Patrick Using Celebrity To Promote COPD Awareness

By Auto News Log • February 4th, 2010

NEW YORK — Charles Barkley famously once said athletes are not role models. Danica Patrick begs to differ.

Perhaps the most anticipated and talked about driver to enter the NASCAR scene, Patrick realizes the level of celebrity she’s attained as an IndyCar driver, part-time swimsuit model, mover of merchandise (she’s already a NASCAR top seller) and actress (she’ll appear on CSI: New York) is both rare and powerful.

“Being a popular person followed by a lot of fans gives me a platform I can use for good things,” Patrick said while taking a break from a sponsor photo shoot in a west-end Manhattan warehouse loft teeming with impossibly tall models. “I want to use my celebrity to make a difference.”

She is doing just that as a spokesperson for DRIVE4COPD, joining NASCAR in promoting a multi-year public health initiative to alert millions of Americans who may be at risk for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

As a kid growing up in Illinois, Patrick fondly remembers playing in her grandmother’s house. Those good times were cut off, however, when her grandmother died in her mid ’60s from an affliction not as well known as cancer or heart disease but one that’s nonetheless the fourth-biggest killer in the U.S.

While Patrick decided to use her massive fame to fight the disease that took her grandmother, NASCAR was striking a unique partnership with DRIVE4COPD. The campaign will become the “Official Heath Initiative of NASCAR” — educating fans about the disease and providing screening at Nationwide and Sprint Cup series races.

Additionally, DRIVE4COPD will become the title sponsor for the season-opening Nationwide Series race at Daytona, the DRIVE4COPD 300 (1 p.m. ET Feb. 13, ESPN2).

“NASCAR cares about our fans, and we are very proud to partner with DRIVE4COPD,” said Steve Phelps, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for NASCAR. “COPD affects an estimated 24 million people — half of whom are undiagnosed. NASCAR fans have a history of being receptive to and involved in health initiatives, and we believe we can make a difference in this unique partnership with the DRIVE4COPD.”

NASCAR fans will get their first breath of the new health initiative campaign at Daytona for the season-opening points races. That’s when DRIVE4COPD launches the “Race for the Missing Millions,” a star-studded, four-day cross-country race” to identify those who may be at risk for COPD and don’t know it.

Patrick may still be learning the meaning of “loose” and “tight” (an open wheel driver “under steers” or “over steers”), but she’s well versed for sharing rules of the road with members of the campaign’s race team — Emmy-nominated actor Jim Belushi, Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner, Grammy Award-winning country music star Patty Loveless and former NFL star Michael Strahan — as they drive 6,000 miles across the country in four days. The team will call on people to complete a five-question screener to see if they’re at risk for this common disease. The screener can be found at

The “race” starts on Feb. 13 after Loveless debuts the song she composed for the campaign at Daytona International Speedway, prior to the DRIVE4COPD 300. The song, in memory of Loveless’ sister who died at a young age from emphysema, hopes to inspire others with COPD to take action to continue to live their life.

Loveless (whose name was Lovelace before she got divorced) will then join the DRIVE4COPD race team on the starting line of the Nationwide Series season opener to drive around the track. From Daytona, the celebrity drivers will take four different routes across the country making “pit stops” in 14 cities to screen people for COPD. A map of the “Race for the Missing Millions” routes and event locations is at
Both Phelps and Patrick point out the big gate of NASCAR — the sport has more events drawing 100,000 or more fans than any other sport — will help the campaign’s ambitious goal of screening one million Americans this year.

Participating fans taking the five-question screener may enter a sweepstakes awarding a grand prize VIP race weekend in Daytona in July and another chance for a trip to the 2011 Daytona 500.

“The initiative might take a while for us to see an effect,” Patrick said. “But I really believe we can make a difference in educating people to change their lifestyles and do something about COPD.”


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