What: Danica Patrick takes a stunning gamble and charges into the lead with ten laps to go at the 2005 Indianapolis 500. This occurs about six minutes into this video:

Why: The Indianapolis 500 was once the most important day in sports, but a blockheaded ownership fracture and the mainstreaming of NASCAR shunted open-wheel racing to the fringes in the ’90s. But in May of 2005, hope came in the pint-sized form of a rookie from Roscoe, Illinois. Sponsored by owners Bobby Rahal and David Letterman (yes, him), Danica Patrick threatened to overshadow the race itself with her looks and attitude. These features belied a solid but raw skill set, which she showed by qualifying for the fourth position. A mere 56 laps after the call of “Lady and gentlemen, start your engines,” Patrick became the first woman to lead the 500, but gave it all back with a series of rookie mistakes: a stall in the pits midway through, and a caution-flag spin which damaged four cars. But on lap 174 of 200, Patrick’s team kept her out while the leaders pitted, and she charged to the front. This, it seemed, was winnable, but she needed a lot of luck. Specifically, because Patrick didn’t have enough fuel to finish full-out, she needed people to crash. As Dan Wheldon passed her on lap 186, that crash came, as Kosuke Matsuura popped his front wheel onto his hood. Four laps later, when the green flag flew, Patrick roared ahead of Wheldon. One more caution, and she would’ve won. It never came. Patrick did the racing equivalent of going all-in on an inside straight draw, and she paid for it. Finishing fourth, she had set every record for a female racer, and did so with the ballsiest move (note: intentional word choice) in open-wheel history.

Impact: Patrick’s run revitalized the 500, at least for a time. She easily took the Rookie of the Year trophy. A few years later, now part owner of her car’s Andretti Green team, she became the first woman to win an IndyCar race. She remains the sport’s biggest draw. Part of this is for her looks, which she exploits to uncomfortable levels. Yet another part is for her attitude, as she routinely picks fights with other drivers. But a very important part is for her ability, as she’s consistently ranked between the 5th- and 8th-best racer on the planet, with high expectations for Sunday’s Indy 500.

Personal Connection: By far the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever had published in a newspaper. What in the name of Emerson Fittipaldi was I thinking?

Other Contenders: Jesse Owens corrects Hitler’s mistaken assessment of Aryan superiority at the ’36 Berlin Olympics; Australia II emphatically ends 132 years of U.S. hegemony at the 1983 America’s Cup (boxing kangaroo alert at 2:13!); local hero Seattle Slew becomes the only undefeated Triple Crown winner in 1977; Top Gear‘s Richard Hammond and James May both get nicked by the cops as they race a Ferrari Daytona and an XSR48 powerboat down the Riviera.