Born this day in 1938: JANET GUTHRIE, record-setting race car driver
Before Danica Patrick there was Janet Guthrie. Guthrie, a native of Iowa City, Iowa, earned an B.S. in physics from the University of Michigan in 1960. Always interested in aviation (she earned her pilot’s license at age 17), she worked for several years in the aviation industry as a research and development engineer. In 1964 she applied to NASA’s scientist-astronaut program, only one of four women to qualify. She lost her spot, however, when the qualifications were upgraded to include a doctorate degree.
Soon Guthrie’s attention turned from aviation to sports car racing, and by the early 1970s she was racing cars full time. She hit the big time in 1976, when she was invited to drive a test car in the Indianapolis 500 and when she became the first woman driver to compete in a NASCAR Winston Cup superspeedway stock car race. The following year she was to first woman to compete in the Indy 500 and the first woman to race in the Daytona 500. She was also the Top Rookie at Daytona. Engine failure kept her from completing the races. In 1978, however, she place 9th in the Indy 500, becoming the first woman to complete the race. The helmet and driver’s suit she wore in that race now reside in the Smithsonian Institution. Guthrie was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006.
Guthrie was a serious competitor, but had to endure harassment—everything from obscene racing “poles” to menacing rubber chickens—and unfair treatment from racing fans, racers, media, and just about everyone else. Follow this link to ESPN to read about the climate she competed in.
See Guthrie’s official website for a rundown of her achievements.
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