Born to a working-class family in Beloit, Wisconsin, Patrick began karting at the age of ten and achieved early success by winning her class in the World Karting Association Grand National Championship three times in the mid-1990s. She dropped out of high school with her parents' permission in 1998, and moved to the United Kingdom to further her career. Patrick competed in Formula Vauxhall and Formula Ford before returning to the United States in 2001 due to a lack of funding. In 2002, she competed in five Barber Dodge Pro Series races for Rahal Letterman Racing. Patrick later raced in the Toyota Atlantic Series for the next two years. Her best effort was third in the championship standings for the 2004 season where she became the first woman to win a pole position in the series.