By Mike Brudenell
Detroit Free Press.
Katherine Legge has a message for NASCAR great Richard Petty, who apparently isn’t impressed with Danica Patrick in a stock car and says the only way she’ll get a Sprint Cup victory is if she is the only driver on the track at the time.
Give me a shot — I’ll drive for you. And if the equipment is good enough, I think I can win.
Though Legge didn’t use those exact words after giving a motivational talk to a group of young girls Wednesday at the Detroit International Academy for Young Women on Woodward Avenue, she said she’d be up to the challenge of proving to Petty she could wheel a Sprint Cup car as well as the good old boys.
Legge, 33, a professional race driver from Guildford, England, is personable, cheeky and a lot of fun to chat with.
On the racetrack, she is as tough as an old pair of boots.
In 2006, Legge was involved in a 180-mile-per-hour crash during a Champ Car race at Road America in Wisconsin when the rear wing on the car flew off and she demolished her open-wheel machine against the catch wire fencing, splitting the car in three.
After a safety crew cut her from the tub of the car, Legge was transported to the infield care center, where she emerged shortly after waving and smiling.
“Goes to show how strong the cars are,” said Legge to reporters. “I just have a bit of bruising.”
Legge, who was in town to visit with the students at Detroit International Academy, many of them on the robotics team and future engineers, will race May 30-June 1 at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, where she’ll drive the DeltaWing car in a round of the TUDOR United Sportscar Championship.
Owner of a diverse racing resume that includes time in IndyCars, Champ Cars, Formula Atlantic single-seaters and Daytona Prototypes, Legge stressed to the girls that while women faced a tougher time getting into motor sports and automotive engineering than men, in her view, anything was possible with hard work and perseverance.
“I started racing go-karts at 9 with the help of my father,” said Legge, a global STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) ambassador for the Girl Scouts. “I wanted to get my adrenaline pumping. I wanted to either be a fighter pilot or a race driver. I didn’t believe I’d probably ever get there, but through hard work and sacrifice, I did and you can, too. I was prepared to give it 110%.”
When one student asked Legge what she would have been if not a racer, Legge grinned.
“The idea terrifies me,” she replied. “I really don’t know.”
Legge recalled how she had trouble paying the rent as she clawed her way through the junior racing ranks and sitting in waiting rooms of global companies she’d approached for sponsorship until someone either asked her to leave or listened to her pitch.
“You develop a thick skin the more times you get knocked down,” said Legge, who drove in IndyCar in 2012 for Dragon Racing and plans on running in the Indianapolis 500 in May. “I’ve had drivers and (team) owners tell me I wasn’t good enough and the only way I was racing was because I was a girl.”
When Legge moved to the U.S. to race full-time in 2005, she said doors began opening.
“I’m very grateful to the USA for giving me that start, because I was really battling back home (in England) to be given that opportunity,” said Legge after Wednesday’s presentation. “It’s easier now than then and not seen as a novelty anymore if you are a female driver. It’s how good as a driver are you — not just that you are a girl.”
So, would King Richard be someone she’d like to race for — move across to stock-car competition in Nationwide or Sprint Cup, where Patrick, the former IndyCar favorite, has had her struggles the past couple of years and has failed to impress the seven-time NASCAR champion.
Legge broke into a smile.
“I have no idea if whatever he (Petty) said was right or wrong,” Legge said. “I think Danica has showed potential on a lot of tracks. But whether it is true of not, I think it is good publicity for both of themI wish someone would say something horrendous about me.”
Would Legge test for Petty after his comments about Patrick last week?
“I would welcome the opportunity and certainly do it,” she said. “I’d even make the call. As I said to the girls today, you develop a pretty thick skin through the years trying to make things happen and be turned away and told you can’t do it. It would be quite an interesting conversation.”