Long before Danica Patrick, Ashley Force-Hood, and Sarah Fisher decided to take on the men in the sport of auto racing, three pioneers of the track successfully competed against “the boys” in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), NASCAR, and Indy Car circuits. These women made huge strides in their respective series, and continue to be role models for the up-and-coming women in auto racing.
Shirley Muldowney – Muldowney started her drag racing career in 1958 as an 18-year-old at New York’s Fonda Speedway. In 1965, she became the first woman to earn her NHRA license, racing in the Top Gas division until 1971, when she switched over to Funny Cars. She teamed up with Connie Kalitta, known in the drag racing world as the “Bounty Hunter,” in 1972, and the pair match-raced across the Midwest, with Muldowney known as the “Bounty Huntress.” A series of fires and injuries led Muldowney to switch to the Top Fuel division, which led to her greatest successes: three NHRA Top Fuel championships (1977, 1980, and 1982) and 18 national event wins. Muldowney was the subject of the 1983 film “Heart Like A Wheel.”
Janet Guthrie – Guthrie’s background was in aviation and science: a University of Michigan graduate (1960) in physics, a pilot and flight instructor, an aerospace engineer, and a would-be astronaut (she made it through the first round of eliminations for the 1964 Scientist-Astronaut Program). Along the way, however, she bought a Jaguar and began competing in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) races; by 1972, she was racing full-time. In 1977, she not only became the first woman to race in the Daytona 500 (she was also Top Rookie), she also became the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500. Guthrie is a 2006 inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Lyn St. James – St. James made her racing debut in an SCCA race in 1973, and her career since has spanned over 30 years. St. James’ 1985 win at Watkins Glen is the only win by a woman in the IMSA GT class while driving solo, and she also has two wins in the GTO class (1987 and 1990) at the 24 Hours of Daytona. In 1992, she became the first woman to win the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Award, and in 1995 set the women’s closed-course speed record during qualifying for Indy (225.722 mph). She has competed in seven Indy 500s (1992-1997 and 2000), and was the oldest driver in the field in 2000 at age 53. Today, St. James is a much-sought-after motivational speaker, an author of three books, and is actively promoting her Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation. Women in the Winner’s Circle promotes activities and programs for driver development and education for women who aspire to be race car drivers.
sources: “No.5, Shirley Muldowney,” nhra.net
“About Lyn St. James,” lynstjames.com