A Month of Awesome Women: Janet Guthrie

7 years ago

Every day in March 2011, we'll be talking about one awesome woman and why she's so interesting. Some you may know; some may be new to you, so check out all the awesome women in the series now.


I remember Janet Guthrie.

It was 1977. I had a first-grade teacher's aide who, I think, got tired of hearing little girls talking solely about Dorothy Hamill and Nadia Comaneci after the 1976 Olympics. She made it a point to tell us about a bunch of other female athletes.

We learned about Billie Jean King and her victory over Bobby Rigg in The Battle of the Sexes in 1973. About diver Micki King. And about Janet, who was the first woman ever to compete in a NASCAR superspeedway race and had just become the first woman to compete in the Indy 500.

© Arthur Grace/ZUMAPress.com

I was not at all a sports kid (I'm pretty sure if I referenced Dorothy Hamill, it was about the haircut), but I did end up thinking Janet Guthrie was cool. I seem to remember doing a report on her. Posterboard was involved.

I totally forgot about Janet Guthrie until I came across Thomas' post on Feministe a couple years ago. It's a fabulous history of women in U.S. auto racing, and when I read it, the memory hit the way that kind of memory does. I remember having so much pride in her.

I still do -- even more so now that I know that she was an aerospace engineer who worked on the projects that helped lay the foundation for the Apollo Program, before she became a competitive racer. Badass in two different male-dominated fields? Awesome.

Guthrie came in ninth in the Indy 500 in 1978, though she was driving with a broken wrist. Badass! and her record stood until 2005, when Danica Patrick came in fourth. Many speculate that she would have gone further, but she felt forced to quit due to a lack of sponsors.

Today is her 73rd birthday. Happy birthday, Janet Guthrie!

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