Commentary

Hey, Danica: Do it!

Despite the risks, Danica Patrick should race Richard Petty

Originally Published: February 26, 2014
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Danica Patrick and Richard PettyGetty ImagesRichard Petty has had quite a bit to say about Danica Patrick's driving. She could shut him up pretty easily by accepting his challenge to race.

Danica, it's time to man up.

You can't let Richard Petty use you like this. He's saying the only way you'll win a NASCAR race is "if everybody else stays home."

He's saying the reason you get so much attention is how you look in your genes. "This is a female deal that's driving her," he crows. He says he could even whip you in a one-on-one, man-on-(wo)man NASCAR match race.

"I'm 76 years old, OK?" Petty told Fox News. "It's been 25 years since I've been in a race car [actually, 22]. But I'll take that challenge. ... When is this going to happen?"

Tomorrow, please. America would gobble this up. Prime time, national TV, the nation Super Glued to it. Go Daddy vs. Old Daddy.

Grandfather: She ain't gonna beat ol' Petty. She'll be too busy putting on her makeup in the rearview mirror.

Granddaughter: Hell! She could put on her makeup, change into heels, and braid her hair all at once and still thump that sexist coot. 

I can hear you, Danica. You're saying, "I'd be crazy to do this."

Of course you'd be crazy to do it, but you were crazy to be the first full-time female driver in NASCAR's top series in the first place, right?

This would be galactic. The King vs. The Queen. Loser drives a Prius forever.

You're saying, "No, I have too much to lose."

Of course you have too much to lose! It'd be a disgrace to lose to someone who hasn't won a race since 1984. But you have even more to lose if you chicken out. You'd look scared and frail and timid. And those are all the stereotypes you got into racing to fight against, right?

And think how much HE has to lose! His reputation as the greatest NASCAR winner of all time. His 200 wins. They'd all get a big splotch of pink paint all over them if he loses.

Besides, Danica, you HAVE to do it. Womankind wants this, just as it did in 1973, when Billie Jean King shut Bobby Riggs' big mouth in tennis. You think that wasn't a risk? Fifty million people watching?

"If she wants to do it, just know that this is what people will remember about her forever," says King. "This is what they'll talk about to her for the rest of her life. All I could think about is, 'I can't lose. I can't lose. I can't lose.'"

But if you win, Danica, it will inspire young female drivers forever.

Besides, you're only 31. You're in your prime. How's last year's Daytona pole winner not going to beat a man who was driving before right-on-red?

Yes, you've had no wins in your first 47 NASCAR starts, but that's not a female thing, that's a NASCAR thing. How come nobody's ragging on David Gilliland (zero wins in 259 starts), Reed Sorenson (0-for-190) or, for that matter, your boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (0-for-42)? And remember, there was another big stud racer who didn't win in his first two years, either. Name of Petty, Richard.

[+] EnlargeBobby Riggs and Billie Jean King
Sporting News/Sporting News via Getty ImagesAfter dealing with Bobby Riggs in 1973, Billie Jean King knows what Danica Patrick is facing in 2014.

"It's not a male-female thing," says Petty's son, Kyle. "It's just that she's not a racer yet. She's a really good driver. She does a great job of qualifying, but race-wise, she's not aggressive yet."

Danica, the whole damn Petty family is calling you out! And besides, what choice do you have? Your owner wants this.

"I think that [a race] would settle it once and for all," Tony Stewart said. "Maybe get him to shut up a little bit, too. ... I will supply the cars. If he wants to race her, I'll make sure they have exactly the same setup in the car and give him the chance. He can drive one of my 14 cars, I don't care."

Fine. Here are the ground rules.

• Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway, a place that has held taxi cab races, elephant parades and a guy jumping cars in a school bus. Perfect fit.

• The deal: Thirty laps. Winner gets $30 million. Loser gets a hubcap. We call it "30 for 30" and put it on ESPN. You'll have sponsors smashing each other with briefcases to be part of it. Beauty vs. the Beast. A Whole Bunch of Lefts to See Who's Right. It sells itself.

• Setup: No restrictor plates. Danica in her 10 car and Petty in one of the team cars he owns. Straight NASCAR rules. The King thinks he can spin you out? Let him try to catch you.

Danica, you need to show that "ladies first" isn't just for doors.

Yes, Petty was a legend, but that was around the time of the invention of the wheel. He had the best rig in those days -- by a tank of gas. Plenty of races, he just mashed the pedal down and hung on. In 1967, he won 27 races out of 48. You think that was all driving?

Now, Cup cars are separated by the mere twist of a wrench. As Stewart said the other day, "I think [Petty] forgets ... how hard it really is now."

If you say you'll do it, Petty will be screwing his skinny bones through a Cup car window faster than you can say Cale Yarborough, even if some people don't want him to.

"I don't think anybody wants him climbing back in that car," Kyle says of his dad. "But in his mind, I think he still thinks he's as strong as when [he] was goin' door to door with Bobby Allison. He still thinks he can do it."

Danica, you need to show him just how wrong he is. You need to show him the "female deal" that's driving you is more powerful than he can even imagine.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com