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Video: Janet Guthrie: Paving the Way

Submitted by on May 28, 2012

Janet Guthrie becomes the first woman to qualify for the Indy 500

“Not everybody can drive race cars. It takes a peculiar sort of person.”

The 1977 Indianapolis 500 added volumes to the event’s bursting history books. Tom Sneva broke the 200 mile per hour barrier, A. J. Foyt became the first person to win the iconic race four times and Janet Guthrie captured hearts and minds when she became the first woman to qualify for the Indy 500.

“In company with the first lady ever to qualify at Indianapolis, gentlemen, start your engines.”

Guthrie piloted the first car out on to the track on the Sunday and soon became the fastest, setting a speed of 188.403 mph that secured her 26th on the grid. Phil Hedback was quick to celebrate, echoing the gesture he made for Parnelli Jones and Tom Sneva and pouring 188 well-earned silver dollars into Guthrie’s racing helmet.

The race itself would be less successful for Guthrie, who suffered early and increasingly frequent engine troubles and was forced to retire.

She was back for 1978 and, at the wheel of a more reliable machine, improved her qualifying efforts to secure 15th on the grid before fighting her way up to ninth place and finishing ahead of drivers like Mario Andretti and Rick Mears. It would take until 2005 for her achievements to be extended, when Danica Patrick qualified and finished fourth and became the first woman to lead laps during the Indy 500.

This video tells her unique, inspirational and captivating story.

“She did it with grace, she did it with dignity and she also did it with a right foot that went all the way down to the floor.”

Special thanks to Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Image via Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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