Danica Patrick is accustomed to hearing the word "first" attached as a suffix to her name. She's the first woman to win a race in the IndyCar series, first woman to finish among the top three in the Indianapolis 500, first woman to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole.
The high-profile racing standout is already off to a fast start in 2013, winning the pole position for the Daytona 500 this weekend with a speed of 196.434 miles per hour, the fasted pole qualifier in 22 years. She finished the race in a respectable 8th place.
As she prepared for the season-opening race this past Sunday, she also prepared to be honored on the PBS series "Makers: Women Who Make America," a documentary that premiers at 8 p.m., EST, on Tuesday night. (Check your local listings).
The three-hour documentary profiles both famous and unknown women – Patrick most certainly falls into the former category – who helped blaze changes in every corner of society over the past half-century.
When she was a child growing up in northern Illinois, Patrick never thought much about being a girl in the boy-dominated sport of go-kart racing. Nor did she think twice about laying with Barbie dolls.
"When you're young, you're doing things that are natural and instinctual," she tells PBS. "And I don't think we're thinking about why we're good at throwing a football or driving a go-kart. It's just in us."
She was racing by age 10, offered a chance to race in England by age 16, and by age 23 was back in the U.S., becoming the first woman to ever lead the Indy 500, which she led for 19 laps in 2005. She won her first IndyCar race in 2008.
When Patrick first started racing, she didn't want to stick out as the girl as the race track. So she didn't wear pink or purple. She didn't wear makeup. Over time, she decided her femininity and career could co-exist.
"When I finally came around to having the opportunity to do photo shoots, it was unique and it drew lots of attention and opinions, but it didn't make me less of a racecar driver," she said. "It was odd that it took me that long to realize it didn't change what I was going to do in the car."