HOMESTEAD, Fla. – She started in go-karts when she was 10, and was a national champion two years later. By the time Danica Patrick turned 16, she was on her own in Europe, pursuing a racing career.
Patrick was a fearless woman in a sport almost exclusively comprised of male drivers. She raced hard, sparred with her rivals off the track and rarely flinched while becoming one of the most recognizable athletes in the world.
Her tough-girl persona almost never cracked in public.
When it came time to announce her retirement, with her mother, father, sister, brother-in-law, boyfriend and support team watching from the back of a crowded room at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Friday afternoon, Patrick broke down in tears.
"I feel like this is where my life should be headed, and sometimes we just get kind of nudged there," she began. "Sometimes it's big nudges and sometimes it's little."
The 35-year-old Patrick paused several times to compose herself to announce that she will race only in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 next year and then she will walk away from a sport where success was elusive even as she grew into a superstar with multiple labels, not the least of which was savvy businesswoman.
Patrick has known for at least a month that she will end her career next season at the Indianapolis 500, a decision that will bring her full circle and return her one last time to the storied track that made her famous.
Discussing her decision with The Associated Press a few hours before her announcement, Patrick was giddy with excitement and thrilled at the chance to take one more spin around Indianapolis Motor Speedway.