Badass girls like to speed and speed she did, blazing a trail straight to the Indy 500. Janet Guthrie’s journey to fame as the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 was not without many setbacks in a male dominated world of racing. The oldest of 5 children, Janet lived a “normal” life as a youngster who’s father was a pilot. She got her pilot’s license at the age of 19 and graduated from Michigan State with her degree in Physics. Janet’s dream was to become an astronaut which she was so close to becoming but did not have a PhD or experience to continue in the NASA program. That career path change led Janet on to even bigger and better advancements where she went completely opposite of flight to keeping her speed cravings on a flat track….starting her chase began with a Jaguar XK 120 which she purchased during her college days and started entering into gymkhana’s or precision driving events which she excelled at despite being the only woman in the field.
Janet always claimed to be a race car driver that happened to be a woman rather than a woman race car driver. She proved her prowess over the years and still did not receive much love from the male dominated racers and mechanics where she usually was the only female driving in the race; by 1975 she still had managed to win over 120 local races. Her big break came with an offer from Oregon automotive engineer, Rolla Vollstedt who offered Janet a chance to prove her tenacity and driving skills with one of his cars he was entering into the Indy 500. Well we know how this ends up…Janet indeed showed him how badass she was and completed her time qualifying laps and even overcame the sabatage the crew put her through when they adjusted her temperatures without her knowledge. This impressed Vollstedt and two months later Janet Guthrie was the first woman to be entered and qualify for the Indy 500.
Guthrie did amazingly well in the race finishing in 9th place in a field of 30 after Vollstedt had given her a faster car to drive. Other racers on the circuit were forced to recognize that Janet was here to play ball and was not going to be intimidated by chauvinistic behavior.
Janet Guthrie is a hero in my mind, never letting herself be a victim or accepting that being a woman has anything to do with the capabilities of doing the job despite criticism along the way. . Janet’s words ring true for ladies everywhere who are questioning their own abilities, “a driver is a driver, whether they are male or female is irrelevant. The essentials are in the mind: concentration, judgement, emotional detachment, and desire.” Words that couldn’t be any truer. Now go out my lady babes and DO IT!
NOTE: I’m doing this series of Badass Women of Automotive History because I love to learn and share about these amazing women who came before us and inspire badassery in Bronco Babes and women everywhere. Keep a look out for another Badass Woman of Automotive History next week!