Ups and Downs of Danica Patrick’s Life in the Fast Lane

Danica Patrick is one of the fiercest and feistiest female athletes in America. She’s not only one of the most talented female racecar drivers on the track, but she is also one of the most inspiring women in recent sports history. From receiving the title of Rookie of the Year to winning the NASCAR and Indy series, Danica has shown the world that anyone can reach true heights regardless of their gender.

Danica Patrick posing by her car on the track / Danica and Aaron posing while embracing / Danica Patrick with gold paint on her forehead taking a selfie / Danica Patrick with her sister and father, who is holding up a trophy / Danica Patrick in uniform in 2002
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images / Source: Instagram / Instagram / Photo by Robert Mora, Getty Images / Source: Instagram

The racecar driver rose to fame in her early twenties as one of the fastest drivers on the track. Fast forward ten years and the 38-year-old is honorably retired. But what has Danica been up to since retiring from NASCAR? And what is she doing since breaking up with Aaron Rodgers? We answer those questions and more.

Just a Small-Town Girl

Patrick was born in March 1982 in the small town of Beloit, Wisconsin. However, the future racer was raised in the even smaller town of Roscoe, Illinois. Surprisingly enough, becoming a NASCAR star was never on her to-do list. In fact, when Danica was a child, she had all sorts of dreams of becoming a singer or a veterinarian. Driving racecars never crossed her mind.

Danica Patrick adjusting her earpiece in racecar gear
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images

So how did Danica end up as one of the world’s top female drivers (and credited for changing the industry forever)? Well, it all began when she was a preteen. In the early ’90s, Danica’s parents, Terry Joseph Patrick Jr. and Beverly Ann were busy try to figure out what type of activity they could do as a family.

One Big, Happy Family

Terry and Beverly Ann originally thought about buying a pontoon boat so they could take Danica and her younger sister Brooke out on the lake. However, their daring daughters had something else in mind. After going out for a go-kart ride with her friend, Brooke fell in love. She wanted to have a go-kart of her own, and Danica felt the same way too.

Danica Patrick in a yearbook photograph / Danica and her sister when they were younger with side ponytails
Source: Pinterest / Instagram, @danicapatrick

They were a little apprehensive at first, but after they saw how badly their daughters wanted to ride go-karts, Terry and Beverly caved in—and luckily, they did! From that first day that Danica got behind the wheel, she was hooked. It was all she could think about, and there was no turning back.

Falling in Love

Over the years, Danica’s love for driving grew into a love for competing. She was a prodigy and began improving on all levels, but especially in her foot and eye coordination. It’s safe to say that little Danica was obsessed. When she turned 13 years old, she even asked her parents to move her out to California so she could compete all year round.

Danica with her mother and sister
Source: Twitter

But while many people paint Danica as a child prodigy who loved racing and only racing, that simply was not true. When she wasn’t beating other kids on the racetrack, she spent her time cheerleading for her high school’s sports teams, as well as babysitting for her neighbors in her spare time.

Doing What It Takes

Danica’s parents ultimately decided against moving the family to California, and Danica did not compete year-round. Even still, Danica still could not get her mind off the racetrack. Luckily she had her parents, Beverly and Terry, supporting her as she began to chase her dreams of becoming one of the best female racecar drivers in the world.

Danica Patrick with her parents posing near her racecar during a championship
Danica Patrick with TJ and Beverly Patrick. Photo by Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images

But Danica’s parents weren’t just sitting on the sidelines, cheering on their daughter. No. They were there to make sure that they did everything in their power to help Danica win. Terry worked as Danica’s racing coach, her Crew Chief, as well as the person in charge of the pit stops, while Beverly kept track of all of Danica’s racing stats.

To the Next Level

It looks like the Patricks’ idea for a family bonding activity really worked out. Little did they know this was going to be so much more than that. By the time Danica turned 16, she had earned all sorts of go-kart titles in both regional and national competitions.

Danica Patrick is being helped into a gocart
Photo by Paul Mounce / Corbis / Getty Images

But, of course, this is Danica Patrick we’re talking about, meaning she had her eyes on a larger prize. Now that she was of legal driving age, she wanted to take her driving skills up a notch. So, after six years of go-kart competitions, Danica decided to try her luck with road racing.

A Calculated Plan

This proved to be quite the transition. However, Danica was up for the challenge. In the meantime, Terry made a habit of contacting the local news stations to chronicle his daughter’s performances. He knew that this would boost her popularity, which meant better races and sponsorships would soon be coming her way.

Danica Patrick high-fiving fans while wearing her racing suit
Photo by Sarah Crabill / Getty Images

Well, Terry’s efforts paid off after MTV caught wind of Danica’s racing. They released a segment about the teenage racer, which caught the attention of John Mecom Jr. He was a Texas oilman and the former owner of the New Orleans Saints.

Bye-Bye Midwest, Hello Europe

Mecom Jr. was interested in hiring Danica to race in the United Kingdom racing circuit. He offered to sponsor the young race car driver, but only if she agreed to attend a high-quality racing school. Danica was thrilled.

Danica Patrick with her sister and father, who is holding up a trophy
Source: Instagram / @danicapatrick

This was all she ever wanted, and she ended up attending three different driving schools. Danica kept up her end of the bargain, which mean that she was headed overseas. So, in 1998, with her parents’ approval, Danica dropped out of high school in the middle of her junior year, packed her bags, and headed to the UK.

Caution! Challenges Up Ahead!

Moving to the UK proved to be a bit more challenging than Danica and her family first anticipated. Seeing that she was both a female and American, she was met with much opposition from the other male European drivers. However, Danica says that this experience helped her develop a stronger sense of self.

Danica and her mother holding their thumbs up for a photograph from inside of a racecar
Source: Instagram / @danicapatrick

She didn’t let the other drivers’ bad attitudes get in her way of becoming one of the best female racecar drivers in the world. But this wasn’t Danica’s only problem overseas. Unfortunately, rumors about the young driver living an extravagant lifestyle began to circulate.

Proving Herself

The rumors eventually made their way to Mecom Jr., and Danica lost her sponsorship. Danica, however, was determined, and luckily for her, so were her parents. After losing her financial backing, Terry agreed to underwrite Danica’s career. Fast forward two years and Danica is already making history.

Danica Patrick posing while leaning against her race car
Photo by Nick Laham / Nascar / Getty Images

The driver impressively came in second place at the Formula Ford Festival in 2000—a British competition consisting of Ford-powered, single-seat racing cars. Danica not only lost by less than half a second, but her performance was considered the “best ever” for an American in Europe at the time.

Heading to the IndyCar Series!

Within a couple of years, her career took off. Even if you’re not into racing, you’ve most likely heard about the Indy car races (more specifically, the Indy 500). If not, then all you need to know is that it is one of the most prestigious and popular racing competitions in the US.

Danica Patrick posing in a sprinting position on the racetrack
Photo by AJ Mast / Icon SMI / Icon Sport Media / Getty Images

This race banned female drivers from competing until the ’70s. But even though women were still allowed to compete, the sport was still considered a guy’s sport. Decades after women were allowed to drive on the Indy 500, only a handful of female drivers actually did.

Catching Her Big Break

After a few not-so-great seasons, Danica finally got her big break. In December 2004, it was announced that 22-year-old Danica was going to be driving with Rahal Letterman Racing. Again, if you don’t know that much about racing, that’s okay.

Danica Patrick poses for a portrait sitting on a Firestone tire at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Photo by AJ Mast / Icon SMI / Icon Sport Media / Getty Images

All you need to know is that this was a huge deal because it meant that Danica would be racing in the Indy 500. “I was very happy. I mean, and I was caught off guard. And it was everything I needed,” Patrick revealed in 2011 during an interview with NTT IndyCar Series.

Ups and Downs

2005 was a huge year for the very talented and still relatively new driver. But even with Danica’s impressive skills, this year was still filled with many ups and downs. For starters, Danica didn’t have the smoothest start to her professional career. In her very first IndyCar Series race, things began to spiral out of control and fast.

Danica making a tire and fuel stop
Photo by Gavin Lawrence / Getty Images

Instead of completing the race, Danica found herself in a multiple-car crash. It all began when another driver lost control of his car and began spinning around the racetrack. Unfortunately for Danica, she was right behind the spinning car.

A Major Crash

“[The] car was coming down the track because it had a broken suspension. And as it was coming down the track, it just clipped my right rear and sent me straight up into the wall,” Danica continued. Of course, Danica was well aware of the risks that came with such an intense sport.

The crash site with Danica and Georgio Pantano, being attended to
Danica Patrick and Georgio Pantano are being attended to after their crash in 2005. Photo by Gavin Lawrence / Getty Images

However, she did not think that she would end up in the hospital after her first race. “It was a huge hit. I don’t remember anything from when I hit the wall to when I woke up in the Medical Center.”

Eye on the Prize

Danica ended up in the hospital with a mild concussion, and she seemed to have shaken off the trauma quite quickly. While her first race ended in a crash, her career, luckily, did not. With determination and drive, Danica was able to make history later that year.

Danica Patrick's car crash scene from 2011
Danica Patrick was involved in a crash in 2011. Photo by Geoff Burke / Nascar / Getty Images

“[The crash] was disappointing, though, I mean it would have been great to get a top ten on my first IndyCar race,” she confessed in 2011. “But that’s okay because a couple of races later, I nearly won.” She kept her eye on the prize and didn’t let anything come in her way.

Need for Speed

The 2005 IndyCar race series was far from over. Two months after her first race, it was time for Danica’s very first Indy 500 race. The reason why the race is called the Indy 300 or 500 is that that’s how many miles each racecar driver has to complete in order to finish the race.

Danica Patrick fixing her hair while preparing to suit up at the Indy 500
Photo by Paul Mounce / Corbis / Getty Images

This means that for the Indy 500, each driver must complete 500 miles, or a total of 200 laps, counterclockwise around the track. The incredible Danica was finally ready to blow the world away with her impressive moves on the racetrack.

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Out of the 33 talented professional racecar drivers on that Indy 500 track, Danica placed fourth. So, not only did she place in the top ten, but she was also the lead car for 19 laps during the race. Keep in mind that although Danica had been racing for years, this was her first year in the big leagues.

Danica Patrick fist-bumping a fellow racers son while walking on the track
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images

She achieved several firsts for a woman on the track, including setting the fastest overall practice speed before the race. In the next race in Kansas, she was given the pole position (the inside of the front row reserved for the driver for the best qualifying time).

Rookie of the Year

This was the second time in history that a woman was given this position. Again, keep in mind that Danica is still just a rookie at this point. Luckily, everyone in the series (and around the world) took notice of Danica’s skill and ambition. In 2005, the racecar driver was named “Rookie of the Year.”

Danica Patrick getting out of a Ferarri
Photo by Vladimir Rys / Bongarts / Getty Images

She has also been deemed the Indy Racing League’s “Most Popular Driver” for three consecutive years. Talk about an accomplishment! It seemed that overnight, Danica became one of the most inspiring female athletes in the mid-2000s.

Winning Her First Race!

Racing was something that Danica was beyond passionate about. She worked hard on becoming the best driver she could be and made quite the name for herself. Over the next few years, Danica’s driving improved, even more, proving to everyone that she had what it took to make it in the big leagues.

Danica Patrick smirking while leaning on her large trophy
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images

In 2008, all of her hard work paid off when she finally won her very first race. So not only did she take home the first-place trophy at Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi Indy 300, but she became the first female driver to win a major-league, open-wheel racing competition!

Setting More Records

So, at 23 years old, Danica set records with her title of “Rookie of the Year” and became one of the most popular drivers in the industry. By the time she was 26, Dance had set an unbelievable record in female sports history. How cool is that? Her achievements, however, didn’t stop there.

Danica Patrick poses for a portrait dressed up
Photo by Roy Rochlin / Getty Images

In 2008, Danica was ranked number one on AOL’s Annual List of Top Web, Mobile, and Video Searches. She surpassed golfer Tiger Woods (who placed second) and quarterback Tom Brady (who placed third). The racecar driver finally became world-famous, both for her talents on the track and for her modeling skills.

Silencing Her Haters

By now, Danica was on top of the world. But before she got comfortable on her throne, critics were armed and ready to take her down. Several people began questioning Danica’s abilities behind the wheel.

Danica Patrick looking into the distance
Photo by Jared C Tilton / Getty Images

They believed that Danica was only famous because of her marketing deals and photoshoots with Sports Illustrated, not because she was exceptionally talented. However, this is just one of the things that made Danica and her brand so unique. She followed her dreams in her own way and didn’t let the haters get her down.

“I’m Just Me”

“I wanted to accomplish great things yet still be myself, which did sometimes include things that were not quite so PC or universally accepted,” Danica shared with The Los Angeles Times. “You might not agree with the things I do, but at least you can respect my honesty. I’m just me.”

Danica Patrick high-fiving fans
Photo by Sean Gardner / Getty Images

The small-town, Midwestern girl became one of the most popular athletes out there thanks to her talents, her personality, and her inspiring achievements. By the time she transitioned to NASCAR in 2010, Danica had officially taken the racing world by storm.

Meeting Her First Husband

Danica’s career wasn’t the only thing she had going for her. In fact, a few years before she got her big break, the racecar driver met her future husband, Paul Edward Hospenthal (who just so happened to be 17 years her senior).

Danica Patrick and Paul Hospenthal attending an event
Danica Patrick and Paul Hospenthal. Photo by Stefanie Keenan / Celebrity Fight Night / Getty Images

He was a physical therapist for high-performing athletes, and the two lovebirds first met when he treated her for a hip injury that she had sustained from a yoga class. Eventually, the two began to date, and although Danica was extremely happy, she tried hard to keep her personal life from the public.

The Ins and Outs

Remember how we mentioned that 2005 was a year full of ups and downs for Danica? Well, besides being crowned Rookie of the Year and Most Popular Driver, Danica had another title to be proud of. She was also a bride-to-be! Three years after Danica and Paul began dating, they were ready to tie the knot.

Paul Hospenthal and Danica Patrick waving from the back of a convertible
Paul Hospenthal and Danica Patrick. Photo by Joey Foley / FilmMagic / Getty Images

By then, Danica was a pop culture icon and began earning loads of money. Luckily, Paul had a business mindset. He had built his physical therapy business from the ground up and was keen on passing down his knowledge of the business world to his new wife.

Not Meant to Be

In fact, Danica has credited Paul for teaching her the ins and outs of money management. “He’s smart and has had his own company for a long time,” Patrick once told USA Today. “He’s just an intelligent guy. I learned from him how to take care of things. I want to have money when I retire.”

Danica Patrick and Paul walking on the racetrack
Photo by Matthew Stockman / Getty Images

“You don’t do that by spending it all.” On the outside, the couple seemed like a match made in heaven. Behind closed doors, however, that was far from the case. After seven years of marriage, their relationship officially crumbled.

Moving on With Ricky

While we do not know the specific reason behind the breakup, we do know that it was an amicable split. When the news of her divorce became public, Danica was known as one of the most eligible bachelorettes in the racing world. Danica didn’t remain single for long.

Danica talking to Ricky Stenhouse
Photo by Tom Pennington / Nascar / Getty Images

Soon after her divorce, it was reported that Danica had found love again, this time with racecar driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The pair dated for five years but called it quits apparently because Ricky felt pressured to propose to Danica.

Her Career Takes Off

But even as another relationship took a wrong turn, Danica was still making waves with her career. A few months after Danica broke the news of her divorce from Paul, she became a record-breaking success story at the 2013 NASCAR Cup series.

Danica Patrick getting into her racecar through the driver's window
Photo by Chris Trotman / Nascar / Getty Images

Not only did she set the fastest qualifying time for the Daytona 500 race, but she made it to the top ten! She finished the race in eighth place, which also meant that she had set yet another record. Danica was now the first woman to place that high in the Daytona 500.

“A Message for the People”

Within the next few years, Danica continued to make headlines, earn more titles, and break even more records. Danica’s accomplishments were huge, especially in the eyes of other girls who dreamed of becoming a professional racecar driver one day. Thanks to the record-breaking drivers, girls all around the world felt empowered to get into the racing industry.

Danica Patrick on the red carpet in a white one-sleeve shirt
Photo by Jason Merritt / Getty Images

But while Danica is often credited for empowering other women, the racecar driver says that she has always been focused on inspiring everyone, not just women. “I don’t have a message for women. I have a message for people,” Danica told The LA Times in 2020.

“My Heart Wasn’t in It”

“As human beings, we shouldn’t be pigeon-holed into a one-dimensional thing,” she continued. “I thought my strongest message was just do what you love to do and be yourself.” With this down-to-earth and ambitious attitude, everyone thought that Danica would be racing forever.

Danica Patrick on the red carpet
Photo by Ethan Miller / Getty Images

But, in 2018, after 13 adrenaline-rushing years, the racecar driver realized she was ready for the next stage in her life. “It wasn’t in my heart anymore,” Danica shared with Nightline. “What I love about racing was that ability to progress and get better and finish better and better and ultimately win.”

On a High Note

However, Danica felt that her ability to tune her skills and continue winning was out of her control. This was made worse after she lost one of her sponsors earlier in the year. So, instead of waiting to see what would happen with her career, Danica decided that she would be best to finish her career on a high note.

Danica Patrick hugging her mother before starting a race
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images

“I don’t want to be remembered for the things that didn’t go as well,” she told the Associated Press. “I want to be remembered for the things that went well.”

The Danica Double

Even though Danica announced her retirement, she told reporters that she was still going to participate in her two favorite races that year: the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500 (which had become known as the “Danica Double”).

Danica Patrick posing by her car on the track
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images

The two races were supposed to be a celebratory send-off, but nothing seemed to be going to plan. Danica crashed in both races and was unable to finish. But like the true athlete she was, Danica didn’t let those crashes get her down. While it wasn’t the ending that she had hoped for, Danica still had some other things to look forward to in 2018.

Hello Aaron Rodgers

Shortly after her breakup from Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Danica found herself falling head over heels for another athlete. This time, it was none other than Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The two began a high-profile romance in February 2018 (even though the two had been introduced back in 2012).

Danica and Aaron posing while embracing / Danica Patrick cheering from the stands at Aaron's game
Source: Instagram / @danicapatrick

Although Danica had grown up in Illinois, and we’re assuming she was a Chicago Bears fan, she was more than happy to cheer on the Packers—which just so happened to be her birth state’s team. Aaron was also right by her side as she completed her Danica Double before retirement.

Hosting the ESPYs

A new love wasn’t the only exciting thing on Danica’s plate. That same year, Danica was honorably selected to become the first female host for ABC’s live ESPN Sports Award Show (ESPY). How amazing is that! Her performance received some mixed reviews, with many critics writing that her comedic timing was a bit off.

Danica Patrick speaking on stage at the ESPYS
Photo by Kevin Mazur / Getty Images

Some people even called her opening monologue “cringeworthy.” Nevertheless, she did an amazing job. Hosting an award show is not an easy task. On a higher note, the racecar driver’s red carpet look was beautiful, and she received nothing but praise.

Trouble in Paradise

Danica donned a beautiful Saint Laurent mini dress complete with Francesco Russo cut-out sandals. It also marked her and her new boyfriend’s red carpet debut. Everything seemed to be going well for the couple. They were often photographed traveling the world, and they even took a hiking trip in South America.

Aaron and Danica posing on the beach / Danica and Aaron taking a selfie on the beach in New Zealand
Source: Instagram / @danicapatrick

The relationship looked rock-solid from the outside. But as with her first marriage, the relationship was marked with problems that the couple preferred to keep from the public. After two years of dating, fans noticed that there might be some trouble in paradise.

Going Their Separate Ways

In July 2020, the media went crazy after they noticed that Danica had unfollowed Aaron on Instagram. With everyone desperate to know what happened between the two lovebirds, hurtful rumors about both parties sexuality began circulating on the web.

Aaron looking down at Danica while embracing her from behind for a photograph
Source: Instagram / @danicapatrick

Danica kept mum about the breakup for a few months and instead uploaded some pretty cryptic captions on Instagram. She has since opened up about the relationship and ultimate breakup on The Rachel Hollis Show on Quibi. The former racecar driver didn’t specially mention Aaron’s name and instead referred to him as “her last relationship.”

Knowing What She Wants

Even so, everyone knew who she was talking about. “I said this at the beginning of the last relationship. I was like, ‘Look. You either grow together; one grows, and one doesn’t, or you grow apart,” Danica explained. “I have never experienced growth without pain.” So it seems that there wasn’t a specific reason behind the breakup. Danica and Aaron just grew apart over the years.

Aaron and Danica on the red carpet in 2018
Photo by Alberto E Rodriguez / Getty Images

This experience made Danica realize what she wants and doesn’t want in a relationship. “The next guy has his work cut out for him because my intuition, my standards, my boundaries, my wants, and needs are off the charts,” Danica revealed on her podcast.

Everyone’s Moved On

Aaron Rodgers has since moved on with Big Little Lies actress Shailene Woodley. After only a few months of dating, Aaron proposed in January 2021, and the couple seems to be happier than ever. “It’s not surprising he proposed so fast,” a source explained to People magazine. “When you know, you know, right?”

Shailene Woodley posing on the red carpet / Aaron Rodgers posing on the red carpet
Photo by Santiago Felipe, Getty Images / Jason Merritt, Getty Images

As for Danica, she is still single and focusing on growing her business empire. From her wine brand Somnium and her athleisure-ware company Warrior to writing her own book and launching a podcast series called Pretty Intense, Danica has proved to be quite the businesswoman.

Looking to the Future

In 2019, Danica even made a cameo appearance in Charlie’s Angels as a driving instructor. “It’s cool when you get asked to do those little things that kind of honor your profession or honor what you’ve done,” Danica told reporters in 2019.

Danica Patrick as a driving instructor in a scene from Charlie's Angels
Source: Reddit

The former race car driver is also known for her philanthropic projects and promotes the importance of healthy eating and exercise. It’s clear to everyone that Danica is one talented lady. She can accomplish anything she sets her mind to. We’re excited to see what she’s up to next!