Danica Patrick helping pave the way for female athletes

courtesy Danica Patrick's Facebook page

DARLINGTON, S.C. (WPDE) - At this weekend's Daytona 500, Danica Patrick will be at the front of the pack when the green flag drops. Patrick made NASCAR Sprint Cup history Sunday by being the first woman to win the pole position. The achievement is a milestone in her career and for female athletes.

NASCAR culture is rich in our area, and the yearly race at Darlington is a longtime tradition. Along the way many drivers have made a name for themselves here, the vast majority of them were men.

But Patrick is finding her place in the boys' club.

"She brings a lot of fans and a lot of followers and a lot of women to the sport. That really see her as a role model," said Dennis Worden, Director of Public Relations at Darlington Raceway.

Now that Patrick has won the coveted pole position, race fans are excited.

"Oh gosh, I think that's the greatest thing in the world, because she's had such a hard time being a woman in race car," explained Karen Sellers. "It's nice to see a woman in the lead."

"To come out and actually get the pole for the biggest race of the year, it speaks wonders for not only her and women in this sport, but just her attitude and commitment to what racing is all about," added Worden. "She's a great person to be around. She's funny. She wants to do well in this sport. And a lot of times when you get so much pressure as being one of the few females to race in stock car racing there's a lot of pressure on your shoulders."

Patrick isn't the first woman to compete in the world of stock cars speeding around a track. Others have paved the way for her success.

"Janet Guthrie was one of the originals to race back in the early days of NASCAR, and she was one of our top finishers, and she was one of our more competitive drivers in the early years.

This pole position comes in Patrick's first year racing full time on the Sprint Cup circuit, and she may bring new fans with her across the finish line.

Patrick also made history in 2008 when she won an Indy race in Japan.