 1. She found gray hair, and it's disconcerting on multiple levels: "I found two. I found two," she said.
"They were right in my sideburns. What am I supposed to do about that? I pulled them out."
That would seemingly represent a painful and ultimately doomed strategy, one she discussed with a stylist during a recent commercial shoot.
"Eventually I'll be bald if I keep up with that," she said. "Hopefully they don't come on too strong. I said today to the hairstylist, I'm going to have to decide if I can have long hair when they really get going gray. And what am I going to do about my hair color? Once you start going gray, you almost need to start lightening your hair up so that it disguises it a little bit. Or maybe I just let it go."
• 2. She is the highest-finishing female in Indianapolis 500 history (third in 2009).
• 3. She is like Cal Ripken, but with carbon fiber instead of iron: Patrick ended her seven-year full-time IndyCar career running at the finish in 50 consecutive races, easily a series record. Former series champion Scott Dixon is next best at 24.
• 4. She wears contact lenses.
• 5. She self-Googles.
• 6. At Motegi, Japan, in April 2008, she became the first female to win a major open-wheel race.
• 7. She is the highest-finishing female in a NASCAR top-circuit race (fourth at Las Vegas in a Nationwide race in 2011).
• 8. She has a visceral dislike of Popsicles.
• 9. Truffle oil is the secret ingredient in her mashed potatoes.
• 10. Even with the IndyCar opener this weekend, she says she doesn't feel she should be elsewhere. "I feel comfortable," she said. "I definitely felt like last year, when I left off [her part-time Nationwide schedule to return full-time to IndyCar], I was like top-five in points [ninth], and I was like, 'Man, Texas is soon and I love Texas and I run well there,' and I was thinking to myself it would be so great to keep going. And this year I am going to be able to keep going. I was thinking the other day what the first race was, so I knew it must be coming up. It's actually on my birthday day. How about that? See, I actually get the day off the way I have it now."
• 11. She chose the number 10 for her Stewart Haas Racing Sprint Cup car partly because she began go-karting at that age.
• 12. She thinks there must be a better word than "sexy" for female athletes: "If there is a pretty girl, [people] don't know how to describe a pretty girl other than being 'sexy,' and it has such a negative connotation to it. You don't say those kinds of things to frame it like that for a guy, or even sometimes talk about it, but it seems like with female athletes, if they are pretty, they only know how to describe them in a sexual way."
• 13. She very much enjoys the comedy of "Tosh.0."
• 14. She was the first female to lead laps in the Indianapolis 500 (19, in 2005).
• 15. She switched from a red undershirt and balaclava this season to black because she changed helmet designs. That might ultimately be a health hazard during the heat of summer. "Ask me in July or August," she said.
• 16. She recently read "The Hunger Games."
• 17. She is 5-foot-2.
• 18. She and former teammate Tony Kanaan settled some old differences after the death of friend Dan Wheldon at the IndyCar finale in Las Vegas last October. "We had some differences that we never talked about," Kanaan said. "We get carried away because we're very competitive. Drivers are very competitive. That's our nature. I would not like to be any different than that, but we just looked at each other and said, 'Let's, you know, forget about whatever, this blocking here, that blocking there. This is just so small.' It just took three seconds for us to look at each other's eyes, and we understood."
• 19. She does not hope to eventually be another face in the crowd. "I enjoy being different," she said. "I enjoy being unique. I enjoy it all. I really do. I choose to look at the positives that come with it instead of the negatives, but it is a balance."
• 20. She is a wine aficionado and has her own cellar in her Phoenix home.
• 21. On Wheldon being killed in her final race as a full-time IndyCar driver, saying goodbye, and not saying goodbye: "It was kind of an awkward departure, with it being at Vegas and the last race and having it go the way it did, so I think there was definitely some I think everyone ended quietly going their own way into the offseason. It's probably easier. It's not like I'm never going to see them again. I miss Marco [Andretti] a little. Marco and I got along really well in the end."
• 22. She wishes she didn't "get so mad" about things.
• 23. She posed for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition in 2009.
• 24. She is a Chicago Bears fan.
• 25. She sponsors her niece's under-10 girls' softball team in Phoenix, dubbed the Green Machines, complete with electric-green shirts and checkered socks.
"It's cool," she said. "I went to a game the other night and it was real fun. The girls are real excited. They saw me walk up and so they started all coming over to say hi, and I didn't want to distract them, so I said, 'No, go practice.' And sure enough, they all turned around and ran away. And I was like, 'No! I wasn't totally serious. Whatever you want to do.' I don't know what protocol is. If you come up to my practice in a race car, it's kind of not a good thing, but maybe softball practice isn't the worst thing to interrupt when they're 10."
• 26. She holds the celebrity record with 10 Super Bowl commercials.
• 27. Her younger sister, Brooke, also raced go-karts as a child but quit after wrecking four times in a race.
• 28. She was named IndyCar's most popular driver in six of her seven seasons. Wheldon was given the award posthumously after the 2011 season.
• 29. She will make her 30th career Nationwide Series start at Fontana, Calif., on Saturday, the day before her 30th birthday.