Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard by now that Danica Patrick has won the pole for this year’s Daytona 500 stock car race. Yes, a female drove her racecar faster than all the boys in NASCAR’s premier event at its premier level of competition. The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s equivalent to the NFL’s Super Bowl. In the automotive racing world, this is a big deal.
Danica has driven in ten Sprint Cup Series races (NASCAR’s premier series) and is considered a rookie for the 2013 season. She will also become the first woman to compete in a full season of races at NASCAR’s highest level and has already established herself as the most successful female racer in Sprint Series history. Danica is not the first woman to race at this level. In 1949, Sara Christian participated in NASCAR’s inaugural race and three women drove in the second official event (Sara Christian, Ethyl Mobley and Louise Smith). However, it would take 27 years for the first professional female racer to competitively race at NASCAR’s highest level when Janet Guthrie became the first woman to qualify and race on a superspeedway (Event: World 600). She would finish 15th.
Janet Guthrie should be considered American’s First Woman of Automotive Racing. She was the first female to qualify and compete in both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500; the worlds biggest racing events. Janet would go on to race in 33 of NASCAR’s premier events finishing as high as sixth. She also went on to compete in eleven Indy car races including three Indianapolis 500s. Between 1955 and 1976, no women competed at racing’s highest levels until Janet Guthrie reopened the door. It wasn’t easy. During the 70s, the big boys in NASCAR did not hide their opposition to female racers. For her on track accomplishments and success maneuvering the off track barriers, Janet Guthrie is a true racing pioneer.
Should Danica Patrick win this Sunday’s Daytona 500, it would be pretty cool. Let’s give a shout out to the racing ladies: Danica, Janet Guthrie and the original gals of the late 40s and early 50s.