Cancer campaign resonates with Danica Patrick

Courtesy of Go Daddy

Danica Patrick's involvement has helped the National Breast Cancer Foundation elevate the profile of its campaign.

Brian Scott glided though his hauler doors in full stride at the garage of Kentucky Speedway but stopped abruptly as he noticed his neighbor sitting in a chair behind her truck.

"Danica!" he called. "I have your firesuit."

Danica Patrick pivoted in her director's chair and peered through dark sunglasses at the scintillatingly pink garb the Nationwide Series driver modeled with a flourish of the hands. She grinned a wide grin and cooed, "Oh, baby, look at you. I like it. A little spike of green, and we'd be twins at Charlotte."

Or triplets. Or quintuplets.

Go Daddy

In addition to her involvement with the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Danica Patrick is a passionate advocate for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease awareness.

A massively successful National Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign has helped pink replace orange as the symbolic color of October as sports leagues and athletes commonly outfit themselves in the new color of caring. The start/finish line, pace car and Nationwide Series trophy at Charlotte Motor Speedway will be swathed in it this weekend, and at least nine drivers -- including Patrick in a pink No. 7 Chevrolet -- will compete in cause-themed cars.

The effort will be personal for drivers such as Elliott Sadler, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor, and Patrick, who has associated herself with causes that have hit close to home.

In 2010, Patrick became a fervent advocate for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease awareness, hoping to help eradicate a disease that claimed her grandmother, "Gram' Barb," in 2001 at age 61. The breast cancer initiative resonates, too. Teri D'Hooge, vice president of marketing for Patrick's primary sponsor, GoDaddy, put a familiar face on the breast cancer eradication fight as Patrick was enlisted.

"Her daughter had just been diagnosed with breast cancer," Patrick said. "I am lucky enough to not know anybody really, really close to me that's had breast cancer.

"I do know some people. There's some people I know who've died from breast cancer. … One of my best friends was diagnosed with the breast cancer gene, she took the test and had a double mastectomy."

The famous, whatever their inspiration or motivation, are imperative in an era when "organizing modern philanthropic drives is a tremendous organizational challenge," said Dan Lainer-Vos, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Southern California.

"They give a face to a cause and thereby make it more personal," he said. "The example of Magic Johnson comes to mind here. Using celebrities can also increase the intrinsic value of the donation in the eye of the giver because the giving of the celebrity adds credibility to the organization."

Patrick's presence already has proved beneficial to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, according to its marketing director, Susan Morales. GoDaddy has helped elevate the profile of the campaign even further, she said.

"They have given NBCF the ability to reach a new audience to let them know about how we provide free mammograms to women in need and encourage women to create their early detection plan," she said.

Morales said high-profile personalities such as Patrick and news celebrity and breast cancer survivor Giuliana Rancic "allow us to reach a captive audience" to increase awareness.

Patrick's presence as a key spokesperson for the COPD Foundation's DRIVE4COPD screening and education campaign in conjunction with NASCAR has greatly raised awareness about a disease that has been relatively anonymous despite being the third-deadliest killer in the United States. It's greater than diabetes and breast cancer combined, and the only major killer of Americans on the rise, said Jeanne Hamrick, director of marketing and communications for the organization.

Hamrick said the foundation has tracked a "significant increase" in web traffic to its online screening resource since Patrick's involvement.

"She's incredibly valuable to our mission," Hamrick said. "She opens doors to media and venues we might not have access to through her racing, and her work she has done on our behalf certainly benefits the foundation."

Patrick, whose lone NASCAR pole came in the DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway in February, "does a brilliant job," Hamrick said, and conveys her personal connection with the cause. An influential sports celebrity for branders and marketers, Patrick said she is compelled to use her influence for philanthropy as long as consumers are listening.

"I feel very fortunate," she said, "and I also feel like not wasting the platform I have, to be able to do interviews and talk about serious issues and try to get people to know more about them so they can better take care of themselves and also then to go as far as to donate money to help find cures for these things."

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