Danica: Driver, endorser ... woodworker
The walls of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s house are adorned with an ever-increasing number of imperfect picture frames. Danica Patrick is new to this carpentry thing and, well, she asserts, 45-degree angles are a chore.
"God, it's hard to make frames," she sighed. "They're not all perfect. That's for sure. There's plenty of taking an eighth of an inch off a frame to try and make it perfect."
Or, there's Stenhouse's way.
"Sometimes those 45s just don't line up," he laughed. "Sometimes you just have to hammer them a little bit harder and put a screw in it, kind of pulling it together."
A race car driver, children's icon and marketing dynamo, Patrick continues to frame herself differently at age 32. She has spent lavishly on fast cars, shoes, safaris and wine, and could outfit a home with any manner of designer art or furniture she desired. She appreciates finery, for sure, an exquisite timepiece among them.
It also turns out, somewhat to her surprise, she enjoys pulling apart wooden pallets and creating things that are beautifully imperfect. In a sport built on the pursuit of fleeting moments of perfection, maybe therein is therapy. Or maybe she was just a little bored.
When boyfriend Stenhouse purchased a spacious country home in North Carolina, Patrick, accustomed to the bustle of life in Chicago and suburban Phoenix, needed something to do.
"Well, when you're in the country and you have a little less outside stimulation, you have to try and find a way to have some fun inside," she smiled.
Patrick's interest in carpentry began with a gift from her younger sister Brooke, who, coincidentally, was the first to express a desire to race go-karts when they were children. Brooke builds art pieces from pallet wood, including one for Patrick and Stenhouse this Christmas.
"It was all just like random colored pieces of wood. It's framed," Patrick said. "She had made one for her daughter Reese for her bedroom and painted it colorful like red and white and pink and green. I was like, 'Man, I think it's cool without the colors on it.' So oddly enough that's what she made us for Christmas. It kind of started with that, and then I thought, 'Oh my God, all the things you can do with wood.'
Ripsaw? Handsaw? Table saw. Oh, yeah. Dangerous. Careful with the fingers, for sure.Danica Patrick
"So I thought it would be fun to make some things out of wood."
All of which surprises her family. Though her father, T.J., runs a custom carbon fiber business, an affinity for the fabrication wasn't something her mother, Bev, saw in her daughter.
"Every now and again she'll send us a picture and say, 'Look what I made today!'" Bev Patrick said. "She's gotten more crafty, watercolors and things. Actually her birthday present was a bunch of hand tools from Lowe's. Hand tools and saws and all kinds of crazy things, things no one would think she would want."
"I don't know what I am gonna make,'' Patrick said. "At first I just made stuff out of leftover pieces. I like to have stuff ready so if I have a few hours with nothing to do, I can go out to the garage and find something. Different paints, different stains, different stuff."
Patrick is not prone to dabbling, she said, so she began her shop with a large collection, thanks in part to gifts of tools from her father for Christmas. While picture frames, chalkboards and paper towel holders have comprised much of her project list, Patrick frequents Pinterest for inspiration.
"Ripsaw? Handsaw? Table saw," she beamed. "Oh, yeah. Dangerous. Careful with the fingers, for sure."
"Sometimes," Stenhouse said, "it makes me a little nervous."
Their woodshop arsenal currently includes a jigsaw, sawzall, skill saw and a table saw. There are a few pieces left to acquire if Stenhouse is to get the new end tables for the couch.
She wants a nail gun. That sounds like trouble for sure. She'll be shooting up the shop.Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
"She wants a nail gun," he said, warily. "That sounds like trouble for sure. She'll be shooting up the shop."
Stenhouse was initially flummoxed by the woodshop taking shape at his house.
"I think Ricky looked at me the first time, the first couple times,'' Patrick said, "and he was like, 'What are you getting all this stuff for?' And I said, 'This is what I do when you're gone for the day.'''
He soon became a partner in carpentry, sometimes reluctantly.
"Ricky is way better with the tools," Patrick said, "but I did have to push along doing it and getting it done. He was pretty done with making that the first time because we worked all day and night on it. We're kind of one of those people who start something and finish it however long it takes."
Stenhouse honed his competence with tools in his rookie season in the Nationwide Series in 2010, when agitated team owner Jack Roush temporarily reassigned him to the fabrication shop to help repair the race cars he had too often wrecked. His proficiency with a sawzall, in particular, has allowed him to dissuade Patrick from trying to cut apart pallets full of nails in his absence.
One of their first and biggest projects was a center island cart for the kitchen. It took a while. Modified to functionality over time, it was good enough to house and replace Patrick's collection of cutting boards.
"We thought we would kind of wheel it around, but you end up kind of leaving it in the middle," she said. "Without my center island, I would be lost.''
Now they might end up pulling another all-nighter in the woodshop.
"Our friends want a center island, so we'll have to make them one," Patrick said. "They were like, 'Oh, that would be nice. That would be handy.' It will be better, so we will have to build a third one for us, too."
And keep perfecting those rough edges.
"Sometimes I could be hard to work with," Stenhouse admitted. "I think there's a few times she just went inside and I just finished what I was doing, but it's all good. I know that she's made quite a few things on her own. I came in and asked her where she bought it, and she said she made it. She made a lot of cool things. She's really good at it."