Today’s post is written in honor of my mother, Ellen Dollar Gill, who raced stock cars in the powder puff (women’s) league in the 1950s in South Georgia.
In 1977, at age 39 Janet Guthrie (born 07 March 1938) was the first woman to qualify and race in the Indianapolis 500. She finished 29th after mechanical troubles sidelined her after 27 laps. She had set the fastest time of the day on May 7th and May 22th.
That year, Guthrie was also first woman to compete in the Daytona 500 in 1977.
In 1978, Guthrie finished ninth in the Indy 500. She held the record for the highest finish by a woman until Danica Patrick finished fourth on 29 May 2005. Patrick would be the first woman to take the lead in the race and was named Rookie of the Year.
In 1960, Guthrie graduated from the University of Michigan. An aerospace engineer and pilot, she was one of four women who qualified for NASA’s scientist-astronaut program in the 1960s. She began racing cars in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) circuit in 1963 in a Jaguar XK 140.
She built her own engine, 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 was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006 and the SCCA Hall of Fame in 2018.
Many tributes on May 29th focus on that day in 1953, when New Zealan explorer Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa from Nepal, became the first team to reach the summit of Mount Everest.