“There is very little in civilized life that demands everything you got intellectually, physically, and emotionally. Driving is living. It’s aggressive instead passive living”. These are the words of the first woman race car driver who has ever competed the Indianapolis 500, Janet Guthrie. There is so much passion in her words, which has always driven her in her career, making the impossible possible. Being a woman has definitely not made things any easier. Keep on reading to discover more on the story of this girl that has changed motor sports forever.

How did the early life of Janet Guthrie look like?

Born on March 7th, 1938 in Iowa City, Janet was the eldest of the five siblings in her family. When she was only three years old, her family moved to Miami, Florida. Her father was a pilot and this is where Janet embraces her love for motor vehicles, and aerodynamics. She became a fully licensed pilot at the age of 17, which was quite young at the time. As Janet grew up, she became more interested in Physics and she eventually earned a B.Sc. in Physics from the University of Michigan.
Her ambition at that time was not to become a car race driver, but to become an astronaut. Yes, an astronaut. And as with everything she loves, she did try to pursue that passion. She applied to NASA and though she passed many of their tests, she could not get in due to lack of a P.H.D. qualification, which was added at that time. However, she did not let this stop her. Her career was just about to begin a glorious path.

How did Janet Guthrie build her career in car racing?

The purchases of her two Jaguars XK 120 coupe and XK 140 along with her engineering knowledge to further modify them, turned out to be a great start of her car racing career. She started competing in Sports Car Club of America races. To be a good race driver though, physics and engineering knowledge alone won’t do it. One has to have the fire in the belly and the stamina to endure. The enduring part is not only applying to races, but also to surviving in the industry, especially while being a woman racing driver. “The problem for women, in my opinion, is they still have a harder time finding funding for this very expensive sport than does a man of similar accomplishments,” Janet said.

She went through many of these hardships on her own, facing many people that did not trust her, but also being fortunate enough to meet those that invested in her. Her glorious years would begin in 1976, when she would be the first woman to compere in a NASCAR Winston Cup car race. A year later, she would set a major milestone of again being the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500. She kept her race spirit despite many technical difficulties with her cars, which often had to be modified as they were initially built for men. However, she did overcome many famous male race drivers at the time. In 1978, she managed to finish ninth in the Indianapolis 500, which was a major achievement.

What are five interesting facts about Janet Guthrie?


    • Janet Guthrie first began flying at the age of 13. Yes, while most children of her age play with toy planes, she was already learning to fly a real one.

2. Janet was also a great auto mechanic. She managed to disassemble and then put together part by part her Jaguar race car.

3. She also participated in two Trans-Am races in Mexico City in 1978, where she finished fourth.

4. If you would like to see Janet Guthrie’s helmet and race suit, you can visit the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.

5. There is an upcoming movie about the life and career of Janet Guthrie, titled “Speed Girl”, where Hilary Swank will play the role of Janet.

Janet has shown to be a very ambitious woman who dared to be successful in men-led industries all her life, beginning from piloting, engineering, physics and motor car racing. She took challenges and coped with all difficulties along the way without giving up, because she has always known that she held a responsibility representing and inspiring many other women at the time who also dreamed of entering that male-dominated industry. She simply could not give up and let them down, and she never did.


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