One year after Patrick’s 2005 debut in the Izod IndyCar series, GoDaddy.com began its sponsorship on Patrick’s car. Since, the internet domain registrar company has increased its small sticker on Patrick’s helmet to painting her entire car the notorious bright GoDaddy.com green and fully sponsoring her since 2010 in either IndyCar and NASCAR.
On Sunday, Patrick will have a chance to make a name for herself on the racetrack, rather than in the advertisements that many non-race fans know her for.
GoDaddy.com has come under fire for the racy commercials produced that feature Patrick among other female athletes, including former WWE wrestler Candice Michelle and former “Biggest Loser” trainer Jillian Michaels.
Marie Hardin, associate professor for the College of Communications, sees the GoDaddy.com ads that depict Patrick as a part of a long trend that has gotten worse over the past two or three decade that has marked female athletes as hyper feminine.
“If we look at female athletes over the decades, the ones who have become really high profile athletes at some point have often been presented in ways that demarcate them from sport or really present them in ways that are not athletic at all,” Hardin said.
However, Patrick’s driving talent has carried her to numerous successes. She became the first woman to win an IndyCar Series race when she took top honors at the 2008 Japan 300 and later notched the highest place for a female in the 2009 Indianapolis 500, the crown jewel of the series, when she finished third.
Janet Guthrie became the first woman to qualify for both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 in 1977. Close to 10 other women have qualified for the Indianapolis 500, but Patrick will be the first female in 10 years, and third overall, to race in the “Great American Race” at Daytona.
NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. noticed Patrick’s accomplishments and offered her a part-time NASCAR Nationwide deal for 2010 with his team, JR Motorsports. She recorded a fourth-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a March 2011 NASCAR Nationwide event and became the highest placing female across NASCAR’s top three series.
Patrick abandoned her IndyCar career in 2012 and chose a full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule with JR Motorsports, where she is expected to contend for the championship. She also added a 10-race Sprint Cup Series schedule to her plate with Stewart-Haas Racing, including the Daytona 500.
Avid NASCAR fan Doug Rood (junior-aerospace engineering) has been impressed by what Patrick has shown throughout Daytona Speedweeks and the diversity that she can bring to an otherwise male dominated sport. But he doesn’t view the ads as an essential part to Patrick’s career.
“She’s a fantastic racer, and I definitely think she will be a competitor,” Rood said. “The GoDaddy [ads] are sometimes a little too much and not really necessary. Who she is as a racer and her profession is more important than her doing the ads.”
Rood, who is GoDaddy.com user, said he already knew about the website before the ads, and they didn’t affect his decision to choose the site. He said he responds better to funny ads and believes the risqué nature of the GoDaddy.com ads isn’t the right way to go.
Rood said the ads may get a male’s attention, but they won’t make the products any more desirable.
However, Hardin believes that female athletes argue that they need to appear in these ads because it helps them financially and enables them to make a living in professional sports.
“Nobody can argue that Danica Patrick isn’t benefiting individually from the decisions she’s made about how to position herself and brand herself,” Hardin said. “The other side of the coin, though, is what does it do for women’s sports and for female athletes in general? And that is the price that gets paid is for female athletes and women’s sports in general.”
While Hardin said it’s hard to argue with Patrick’s bank account, she said the progress of women’s sports is being sacrificed. She sees no benefits culturally or socially from these ads.
Although Hardin acknowledges much progress has been made for women’s sports, such as the passing of Title IX, she also sees gains in key aspects are moving slowly.
“I do foresee a future where we are fully accepting of the athletic talents of female athletes and without their having to sell themselves in other ways,” Hardin said. “But we’re not anywhere close to that yet.”