O'Donnell: Danica Patrick will make NBC's Indy 500 look like an inspiring chariot race

  • Danica Patrick walks down pit lane during qualifications for last year's Indianapolis 500. She'll have a much different perspective for Sunday's race.

    Danica Patrick walks down pit lane during qualifications for last year's Indianapolis 500. She'll have a much different perspective for Sunday's race. Associated Press

Updated 5/24/2019 7:29 PM

WHO WOULDN'T want to be inspired by Danica Patrick?

She's smart, fearless, exceedingly goal-driven and self-reliant.


She's also quick-witted with a tremendous sense of humor.

Those traits were recently evidenced by a snappy response to a Daily Herald question while promoting her debut as an analyst on NBC's inaugural coverage of the Indianapolis 500 Sunday (Channel 5, pre-race begins at 8 a.m., green flag drops at approximately 10 a.m.).

Given your already voluminous resume, the insouciant asked, where would you like to magic-wand yourself to in three years or so?

"To a beach with a Mai Tai in my hand kicking over seashells," the 37-year-old far northern Illinois native deadpanned.

For now, the keenly telegenic Patrick will have to maintain as one of the great American sports marketing and media sensations of the new millennium.

Though she never won big-big on any major auto racing circuit, Patrick's first start alone at Indy was almost Tigeresque in scope.

Driving for Rahal-Letterman at age 23 in 2005, the 5-foot-2, 101-pound dynamo took an improbable lead late in the race. She held it for 19 laps and was flapped down only by fuel constraints, finishing fourth.

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"If I've learned anything about this race it's that you are what you are behind the wheel and your car is what it is," Patrick said. "The greatest piece of advice I got was, 'It's not over until it's over,' meaning even when you know you might not have the best car, keep grinding, keep driving, because you never know what might happen."

Patrick's prodigious start left commentators comparing her barrier-breaking to Amelia Earhart and Sally Ride. (Neither of whom ever appeared in a swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated, or held the record for most Super Bowl commercial appearances by a celebrity endorser with 14 and counting.)

And the subtext of her second career aura now?

"If I inspire anybody, I think that's great," the Belle of South Beloit said. "Honestly, it has taken a lot of (courage) to do some of the things I've done.

"But if you don't leave your comfort zones, you don't grow. And isn't life all about growth?"

• • •


IT WAS A FASCINATING WEEK for Mount Prospect's very own Jeff Bzdelik (Prospect High, Class of '71) and his stellar run as associate head coach of the Houston Rockets.

Thanks to a growing disconnect in the Houston front office and some lap dog reportage, the truthiness that Bzdelik's contract "wouldn't be renewed" was leaked Saturday.

Funny thing is, Bzdelik had no firm plan to return to the arced-out Rockets when his contract expired this summer.

He did come out of retirement last November when Mike D'Antoni, James Harden and minions were free falling at 11-14. They went 42-15 the rest of the way before being eliminated once again in the Western Conference playoffs by Golden State.

It's 1-5 that Bzdelik and John Paxson have talked since his departure from the Houston house of hoodoo.

But unless conscripted, is any rational hooper panting to join the West Madison dysfunctionals?

It's also 1-5 that Bzdelik and Steve Kerr have communicated, especially with rumors about the professional future of Warriors top defensive brain Ron Adams gaining loft.

(After Adams was kicked to the curb by the woebegone Gar Forman in 2013, one year later, Bzdelik was first runner-up to Adams for the GS second chair.)

But it's 1-9 that Bzdelik and wife Nina will simply enjoy daughter Brittany's June nuptial and then see what the confluence of coaches and executives at the NBA's July Summer League in Las Vegas brings.

• • •

STREET-BEATIN': With the Illinois sports gaming pie possibly close to being divvied by those wonderfully altruistic public servants in Springfield, FanDuel and DraftKings are going after Neil Bluhm, Churchill Downs Incorporated and Rivers Casino via some roundhouse TV attack ads. Those fantasy interlopers are also quite likely about to learn what "green-felt homecourt advantage" means in The Land of Winkin'. … Maybe Jerry Reinsdorf can enlist staff at IIT to explain The Baffling 35th Street Conjecture -- can a sports team white flag a rebuild season? Isn't that a double negative? … To the north, a prospective report that all fans -- even those of the White Sox -- will see an involuntary increase of $4 on their monthly cable bills to fund the Cubs' new Marquee Network next February is already bringing about South Side catcalls of "Socialism!" … Speaking of bad TV news, no less a comedic theorist than downtown Chicago's respected P.D. Rosenthal is lampooning NBC Sports Chicago's new "Outside the Ivy." As R.L. Burnside sang, it's bad you know. … ABC would get short-strawed with an NBA Finals featuring Golden State and Toronto. The Warriors are 2015 smartphones; the Raptors pack all the marquee of Drake and Celine Dion in yet another remake of "A Star Is Born." … And under "Numeric Phrases," new Bears DC Chuck Pagano was centerpiece of a very poorly written "Jeopardy!" clue this week. Maybe he could have devised a defense to stop James Holzhauer.


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