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Catching Up with Danica Patrick

 

Race car driver Danica Patrick goes through life at 200 miles per hour—even off the track. She relies on win-win life strategies to keep her grounded. Check out the tips she offers to Shape readers in the June issue. In addition, she also shares her turbocharged workout that gets her sexy and sculpted for bikini season.

Follow your passion
To figure out where Danica’s unconventional career choice came from, look no further than her parents. Her dad, T.J., used to race snowmobiles, which is how he met her mother, Bev. “She repaired snow-mobiles. Her nickname was actually Captain Traction,” says Danica with a laugh. It was clear early on that Danica had racing in her genes. “I remember driving my dad’s pickup truck around his office building at 20 miles per hour and my little sister, Brooke, yelling, ‘Slow down, slow down!’ I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I was only 8 at the time,” she admits sheepishly. When she started racing go-karts two years later, she was one of the only girls doing it. (Danica proudly notes that today, nearly a quarter of go-kart racers are female.) “I felt invincible when I first started driving; I just wanted to go for it,” she says. “Now that I’m married, though, I get that feeling before a race of, ‘Wow, this is dangerous.’ I’m not scared out there, but I do think it’s a good thing to be a little nervous. It helps me perform better.”

Stop spinning your wheels
At 5'2" and 105 pounds, Danica is the smallest of the Indy drivers. In a sport where the lighter your load, the faster your speed, you’d think she’d have an advantage. Not so, says Danica. “I have to work harder than those bigger guys to control my car.” To maintain her strength-—not to mention her endurance for those five-hour races—Danica works out almost every day. She keeps her routine fresh by changing it up twice a year. During race season, which goes from April to September, she runs for an hour every day, then concentrates on upper body exercises that strengthen her shoulders, forearms, and back—moves essential for handling her 1,500-pound vehicle. To stay strong but sculpted during the off-season, she works with a trainer. Just as important as exercise, though, is taking a break. “I skip days here and there and don’t beat myself up for it,” she says. “My husband always reminds me to let my body rest.”

Get creative in the kitchen
One of Danica’s biggest diet dilemmas is maintaining a healthy weight while keeping up her strength. “I worry about the scale like anyone else, but I have to make it through five-hour races,” says Danica. “It’s a constant battle for me.” To stay fueled, she sticks to a high-protein diet with plenty of complex carbs. She starts every morning with a three-egg-white omelet and a bowl of homemade oatmeal with cinnamon, flax meal, brown sugar, and a scoop of peanut butter on the side. For lunch she prefers open-face turkey sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, mustard, and sometimes a slice of cheese. “I get hungry every three hours, so I also like to munch on an apple or whole-wheat toast with peanut butter,” says Danica, who adds, “I like my food to be tasty.”

Cooking is a source of pleasure for Danica and her husband too. “I knew Paul and I were made for each other when I asked him, ‘If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?’ He told me, ‘An egg, because you can cook it so many ways.’ That was my pick too!” The couple enjoys making over not-so-healthy dishes, like pizza, together. “We add homemade tomato sauce, spinach, basil, and lowfat mozzarella,” she says. They love to cook so much, Danica gave Paul a two-day class at the Culinary Institute in Napa Valley for Christmas last year, and he surprised her with a bread maker. “I’ve already started modifying the recipes,” says Danica. “It kills me to put 3 cups of white flour into that machine! I’m testing my own creations with healthy ingredients, like whole-wheat flour; bran; flaxseeds; flax meal; and sesame, sun-flower, and pumpkin seeds.”