Danica Patrick to propel 2016 STEAM initiative

Imagine driving hundreds of miles for hours at speeds between 160 and 200 mph. Now picture doing it with 42 other drivers who would like nothing more than to leave you choking on their exhaust fumes.

There’s no question that to be a successful race car driver, you must like to go fast and have a high tolerance for risk, but you also have to endure great physical and mental strain and have talent and determination.

Danica Patrick has proven she can handle the pressure. Patrick has not only immersed herself in the male-dominated world of professional motorsports but has also set several records, including becoming the first woman to lead the Indy 500 and the first woman to win the pole position at the Daytona 500.

“I’ve gotten to where I am today because I didn’t think of myself as being different,” said Patrick. “When I was a kid, I never thought to try to be the best girl driver. I just wanted to be better than everyone else – I wanted to be the fastest driver on the track.”

On Feb. 10, Palm Beach State College will welcome her to the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts as part of the College Foundation’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Initiative. Past speakers were astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, two-time Oscar nominee John Lithgow and Silicon Valley icon Steve Wozniak.

The initiative, chaired by local philanthropist Yvonne Boice, supports STEAM educational programs at the College. At the STEAM event, Patrick plans to discuss her exploration of these fields and share her story to encourage female empowerment in male-dominated industries where she constantly tries to challenge the very notion of what a woman can be in today’s world. Dan Cane, CEO & co-founder of Modernizing Medicine, will moderate the conversation.

Race car driving demands an enormous amount of coordination along with a firm understanding of engineering and physics. Patrick has not only had to learn how to win, but also learn the mechanics of her car. She also contributes vital information to members of her crew and technical team for continual improvement to better the car’s performance on the race track.

“Each weekend I get to see the importance of STEM education as I work with my engineers to make my race car faster,” said Patrick.

Palm Beach State provides several options for those interested in transportation or engineering careers. The College offers automotive, diesel and heavy equipment mechanics certificate programs, which prepare students for high-demand careers as technicians.

Patrick wins the pole for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach Fl. (Harold Hinson Photography)

PBSC’s new Engineering Technology A.S. degree program allows students to explore career paths in robotics, 3-D printing, alternative energy and other advanced technologies.

“It’s impressive to hear about all of the opportunities that are available at Palm Beach State,” said Patrick. “There are a whole lot of people that are taking their own initiative to do something. And that’s sometimes one of the hardest things in life – self-discipline and just trying to do things yourself. It’s great to hear that so many people want to be better and are taking the time to do that and using the resources that are provided. I look forward to visiting the campus.”

Patrick burst onto the scene in 2005 when she stunned the world by leading 19 laps and finishing fourth in her first Indianapolis 500, becoming the first woman to lead laps and score a top-five finish in the historic race. One week later, she was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, becoming the first Indy car driver to be featured there in 20 years. In 2009, Patrick took a third place finish at the Indianapolis 500, the highest finish there ever by a woman.

In 2013, she would make history again as she became the first female NASCAR driver to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole, turning in the fastest qualifying lap since 1990 – qualifying for the Daytona 500. In Daytona, she placed eighth, the highest finish for a woman in the Daytona 500.

Raised in Roscoe, Ill., Patrick began go-karting at the age of 10. Between 1992 and 1997, she won numerous titles, including the World Karting Association Grand National Championship in 1994, 1996 and 1997. At the age of 16, she moved to Milton Keynes, England, to advance her racing career, racing in British national series events. During a three-year period she raced in Formula Ford, Formula Vauxhall and earned a second-place in Britain’s Formula Ford Festival, the highest finish by an American in the event.

Patrick’s accomplishments in Europe caught the eye of three-time IndyCar Series champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, who signed Patrick to drive in the United States for his team, Rahal Letterman Racing.

Patrick moved up with RLR to the IndyCar Series, where some of her most memorable performances began. Patrick, now driver of the No. 10 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Hass Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, is one of the most recognizable athletes in the world. She has appeared on the cover of ESPN: The Magazine and TV Guide and was featured in pictorials in the 2008 and 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. She has also appeared in 13 Super Bowl commercials and has 1.29 million followers on Twitter.