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So late Wednesday night I called my old college teammate Chris Miles to get his take on Danica Patrick and this weekend's Indy 500. Chris, a native of New Albany, Ind., quit the Ball State football team in 1988 so he could pursue his dream of qualifying for the "greatest spectacle in racing."
|All Danica, all the time|
|Watch Jim Rome's entire interview with Danica Patrick on "Rome Is Burning" on ESPN360.|
We told him at the time that Easy E would be elected president of the United States of America before Chris Miles ever got behind the wheel of a car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But Chris quit football anyway. He was determined to diversify American auto racing. He wanted to be the Tiger Woods of motor sports long before most of the world had ever heard of Tiger. Chris has spent the past 17 years feeding his racing jones. He's never taken a lap at IMS, but he's done just about everything else you can imagine in his attempt to add a little flavor to open-wheel racing.
This Sunday, Chris believes that Danica Patrick will change auto racing forever.
"If she wins and I believe she will NASCAR will have an emergency meeting before the Coca Cola 600 and Bill Lester will start from the pole, driving for DEI," Chris joked. "CART will design a special, roomy cockpit big enough for Oprah to squeeze into, and she'll race for Newman Haas."
You can't get any bigger than Danica. She can make the Indy 500 what it was before IMS president Tony George ruined the race by pulling Indy out of the Champ Car series and starting his own fledging Indy Racing League 11 years ago. Danica can be as big as Tiger. She can do for open-wheel racing what Tiger did for golf. Really, she can make the month of May in my hometown more important than it's ever been.
Tony George needs to call his rivals over at NASCAR and get some quick tips on how to orchestrate a race. Or maybe Tony can arrange for Danica to get the engine that powered Tony's stepson, Ed Carpenter, to victory in the inaugural Freedom 100 at IMS. Whatever, George simply can't allow Danica to finish second in this race. She must win. I don't care if A.J. Foyt has to push her car across the finish line. The Indy 500 can't pass up this opportunity. The race has been dead for too long. NASCAR is getting too big a marketing lead over Indy Car, the superior form of racing.
NASCAR doesn't have an answer for Danica. Dale Jr. is a big star. But he doesn't come close to transcending his sport. No one recognizes Jr. in Japan or China or Germany. Dale Jr. is no Tiger or Jordan or Bird. By the time the NBA playoffs are over, Steve Nash will be bigger than Dale Jr. (and by the way, don't count out the Suns just because they're down 0-2).
Danica has Tiger upside. She's the real thing. She looks like Sandra Bullock's little sister, and she drives like Al Unser Jr. with attitude. With Danica, it's all good. She's got the equipment, the (nail) polish, the résumé, a great car and the perfect team, Rahal Letterman, winner of last year's Indy 500. She's not some supermodel IRL tossed in a car and said, "honey, save us." She started racing go-karts at age 10. She moved to Europe and left her family behind at 16 so she could get some experience on England's formula circuit. It wasn't some fancy internship. She slept on couches and in one-room efficiencies.