"Barney Oldfield's Race for a Life" (1913) is a 13-minute silent movie. In it, Oldfield, the most famous auto racer of his day, races to rescue a damsel in distress whom a mustache-twirling villain has chained to a railroad track.
(You can watch the whole thing on YouTube if you like. Spoiler alert: A few of the characters get killed.)
A hundred years later, Danica Patrick, the most famous auto racer of HER day, will be on a track Sunday in the race of HER life. Very vulnerable, very motivated, she will be a hero to many in the audience and a villain to some.
Daytona 500s have been running since 1959. They have been won by Richard Petty and his dad, by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his dad, by Davey Allison and his dad, by the brothers Waltrip, by a 50-year-old, by a 20-year-old and by a whole lot of fine gents down South.
Just ain't never been won by no woman.
I will be pulling for Patrick, now that she holds the pole position for Sunday's race, for this reason and for no other -- just because it would be something unique. A surge forward. A giant checkered flag for womankind.
You often see women IN auto races. You just seldom see women WIN auto races.
I haven't personally seen one cross a finish line first since Lindsay Lohan drove a VW Beetle to victory in that movie "Herbie: Fully Loaded."
Excuse me, then, for being of the opinion that Danica Patrick winning the Daytona 500 would be a pretty cool thing. It would be up there with other unlikely things I never expected to see in my lifetime, like Ben Affleck maybe beating Steven Spielberg for an Oscar.
Now, note that I didn't call this person the most distinguished driver of her day. Or the best in any way. (Except at posing in a bikini.)
I have a high regard for the men of this profession, many of whom might find Patrick's famous face in their rear-view mirrors Sunday on their cannonball run toward Victory Lane. It wouldn't shock me a bit if her green No. 10 Chevrolet SS ended up in the back of the pack. Or racked or wrecked. Or up on some tow truck's hook. Or overheating under the hood like a '57 Bel Air.
If things do go wrong, that's OK. They do to everybody, male or female. Cars break down. Drivers make mistakes. Jerks come out of nowhere and cut you off. Hey, consider yourself lucky these days if you go for a drive and don't end up waiting for deep-voiced Dennis Haysbert and his insurance folks from Allstate.
Patrick's life will be totally fine even if she doesn't win. She makes a ton of money. She has a mean, green publicity machine. She even has a new boyfriend. (A fellow driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) She still has her Go Daddy! ads, although, to be perfectly frank with you, I still have no clue to this day what it is Go Daddy! is supposed to do for you.
She is resented by some for her fame.
"What has she ever won?" is a common refrain.
Hey, this woman placed third in the 2009 Indianapolis 500. That is not nothing. Do you know what the great Barney Oldfield's best finish was in an Indy 500? Fifth. He still ended up in movies and doing endorsements and becoming the most famous car racer of his time. That's show biz.
Patrick has come a long way since being a high school cheerleader in Rockton, Illinois, during her Fast Times at Hononegah High teens. She drove go-karts. She had a need for speed. She liked to get behind the wheel of anything with wheels.
What else would you expect of someone born in Beloit, Wisconsin, where a man (Arthur P. Warner) supposedly invented the first automobile speedometer? Or from a woman who was brought up in an Illinois county called Winnebago. I mean, some girls are born to be debutantes or doctors. Danica Patrick was born to be first in line at the DMV.