3 minute read

Janet Guthrie

Few Women Followed Her Lead

Guthrie's racing career did not end the way she wanted. Without adequate sponsorship, she did not have the money to continue. "I didn't quit willingly, and I didn't accomplish what I felt I could," she told Boule of the Oregonian.

Few women have replicated Guthrie's racing success. She points to several reasons for this—the big money corporate sponsorship the sport requires, a male network that discourages women's participation, and a persistent attitude that women don't have what it takes to race.

Guthrie argues that corporate sponsorship is still not as available to women as it is to men and remains the biggest reason women have made little progress in the sport. As for the idea that women lack the ability, in 1987 she told Dodds of the Los Angeles Times, "Women just can't do it? Horsefeathers. I find that highly offensive." She is armed with examples from different sports to illustrate her contention that women possess the skills, stamina, and courage to compete with men.

Attitudes among drivers, however, have shifted over the years, partly because Guthrie's success in breaking the gender barrier has made women racers more acceptable. For example, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser, Sr., who spoke out against Guthrie's 1977 appearance at Indy, is mentoring twenty-two-year-old driver Sarah Fisher. In 1999, Fisher became the youngest woman to compete in an Indy event.

Guthrie now lives in Colorado, with her husband of thirteen years. She completed the manuscript chronicling her racing days, Lady and Gentlemen, and is seeking a publisher. Guthrie still loves the sport and follows the progress of up and coming drivers, especially the women. She travels and gives speeches extensively. She's also active in the arts.

Guthrie's helmet and driver's suit are in the Smithsonian Institution, and she was one of the first inductees into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame. Even though her last major race was more than twenty years ago, her pioneering influence remains. When Guthrie got Sarah Fisher's autograph during a 2002 visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Fisher wrote, "To Janet, my idol."


1938 Born March 7 in Iowa City, Iowa
1955 Earns pilot license at age seventeen
1960 Graduates from University of Michigan with B.Sc. in physics
1960 Joins Republic Aviation in New York as aerospace engineer
1960 Buys her first sports car, a used Jaguar XK 120
1963 Begins competing in high-speed car races
1964 Passes first round of eliminations of NASA's first Scientist-Astronaut Program
1967 Resigns position with Republic Aviation
1976 Granted a United States Auto Club license
1976 Becomes first woman to compete in NASCAR Winston Cup event
1976 Becomes first woman to enter Indianapolis 500 and pass the rookie test
1977 Becomes first woman to qualify and race in Daytona 500
1977 Becomes first woman to qualify and race in Indianapolis 500
1979 Finishes fifth in the Milwaukee 200, her last major race
1989 Marries Warren Levine

Awards and Accomplishments

1967 First in class, Sebring 12-Hour (GT-6)
1970 First in class, Sebring 12-Hour (Under 2 Liter Prototype)
1971 First overall, New York 400, Bridgehampton
1973 North Atlantic Road Racing Champion
1976 Finished 15th, Charlotte World 600 (NASCAR superspeedway race)
1977 Finished 12th, Daytona 500 (Top Rookie)
1977 Set fastest time of day on opening day of practice, Indianapolis 500
1978 Finished ninth, Indianapolis 500
1979 Finished 34th, Indianapolis 500
1979 Finished fifth, Milwaukee 200
1980 Finished 11th, Daytona 500
1980 Inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame
1997 Honored at "Specialty Equipment Market Association's (SEMA) Salute to Women in Motorsports", Washington, DC
2002 Received Lifetime Achievement Award in motorsports at Boy Scouts Breakfast, Portland, Oregon

Additional topics

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