Danica's niece destined for racing
Danica Patrick doesn't doubt that her infant niece will eventually find herself behind the wheel of some sort of racing machine. She doesn't doubt that her father, T.J., will place her there, just as he did Patrick and her younger sister, Brooke, more than two decades ago. She just wonders if modern T.J. Patrick will be so bold in placing little Reese there, as he so eagerly predicts, before she even becomes a kindergartner.
"I think in his older age he talks a mean game, but he's a little more concerned with safety than he used to be," Patrick said. "Now I get texts from him like, 'Don't text and drive.' ... 'Be careful.'
"Because of his old age, he's getting more conservative, softening up."
Patrick may eventually be proved correct, but her father is awfully excited. Reese Selman was not yet a month old during Speed Weeks in February, but T.J. Patrick was already counting the seconds until he would place his granddaughter snuggly into the go kart he would prepare for her.
He'll have to wait a while, presumably about five years.
"Maybe four!" he said before earnestly reciting the specifications of the "kid kart" he was envisioning that February afternoon at Daytona International Speedway.
A few feet away, T.J. Patrick's wife, Bev, shook her head slowly and smiled. That's all she could do, really. Though she was still very much interested in snuggles and coos and placing that little bundle of wonder in her crib at night, she understood the inevitable. Racing had underpinned the family since before it was a family. She and her future husband had their first blind date at a snowmobile race. They had raised two daughters who took an early interest in racing, and one of them had, with their help, made a well-documented career of it. Danica's massive image was right there on the side of the Sprint Cup hauler they were milling around before Daytona 500 practice.
Brooke, the younger daughter and, by all accounts, the fast one when the girls first began turning laps around paint cans in a Roscoe, Ill., industrial park, became a physical therapist, but she provided Reese, the first grandchild. With her father's ambitions clear, and as the wife of Chase Selman, an executive with the Dreyer & Reinbold IndyCar team, and daughter-in-law of Wayne Selman, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's transportation manager, she knows full well she's provided the bridge to two families' next-generation racing dreams.
"Every time he calls to see how she's doing, he's like, 'Is she walking yet? Is she running already?'" Brooke said of her father. "He always talks about these milestones down the road. Is she going to go to the store today for you? He jokes because he can't wait for the day when she can be able to do all those things. So I'm sure she's going to be in some sort of vehicle or something with a motor pretty early on."
And Brooke is fine with it.
"I think as long as you have all the safety equipment you can have, like helmet and pads or whatever it would be, it's fine," she said. "As long as you have all the protective gear on, I think teaching safety and setting up a safe environment is as good as you can do, because I'm pretty much sure she's destined for some sort of racing. It's in our blood."
Danica envisioned a similar future for Reese.
"I suppose I wouldn't be surprised if she tries out a go kart or a four-wheeler or something like that at a pretty young age," Danica said. "I'm sure we'll get one of those. It'll be fun."
Patrick's parents were in their early 30s when their daughters first attempted karts -- Patrick, 32, is momentarily flabbergasted at that realization -- and her father, she said, was less averse to risk then. She theorizes her collision with a concrete wall might have ended her career in its infancy with her current version of her father.
"Brooke was probably faster than me, and as I've shown many times in my career, I'm a methodical learner," Patrick said. "So I went for the brake at one point, and because I was 10 and not very smart yet, instead of continuing to turn or spin out or let it slow down, I went straight. ... And I went straight out into a wall. In fact I was heading for a trailer. It was about [neck] level. And luckily I swerved at the last second and went into a wall straight on. .... Clearly it was a better decision than being decapitated."
Brooke has predicted her sister, who doesn't publicly express a desire for children of her own, will evolve into the "fun aunt," but Danica has committed herself to the basics in her new role so far. She impressed both herself and her sister with a flawless first diaper change.
"I didn't get squirted or shot in the face with anything," Danica said with workmanlike pride. "Apparently that can happen. It didn't."
T.J. Patrick isn't alone in his eager anticipation of putting Reese in a machine, concrete walls notwithstanding. Wayne Selman, Reese's paternal grandfather, raced flat track dirt bikes -- which have no brakes -- and has long been hoarding washers and widgets in his garage that could one day help a grandchild go fast.
I hope to have her in a Kid Kart for road courses, a quarter midget, maybe a mini dirt bike too. I bet it will be all three. Race one Friday night, another Saturday night and again on Sunday.T.J. Patrick
"My father-in-law has a lot of stuff just stored up, and that was even before he knew we were having a baby," Brooke said. "He's always dreamed of having a grandchild that could race, whether it was a girl or boy. I don't think he really cares.
"[He] and my father both have strategized. They say on Saturdays one's going to take her to dirt bike racing and the next day it will be go kart racing. They both have it planned out. Set it up safe and let them be as safe as they can, and that's all you can do."
Indeed, T.J. Patrick's ideal developmental program calls for a busy weekend: "I hope to have her in a Kid Kart for road courses, a quarter midget, maybe a mini dirt bike too," he said in an email. "I bet it will be all three. Race one Friday night, another Saturday night and again on Sunday."
Such is not unusual in racing families, with equipment and high-caliber opportunities available for children as young as kindergartners. Sebastian Wheldon, the 5-year-old son of late two-time Indianapolis 500-winner Dan Wheldon, will begin regional competitive kart racing this spring. Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon this week tweeted a photograph of 6-year-old daughter Ella Sofia in a quarter midget.
"Obviously, you're going to be little extra protective," Brooke said. "But if it's something she's interested in, I think you just have to have faith and be as safe as you can. It's gonna be OK."
With Selman resuming part-time work at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Bev Patrick was willingly pressed into babysitting duty. A "firecracker" personality already emerging, Reese is delighting her grandmother before the grandpas put her in a fire suit.
"I think she probably feels a lot of what I feel," Brooke said of her mother. "I think she feels she had no choice either, with Danica and myself when we raced go karts, so I think she's loving all the cuddles while she can."
Ultimately, T.J. Patrick said, the timetable is up to Reese. They'll let her try different things and figure out what she likes. And then, he quipped, "We'll call Aunt Danica for sponsorship."