Danica Patrick raises awareness of COPD ahead of Baltimore Grand Prix race

Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, or COPD, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, are the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to government data. It's caused by smoking, secondhand smoke, chemicals and air pollutants. But many people don't know they have it, according to Danica Patrick, the race car driver who has become a spokeswoman for DRIVE4COPD, a campaign aiming to raise awareness of the diseases. Ahead of her trip to Baltimore for the IndyCar Grand Prix races this weekend, she talked about her public health work.

Question: Why did you get involved with DRIVE4COPD?

Answer: My grandma had emphysema and she really suffered and died far too young at 61 years old. When the awareness campaign came along, it was a chance to turn a negative into a positive.

Q: Can you talk about COPD, how widespread it is and what people need to know?

A: Awareness is the goal. COPD kills more people than breast cancer and diabetes combined. Twenty four million people have it and only half know. There's a definite need for awareness of the diseases and symptoms. At the DRIVE4COPD website,, they make it pretty easy with five questions that give you an idea if you're at risk.

Q: Air quality is important for people with these breathing problems, do you think about what we can do as a society to improve the situation?

A: Coming from a race car driver that's tough. There are simple things, like not exercising or going out on busy streets, staying inside when there is smog. But many people don't have this luxury. They can't avoid going outside or moving from cities to less polluted areas.

Q: IndyCar has switched to 100 ethanol in its cars and taken other steps to be more green, right?

A: It's what the world is doing — going green. We're not only becoming more aware of our health, but we're taking care of the world, trying to make it a little bit better too. Putting ethanol in the cars is one step.

Q: You're switching from IndyCar to NASCAR. What's NASCAR doing?

A: They're taking steps too. They run on 85 percent ethanol now.

Q: What do we in Baltimore have to look forward to with the Grand Prix and urban car racing?

A: It's something I'm very used to. We race on a lot of streets of a lot of cities. You don't have to travel, you're right there. It's a great atmosphere. There's a lot of energy. Any time IndyCar goes into a new venue, there tends to be a great turnout. There's lots of entertainment. We do apologize for the road closings.

Q: Will you be racing in the special green race, where they try and save fuel?

A: I won't be in that race. I might try and maximize my miles per gallon, but that will just be part of my strategy.

Q: Do you think racing and COPD aren't so complimentary because of the air quality issues?

A: The important thing is health. My parents emphasized good health from a young age. Without health we have nothing.


Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images