When I was a child, I always wondered why there weren’t any girls racing in NASCAR. My dad would struggle to find an answer each time I posed the question. I think he was afraid of saying the wrong thing, that his thoughts would be taken out of context and he would find himself under attack.
Little did I know that, seven years later, the entire racing world would be on the edge of their seats as a woman captured the pole for the Daytona 500.
A revolutionary day has been embraced, and Danica Patrick’s media frenzy has increased. Covers stories on newspapers grace her name, titling this year as, “Boys vs. Girl,” rekindling the idea that gender has something to do with racing talent. Comments of advantages due to her small structure have been tossed around.
Some NASCAR stars have came out and said that she doesn’t have a place in the sport, that woman can’t handle it.
Too bad women have been handling it ever since the beginning.
Danica has broken records, hushed a collective doubt, and crashed through a panel of The Glass Ceiling. However, there are a league of women that invaded the Good Ol’ Boys Club before NASCAR’s current socialite was even alive. Long before.
The first NASCAR driver who traded her rollers for a helmet was Sara Christian, making her start at Charlotte Speedway on June 19, 1949, the first official race in the Sprint Cup Series (being called the Strictly Stock Series back then). She qualified 13th, yet Bob Flock finished the race in her car, running it to a 14th-place finish with an overheated engine. She only started seven races, claiming two top tens and the highest points ranking of a woman in the NSCS at 13th.
Another notable driver is Janet Guthrie, an aerospace engineer who went racing full-time in 1972. She soon competed in both IndyCar and NASCAR. In 1977, she qualified for the Daytona 500, the only woman who was able to say that at the time. She finished 12th, even after dropping two cylinders with ten laps to go. She was also the first woman to start in the Indianapolis 500 that same year.
A career-high finish of 6th in NASCAR, and peaking at 5th in IndyCar, Guthrie has been recognized as one of the more successful females in racing. In 2005, her autobiography, Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle, was published, openly discussing the struggles of fulfilling her dreams. Parallels are commonly drawn between Guthrie and Danica Patrick, due to the shift from open wheel to stock cars and fighting for life in a man-dominated world.
Shawna Robinson was the first woman to claim a pole in any NASCAR series in 1994 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the Nationwide series. She took time off to start her family and returned to racing in 1999, entering the ARCA Racing Series. Robinson continued to blaze a trail for woman in that series, leading laps and winning poles. She jumped from team to team, series to series, until 2005, when she finally retired. Recently, she was featured on SPEED’s Race Hub, talking about Patrick and how happy she is that someone is fighting on-track for females once more.
There are countless other drivers that have or are making an impact: Johanna Long, Patty Moise, Jennifer Jo Cobb, Tammy Jo Kirk. The list is ever-expanding.
That list, however, doesn’t talk about the women behind the wall.
Many don’t know the name Nicole Addison, the first woman to work on a NASCAR pit crew. Starting in 2005, Addison was a rear tire changer who had overcome a form of bone cancer when she was six years old. She defied odds that haven’t been touched until recently. Christmas Abbott, a CrossFit trainer and gym owner, will be changing tires on Jennifer Jo Cobb’s truck this season and shadowing Clint Bowyer’s crew during this year’s Daytona 500. Spending time in Iraq and covered in tattoos, Abbott plans on showing her muscles among men.
We also can’t forget Ashley Parlett, former SAG stunt woman, Sprint car driver, and SPEED employee, who is now a mechanic for Turner Scott Motorsports. Her experience as a racer herself has helped her new career path -and made her even more of an inspiration.
Actually, each woman I’ve mentioned is an inspiration, even Danica Patrick.
Though Patrick hasn’t done much as of now, there is no doubt eyes will always be on her, especially the pupils of little girls who were like me, sitting on their dads’ laps, watching cars fly by.
It’s hard to tell what the younger me would’ve done if there was a female driver racing during that time. The questions, of course, would’ve stopped, and my dad wouldn’t have to deal with my whining voice.
One thing is for sure, though.
That child, the wondrous one, the one that’s still in my heart? She’s happy a woman is out there, so everyone can learn the history behind estrogen and engines.