HerStory May 2020: Janet Guthrie

Check out our May colorway, Vroom Vroom! Named so because we are zooming around the racetrack for our May HerStory. May is the month when the Indianapolis 500 typically takes place (although in very atypical 2020, it has been rescheduled for August…we planned this all out waaay before there was even a hint of a global pandemic, so there you go ;)). Vroom Vroom is racecar green, with speckles representing sponsorship stickers sprinkled all over. 

This month, we are honoring Janet Guthrie, a woman who chalked up a lot of firsts in American auto racing. She was the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500. She was the first woman to compete in the Daytona 500. And, she was the first woman to lead a lap in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. 

Janet Guthrie was always interested in moving fast and taking risks. Her parents (both airplane pilots) encouraged her fearlessness, and, with hopes of becoming an astronaut, she studied engineering in college. The astronaut thing didn’t pan out, but she worked as an aerospace engineer for a time, and was both a pilot and a flight instructor. Feeling restless, in the 1960s, Guthrie set her sights on auto racing.

If you think auto racing now is a big ole sausage-fest, you should have seen it in the mid-1960s. All men, as far as the eye could see, and very little institutional interest in widening that gap. Guthrie didn’t let that deter her, however; for 10 long years, she worked hard, built her own cars, and even slept in her car when at the race track. Finally, in 1977, she gained sponsorship and was able to fully compete with her racing peers as a fully supported driver. Of course, she continued to face bucketloads of sexism and misogyny, but she kept competing, as long as the sponsorship held out (auto racing is prohibitively expensive without sponsorship). Her racing career didn’t last very long, but her legacy continues to this day. She inspired women like Lyn St. James, Sarah Fisher, and Danica Patrick to take up the mantle of Indycar racing. In 2019, she became the 5th woman inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame, which is awesome and also proves there is a long way yet to go in achieving equality in the auto racing world (the Automotive Hall of Fame was founded in the 1930s and has over 800 worldwide honorees).

In an ESPN special focusing on her life, Guthrie stated: “You can go back to antiquity to find women doing extraordinary things, but their history is forgotten. Or denied to have ever existed. So women keep reinventing the wheel. Women have always done these things, and they always will.”