Janet Guthrie Cut Her Teeth at Lime Rock Park
Photos via Greg Rickes & Frank Cornell
As Women’s History Month comes to an end, let’s celebrate one of the true pioneers of professional auto racing, Janet Guthrie.
Before Janet was breaking grounds in both IndyCar and NASCAR, she was cutting her teeth at Lime Rock Park. In the mid-60s, back when women were not even welcome into the pits or garages by major professional sanctioning bodies, Guthrie was a familiar face on the grid during SCCA events held at The Park.
After finding success in SCCA, Guthrie made history about a decade later in 1976 when she became the second woman to qualify for a USAC IndyCar race.
Running for independent car owner Rolla Vollstedt, she qualified 14th fastest and ran a consistent race before dropping out with gearbox problems and finished 15th.
When she failed to make the field for the 1976 Indianapolis 500 the following month, Charlotte Motor Speedway promoter Humpy Wheeler found her a ride in a Hoss Ellington Chevrolet for the World 600. She finished a credible 15th, becoming the first woman to compete in a NASCAR Winston Cup race in two decades.
For 1977, she continued in stock cars, in an Ellington Chevrolet purchased by Charlotte businesswoman Linda Lacek Ferreri. Running for Rookie of the Year against Sam Sommers, Ricky Rudd and Tighe Scott, she took 12th in the season-opening Daytona 500 and went on to score a career-best sixth on the high-banked bullring in Bristol, Tennessee – running in the heat of the day without the benefit of power steering. She also became the first woman to lead a lap at NASCAR’s highest level, and her Bristol finish remains tied (with Danica Patrick) for the best result by a female driver.
Guthrie took a break from stock cars in 1977 to make another attempt at Indianapolis. She qualified 26th and finished 29th with engine problems. She returned to finish ninth at Indy in 1978 and 34th in 1979, and failed to qualify in 1980. She scored her best Indy car finish in 1979, taking fifth on the Milwaukee Mile. Her last major race was at Sebring in 1982.
Janet’s career took her back to Lime Rock Park, where her racing credits include competing in a Toyota Celica in a Trans-Am race in 1973. Making only her second career Trans-Am start, she finished 28th at Lime Rock, exiting after 40 laps with gearbox issues.
Looking back, Guthrie was a true pioneer in American professional motorsports. Even though she was A successful sports car racer – winning her class in the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1967 and 1970 – Janet was not exactly welcome into professional racing with open arms. Faced with many obstacles on and off the track, she proved the nay-sayers wrong by maintaining her composure while producing steady, credible results, often driving less-than-competitive machinery. She proved that a woman could hold her own in what had been a male-dominated sport.
Read more about Janet in her 2005 autobiography, “A Life at Full Throttle.” Then, see the movie of her life on the big screen in the upcoming film, “Speed Girl.” Her role will be played by two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank.