On the 50th Anniversary of the Daytona 500: Remembering NASCAR's 1st Woman Driver

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Volusia County Real Estate and Community Events by Lisa Hill, "THE SMART CHOICE!"

NASCARNASCAR’s First Woman Driver: In doing my research for this blog, I was surprised to discover that women had been competing in Daytona Beach racing since the 1940's, when it was held ON Daytona Beach.

But one woman stands out from all the rest; Janet Guthrie. Talk about an overachiever! Janet was a pilot, a flight instructor, an aerospace engineer, a technical editor, passed the first round of eliminations for NASA's Scientist-Astronaut program, and had 13 years of experience on sports car road racing circuits, while building and maintaining her own cars, all before 1976, when she was invited to test a car for the Indianapolis 500.Janet Guthrie

Janet Guthrie was the first woman to win a starting spot in the Daytona 500, in 1977, once it had moved to it's new, official race track. She was in 8th place, when 10 laps from the end, her engine went bad. She finished in 12th place, and won Top  Rookie. That same year, she won the North Atlantic Road Racing Champion title. In 1978, she finished in 9th place in the Indianapolis 500. But sponsorships and funding were hard to find for a woman at that time, even after placing in the top 10 in a number of races.

According to Janet, as can be expected, many of the men from the “good ole boys” club were not willing to accept a woman on their turf. But as Janet accumulated years of experience under her belt and gained experience on major tracks, including the Brickyard at Indianapolis she felt that most of the tension between her and the men eventually abated. But, Janet always felt that one driver never accepted her; Richard Petty. However, she actually qualified ahead of Richard at Talladega one time. In Janet’s words, “I thought that was just delicious. I really enjoyed it.” On the flip side, some of the men were more welcoming. Janet says that Donnie Allison was very kind and helpful. And Buddy Baker offered some helpful advice.

Janet continued to look for funding, and continued racing, and placing well. But was never able to make it to victory lane, primarily because she didn’t have a fast enough car. Janet raced in the Daytona 500 one more time, but did not have nice things to say about her crew chief that year.

News JournalAccording to the Daytona Beach News Journal, Janet raced a total of 4 years in NASCAR. She started 33 races and finished in the top 10, 5 times and earned $78,309 over those 4 years. Her helmet and driver’s suit are now on display in the Smithsonian Institution and she was one of the first woman athletes inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.

Since Janet, only one other woman, Shawna Robinson has driven in the 500, which is NASCAR’s premier event. And Guthrie’s record still holds.

Janet is now living in Aspen, CO and says she only follows NASCAR races now, if a woman is competing.

(Sources for this post are The Daytona Beach News Journal, Janet Guthrie's web site, Wikipedia and Nascar.com. I'm citing all references because I ran into quite a few contradictory dates and statistics.) But you can buy Janet's autobiography, "Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle" and get the facts straight from her!

If you're in Daytona Beach for NASCAR, Bike Week, or any other special event. You should consider buying real estate for the time you spend here, I'm a Daytona Beach native and would love to help! Make a Smart Choice and contact Lisa Hill today!


Lisa Hill

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Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher
Lisa, I have never heard of Janet, what a facinating and accomplished person she is.  I'd bet it would be facinating to sit down and speak to her about her life.
Feb 17, 2008 01:03 PM #1
Tchaka Owen
Galleria International Realty - Hollywood, FL
Wow, wonderful post Lisa!!  I'm more a fan of open-wheel and cheer for Danica.  I'd hoped that Sarah Fisher would do well but she sort of faded away (though she was back last year).  I do like Milka Duno too.  Unfortunately it seems that a woman must be highly aesthetically pleasing in order to get a following.  Driving fast isn't enough.
Feb 17, 2008 03:40 PM #2
Susie Blackmon
Ocala, FL
Ocala, Horses, Western Wear, Horse Farms, Marketing

Love reading about successful, out-on-the-box women, so thank you Lisa!

Feb 17, 2008 07:35 PM #3
Lisa Hill
Florida Property Experts - Daytona Beach, FL
Daytona Beach Real Estate

Carole- She must be a genius. Did you see that list of accomplishments? 

Tchaka- Thanks! And unfortunately, that is the world we now live in. But wait until you read my next post. There's another NASCAR lady that will crack you up!

Susie- I have one more coming! =) 

Feb 18, 2008 11:26 AM #4
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