A trailblazer for women in motorsports
Janet Guthrie was the first woman to qualify and compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. Guthrie originally wanted to be an astronaut. She earned a degree in physics from the University of Michigan. She began her career as a research and development engineer for Research Aviation, but it wasn’t until she got rejected to be one of the first scientist-astronauts that she decided to begin racing in 1963.
Guthrie, now retired, began racing with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) in a Jaguar XK 120. She built her own engines, did her own body work, and usually slept in her car overnight. By 1972, she was racing on a full-time basis. In the 1976 World 600, Guthrie finished 15th, becoming the first woman to compete in a NASCAR Winston Cup Superspeedway race. She would go on to compete in four more races that season.
Guthrie competed in her first Daytona 500 in 1977, finishing 12th when her car’s engine failed with ten laps to go. She also earned the honor of Top Rookie in the race. Following her Daytona 500 debut, Guthrie became the first woman to qualify and compete in the Indy 500, but finished 29th with engine problems. She would compete in two more Indy 500s, finishing ninth in the 1978 race. Guthrie competed in 11 IndyCar events, total, with a best finish of fifth.
In addition to the IndyCar races, Guthrie also competed in 33 NASCAR races over four seasons. Her highest finish, sixth place at Bristol in 1977, is the best finish by a woman in a NASCAR race. Her helmet and race suit can be found in the Smithsonian Institution and Guthrie was one of the first elected to the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.
She was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006 as well as inducted into the Sports Car Club of America Hall of Fame in 2018.