When she’s behind the wheel of her No. 10 GoDaddy Chevy, Danica Patrick isn’t a female race car driver. She’s a driver, pushing hard to be the fastest and the first across the finish line.
“I was not taught to be the fastest girl, but to be the fastest driver,” she said of the early days of learning the sport. “Growing up, it (being a girl) wasn’t something I thought about.”
Patrick, a driver on the NASCAR circuit and a longtime spokeswoman for GoDaddy, a privately held Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company that registers domain names and does Web hosting for businesses, told her inspirational story to an audience at Cal Poly’s Chumash Auditorium on Tuesday afternoon. She also made an earlier pit stop at the campus University Union, where she met with members of the Cal Poly Racing team, who presented three cars used in competition.
The event was part of an effort by GoDaddy to promote careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and Cal Poly’s computer science department, which had been trying to bring Patrick to San Luis Obispo for about two years.
As the first woman to lead the Indy 500, the first woman to win an IndyCar race in Japan in 2008, and the first woman to win the pole position at the Daytona 500, the 32-year-old has proven that she is a force on the track and off, succeeding in a sport dominated by men.
During a question-and-answer session with the audience, she gave some sage advice.
“It’s hard for people to doubt you if you are confident,” she said. “Be confident and believe in yourself and what you want to do.”
Patrick’s involvement has been part of a larger push by GoDaddy in recent years to boost the numbers of women in STEM positions.
Blake Irving, chief executive officer of GoDaddy since 2013 and a San Luis Obispo resident, said placing women in positions where they have been underrepresented has been a passion of his for many years. Irving, recognizing that women own many small businesses in the U.S., thought the company should better represent that demographic.
Last year, GoDaddy signed veteran executives from Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Cisco, Intuit and eBay. Elissa Murphy, former vice president of engineering at Yahoo, is the company’s chief technology officer and has been instrumental in hiring more women engineers.
The company also has been active in working with campuses like Cal Poly, Harvey Mudd College, Carnegie Mellon University and UC Berkeley to encourage more women to pursue STEM careers.
“It’s not taught as an art form so much as it is taught as a mathematical discipline,” Irving said of the reasons young girls may not initially be interested in technology and engineering. “But it can be fun. It has more creativity than you would otherwise suspect.”
Patrick, who started racing go-karts at the age of 10, said she was not a tomboy. She liked hair and makeup. But she was also very competitive, and she and her father wanted wins on the track.
When asked a question by John Culliton, the president of the Cal Poly Racing team, about how to encourage more female participation in the predominantly male club, Patrick suggested they “get them out there driving a car.”
“Find a way to make it interesting for them; to get them involved on some level. It’s all about exposure,” she said.