I imagine it is in part because I didn't grow up watching racing. My memories about the Indy 500 are limited to the preacher saying he'd keep the sermon short so folks could get home to watch the race. I'm sure I saw it on TV a couple of times, but frankly it's a bit monotonous to really hold a child's attention for very long.
But that Janet Guthrie qualified for and raced in the Indy 500 should have been something that I'd at least heard about, don't you think? I grew up hearing all about Billie Jean King and other women who broke into typically male-dominated arenas in life and sports. So why the missing link here?
Well, what's passed is gone. I eagerly read everything I could get my hands on this past week, and have ordered a copy of her book, A Life at Full Throttle.
Just some of the amazing things I've learned about her racing career this week:
She was the the first female racer to qualify and compete in the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500, where she earned the title of "Top Rookie."
Guthrie in the first round of women elected to the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame.
She was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame on April 27, 2006.
Her helmet and race suit are on display at the Smithsonian Institution
Both the driver's suit and the helmet are the actual ones that I wore during the Indianapolis 500 of May 28, 1978, in which I finished ninth. Neither was worn in any race thereafter, and (except for cleaning and the removal of a microphone from the helmet)--are exactly as used.You know what is even more fascinating about this already amazing woman? She started out pursuing a career in aerospace engineering! Before she was racing cars, she was flying planes and earning a B.S. in physics from the prestigious University of Michigan in 1960.
Like fellow amazing woman celebrating a birthday this week, Jerrie Cobb, Janet had already earned her pilot's license at the age of 17. She worked as a flight instructor during college, and after graduation, she took a position with Republic Aviation as an engineer and technical writer, working on the precursors too the Apollo rockets.
Also like Jerrie Cobb, she had applied to NASA, this time as part of their first Scientist-Astronaut program. She passed the rigorous examinations but was denied because she did not hold a Ph.D. Instead, she turned her attentions to racing cars, and she has never looked back.
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For more information:
Wikipedia: Janet Guthrie
League of Adventurous Women: Flashback - Janet Guthrie
Women in Racing: Biography
AARP: Where are they now - Janet Guthrie
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