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Janet Guthrie

A Pioneering Racing Career

By 1971, Guthrie had completed nine consecutive endurance races. But her star really started to rise in 1976, when she became the first woman to compete in a National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) Winston Cup superspeedway event, finishing fifteenth out of forty starters. She did not qualify for the Indianapolis 500 that year, but racing team owner and car builder Rolla Vollstedt was impressed enough to offer her a test drive in one of his Indy cars. Pleased with her performance, she became Vollstedt's second driver at the 1977 Indianapolis 500 qualifying trials. Guthrie qualified and competed, but engine trouble forced her out of the race early. The next year, she returned to the Indianapolis 500 and finished ninth out of 33 starters. She remains the only woman to finish in the top ten.

Displaying racing talent and persistence, Guthrie continued to post impressive finishes. In 1977 alone, she was top rookie at Rockingham, Charlotte, Richmond, and Bristol. She competed in nineteen NASCAR Winston Cup races that year, finishing in the top twelve ten times. She also was the first woman and Top Rookie at the Daytona 500, finishing twelfth.

She also began winning over critics. Fellow driver Mario Andretti told The Washington Star in 1977, "Anyone who says she doesn't belong, just feels threatened." Driver Bobby Unser echoed the sentiment, telling Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine in 1979, "She's done a good job. I gotta admit that I had my doubts about her. But she's proven her point … she can be up there in the top 10. There are a lotta guys who can't say that."

Still, Guthrie was dogged by the allegation that she was not competitive; that her racing career amounted to an experiment. In typical fashion, she proved herself unflappable in handling the close scrutiny and frustrations she faced. In an interview with Tracy Dodds of the Los Angeles Times, she said, "I know that that is not true. I stand on my record … but it's hard to have your reputation kicked around again and again." The criticism ignored the fact, her supporters countered, that she was poorly funded and usually raced in cars that were entered just to complete the field.

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Famous Sports StarsAuto RacingJanet Guthrie Biography - A Thirst For Adventure, A Pioneering Racing Career, Few Women Followed Her Lead, Chronology - CONTACT INFORMATION