‘Do you get mad when your boyfriend wrecks you?’ Danica Patrick faces kids’ pressing questions

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Danica Patrick gets a group hug from a crowd of children during an appearance Sunday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Credit: NASCAR

CHARLOTTE – Surrounded by 100 wide-eyed and smiling questioners sitting cross-legged on the floor of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Danica Patrick faced an unusual inquisition Sunday.

Kids had carte blanche to grill the popular NASCAR driver. But Patrick was suspicious if the first question – “Do you get mad when your boyfriend wrecks you?” – actually came from the mouths of babes.

“I thought it was adorable,” Patrick said with a laugh after the event, which promoted a new Rookie Racers Club that offers discounted Hall of Fame admission for kids 12 and younger. “I figured that was too insightful of a question. I feel like it might have come from Mom or Dad.

“All the kids had really cute questions. I’m happy to be where I am and have the people follow me that do, but it’s just like extra happy when it’s kids. They’re so excited to meet you. There hugs are so pure. Their questions are so pure. It was a fun event for me to do.”

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver set the tone for the lighthearted event when she walked onto a dais in the Great Hall with her 10-month-old Siberian Husky, Dallas.

“No one wants to applaud for Dallas?” Patrick asked the crowd after being introduced. “Let me let him off the leash. If I do this at the track, I worry he’ll be getting in the car.”

A few dozen kids immediately circled the puppy, delighting Patrick (“She’s really cute and people can pet her a lot easier than I’d let them pet me.”) and causing NASCAR Hall of Fame executive director Winston Kelly to note she probably wasn’t accustomed to being upstaged.

“It’s the first time Dallas came to an event,” Patrick said. “I think I underestimated how overwhelming it can be when there’s 20 kids trying to touch her nose. I think if 20 people tried to touch my nose, I might get away from it, too.”

Patrick, meanwhile, seemed completely comfortable while spending about an hour answering questions and then taking photos with the first 100 children who attended. Alex Scholz, 7, of Indian Trail, N.C., was named the charter member of the Rookie Racers Club by arriving with his father, Michael, at 6:30 a.m. – six and a half hours ahead of schedule.

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7-year-old Alex Scholz (left) of Indian Trail, N.C., was the first to arrive Sunday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame for Danica Patrick’s appearance. Credit: NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Patrick has grown accustomed to handling youngsters. She helps baby-sit younger sister Brooke’s daughter Reese, who just turned 1.

“I definitely have spent a lot of time lately with my niece,” Danica said. I think it’s really come a lot from spending time with kids at the racetrack. Seeing them in autograph lines or (being) around friends with kids. I’m always trying to break them if they’re shy or don’t want to come over, I always try to make them soften up and get excited to meet me.

“It always starts off with the really good questions about, ‘What’s your favorite color?’ and ‘How old are you?’ They know those answers. You can get them to talk to you that way. I like spending time with them, and I’ve learned from being at the racetrack.”

Patrick is ready to be back at the track after a two-month layoff. With a testing ban in effect, she hasn’t been in her No. 10 Chevrolet since an 18th in the 2014 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

That was Patrick’s best finish under new crew chief Daniel Knost, who returns after guiding her for the last three races last season.

“I’m optimistic about 2015,” Patrick said. “I think we made progress in the three races we had. It started rough and still wasn’t perfect at the end by any means.

“I think the race cars got better over those three races, and he made some really good race calls, so I’m optimistic. I’m excited. I think no testing is going to give us a slower start, but it’s just going to put that much more emphasis to the track time we have and making the most of it and really thinking about what’s going on with the race car and trying to develop our communication skills.”

Before heading to Daytona International Speedway next month for Speedweeks, Patrick will return to facing questions from adults Tuesday during the SHR stop on the second day of the preseason NASCAR Media Tour.

She might face some queries as blunt and potentially awkward as how she and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. deal with being in wrecks together. She handled it well Sunday.

“Yes, I have been mad before,” Patrick responded. “But we talk about, and then we get over it. And we don’t get to bed mad or we’re just not going to bed. We will talk about. Sometimes. But sometimes we don’t mean to; they’re just accidents.”

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Indeed, Danica Patrick always seems to be at the center of attention. Credit: NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Here’s how the rest of her Q&A with kids went:

What job would you have done if you weren’t racing?

“I have no idea. I started racing when I was 10. How many of you are 10 or older? I was already racing by that point and time. Before I raced, I wanted to be a singer, a veterinarian. But then when I was 10, I started racing. Then I thought I’d go to college for engineering to learn how to work on my race car. I really didn’t have to think about anything after that. My dreams came true. I always kept in mind that I wanted to be a race car driver. That’s what happened. I had a lot of confidence and faith that it would happen.”

What is being a driver like?

“It’s mostly really fun. It’s a lot of work at times, too. My office is very hot sometimes. It gets to over 130 degrees in my office — that’s my race car. But it’s mostly just great that I get to do something I enjoy and have fun. That’s why when you’re young, you’ve got to think about what you want to be when you grow up. I thought about what I wanted to do when I grew up, and that was a race car driver, and that happened. You just have to work hard toward what you want and have fun doing.”

What inspired you to race?

“Good question. I really just wanted to spend more time with my family. My dad worked, and my mom got to stay home and take care of my sister and I. On Sunday nights, we used to go to a dirt track and watch cars race. My dad worked on one of the cars. So we were looking for a way to spend more time together as a family because we just didn’t see our dad very much. When we got up, he was gone to work. Went to bed, he wasn’t home yet. The first thing we were going to do was we were going to buy a boat. Maybe one day I’ll end up getting that boat. So when we didn’t get the boat we wanted, then my dad decided to buy go-karts, and we went go-kart racing. I just didn’t want to get left out because my sister wanted to do it. I wanted to do it do, and it seemed to work out, and I was good at it.”

How is it like to be the only girl racing?

“To put it simply, I don’t think about it. I don’t look at myself as being any different. I’m a race car driver like they are. So I don’t think of myself as being different.”

When did you win the first prize of NASCAR?

“I sat on the pole for the Daytona 500, that’s my first prize, but I have not won yet. So I hope that I can answer that question sooner than later. But I have not won yet in NASCAR. But in IndyCar, I won in Japan. And in go-kart racing, I won about halfway through my first year and just about won the championship. I went from not being able to keep up and just going slow to winning races by the end of the year and sitting on the front row.”

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”