THE CHALLENGE WAS issued. The gauntlet was thrown down.

Can Danica Patrick, the 23-year-old, ultra talented, ultra hot female Indy Racing League driver, turn yours truly into an auto racing fan?

And the answer is no.

Why? So glad you asked.

It's because Danica is ultra hot, and because Danica is female.

Let me make this extremely clear. I'm all for women's sports, even consider myself a proponent of Title IX despite its inherent flaws. I have no problem with Danica taking on the boys. Actually, I think it's pretty cool and hope she wins the Indianapolis 500 one of these days.

What I'm against, however, is how the media publicizes a select few of today's female athletes, and this weekend was a perfect example.

The fact of the matter is, Patrick is talented. Anyone who saw her finish fourth in the Indy 500 and pull out of that spin on Sunday knows she can handle a car, even if some believe she has an advantage because she weighs 100 pounds and IRL does not include drivers when setting its weight restrictions on cars.

But her abilities on the track are only part of the reason she's supposed to unite two factions of auto racing and bring Indy racing back into the mainstream after sucking NASCAR's exhaust for the last decade.

It's only part of the reason people like me, who could care less about the "sport," are suddenly supposed to pay attention.


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The real reason is because Danica is attractive, and if you're a female athlete these days, unfortunately, that is still the only way to grab the typical sports fan's attention (read: men).

Talent is nice, but sex sells. Always has, always will. Just ask Anna Kournikova.

The fact Patrick happens to have both good looks and talent separates her from Kournikova and instead places her alongside marketable female athletes such as Mia Hamm, Serena Williams, Jennie Finch, Heather Mitts and Lisa Harrison, to name a few. Certainly there's no shame in that.

But let's face it. Indy was becoming obsolete before Danica — anybody know who won last year or the year before? — and if she looked like a cross between Bea Arthur and a duckbill platypus, there's no way the media would have converged on the Brickyard in the manner it did.

For as much as we've talked about the rise in women's sports in the last two decades or so, when TV is involved and there's millions of dollars at stake, it still comes back to sex appeal.

And that's wrong.

Worse yet, Danica and her spin doctors are not only aware of this double standard, they are encouraging it. Her Web site touts Danica as an "attractive 5-foot-1, 100-pound woman" and her photos in FHM magazine in April of 2003 would make a 13-year-old boy blush and hide them under his mattress.

I'm all for checking out attractive women and, yeah, Danica is easy on the eyes. But that is not an acceptable reason for becoming a fan of a certain sport. That's like your significant other suddenly becoming a huge baseball fan only after getting a glimpse of Barry Zito or J.T. Snow on TV.

This is not to say I would turn down a date with Danica (yes, I know she's engaged, but a man can dream), but when it comes right down to it, Danica should be viewed simply as a talented open-wheel driver who happens to be female.

And you all know how I feel about auto racing. Not even Danica, no matter how hot she is, can change that.

David Schoen can be reached at by e-mail at dschoen@angnewspapers.com.