Danica Patrick promotes girls program in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – She's the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and the first woman to win the pole position at the Daytona 500.

At 5 feet 2 inches tall and 100 pounds, Danica Patrick is one tough cookie.

Her career as a race car driver has her competing against men, but her gender doesn't slow her down.

Patrick came to Jacksonville on Thursday to promote a program geared toward young girls.

The NASCAR driver is paving the way for women in her industry.

"At least why it seems I've overcome gender roles is because I don't really think about it," Patrick said. "When I was a kid, I never thought to try to be the best girl driver. I was just taught to be the best driver, and so it wasn't something I really thought about much."

That's exactly what she is telling the girls in Junior Achievement of North Florida's JA Girls program, which provides hands-on experiences and educational opportunities that celebrate women.

Patrick wants young girls to know their gender is not a barrier to success.

"I credit my parents to not ever making me feel different, to never letting being a girl be my only gauge of success," Patrick said.

Patrick was the keynote speaker for Junior Achievement's sixth annual Smart Women Make Change luncheon. All proceeds from the event benefit the JA Girls program.

Since 2006, the program has reached more than 16,000 women in northeast Florida, which is important to Patrick.

"It's just a wonderful program that helps girls learn and, most importantly, learn about themselves and maybe what they want to do," Patrick said.

JA of North Florida helps young people connect with relevant learning and the importance of staying in school. The collaboration resulted in 49,241 students reached during the 2013-14 school year.

For more information, go to the organization's website.

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