I'm counting down the days until the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
I'm not a race fan in the fanatic sense. I've only been to the Indy 500 a handful of times. My memories center around listening to the race on the radio in the backyard while filling out the leading laps grid from the Indianapolis Star.
I do love Indianapolis, tradition, and most of all a theme! Each day I will share a memory or tidbit of history.
In honor of Janet Guthrie's 77th birthday today and only 82 days until the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 let's take a look at her ground-breaking career.
First of all, Janet is as smart as a whip. She graduated from the University of Michigan and worked as an aerospace engineer. She began racing in 1963 on the SCCA circuit in a Jaguar XK 140 and by 1972, racing was her full-time gig.
In the 1976 World 600, Janet finished 15th, becoming the first woman to compete in a NASCAR Winston Cup super speedway race. The following season, she competed in her first Daytona 500, finishing 12th when her car's engine went wonky with ten laps to go. Janet competed in 33 races in NASCAR over four seasons. Her highest finish, sixth place at Bristol in 1977, is the best finish by a woman in a top-tier NASCAR race - as of 2014 she is tied with Danica Patrick for the best finish.
Janet passed her rookie test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1976 - 40 years ago!/ She didn't qualify that year. Chatter around the track centered around the fact that she failed to qualify because she was a woman. These comments frosted then three-time champion A.J. Foyt to the point he had Janet run a four lap timed practice around the track in his back up car. Had Janet on a qualifying run, she would have been 9th on the grid. A.J. was vocal in stating that the only reason Janet did not qualify was due to the lack of funds, not because of her gender.
She qualified for the Indy 500 in 1977 - posting the fastest time of opening day. She started at 26th place and finished at 29th. In 1978 she qualified in 15th place and finished at 9th. 1979 she qualified at 14th and finished (35 cars started the race that year). Janet didn't qualify in 1980.
Janet's helmet and racing suit is housed the Smithsonian Institution and she was one of the first elected to the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame. She was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006.
Janet now lives in Aspen, CO and by all reports is enjoying hiking and gardening and the usual retirement activities.