Women have been breaking ground in the male-dominated racing field, making strides over the 21st century. Women drivers are becoming a force on the race track, whether they are on two or four-wheels.
With a much larger presence in motorsports, it’s inspiring to see such an upsurge over the century, and future generations are jumping at a chance to take their turn on the bike.
While motorcyclists are tearing up the dirt and asphalt across the world, their sisters in speed from the four-wheel class have also set the trend for aspiring females racers yearning to take the wheel.
Pioneer female motorsports drivers have pushed through the boundaries, forged empires, and stand-out as power-houses in previously unfamiliar territory. Their influence made and will continue to make a difference in the future of women in racing.
Women Pioneers in Motorsports
Janet Guthrie, Professional Racer
What better way to pay homage to women in racing then to start with the first to qualify and compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500. Originally an aerospace engineer, Janet Guthrie began racing in 1963 on the SCCA circuit, a feat unheard of in her day. She competed in 11 IndyCar events, with her best finish landing her in fifth.
In the 1976 World 600, Guthrie was the first female racer to compete in a NASCAR Winston cup and placed 11th. Her highest finish in her racing career was sixth in Bristol, 1977, which earned her the best finish by a woman in a top-tier NASCAR race until 2014. Her talent and racing career were cut short, however, as her gender worked against her in the 1970s, and she was forced into early retirement. Nevertheless, she had made her mark in NASCAR and for all women in racing, opening the door for others to get behind the wheel.
Sara Christian, First woman driver in NASCAR History
Racing for the first time in 1949 at Charlotte Speedway, Sara Christian was a fierce competitor. She qualified for 13th in a #71 Ford but didn’t stop there. She competed at the Daytona Beach Road Course in 1949, the first race to feature three female drivers, and landed 18th place.
Christian competed alongside her husband, and they were the only couple to do so until 1986. She didn’t let marital bliss sway her from finishing 6th at Langhorne Speedway, earning her the title of the first woman to finish in the top 10. Until 1988, she held the record of the only woman to finish in the top five. Full of fire and spunk, Christian set her sights on speed and proved that the couple that races together, stays together.
Maria Teresa de Filippis – Italian Racer
Maria Teresa de Filippis participated in five World Championship Grand Prix tournaments. She was the first woman to race in Formula One. While her career was brief, she broke through as a pioneer in racing, winning her first race driving a Fiat 500.She finished second in both the Italian Sports Car Championship in 1954 and in a sportscar race supporting the 1956 Naples Grand Prix. In her short time behind the wheel, Teresa de Filippis managed to secure her place in racing history.
Denise McCluggage, American Racer
Starting at small club events in her MG TC Midget, Denise McCluggage was one of the first female racers. Admired and respected by her peers, they knew her trademark white helmet with pink dots well. When she began to race professionally, she won the grand touring category at Sebring in 1961. Partnered with a fellow female driver, Pinkie Rollo, McCluggage raced until the late 1960s. Her legacy in racing was solidified in 2001, when she was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.
Modern Record Breakers
Danica Patrick, American Racer
The title of most successful woman in the history of open-wheel racing belongs to Danica Patrick, the only female to win an IndyCar Series Race. While not the first female to race, she has her own share of firsts in the field including the first woman to win a pole position, the highest-finishing woman (beating out Sara Christian’s 62-year record,) and the first to win a cup series pole position.
Patrick earned Rookie of the Year in 2005 for bot the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series. She even topped Janet Guthrie’s record for the most top-ten finishes by a woman in 2015.After years of a successful career, Patrick recently announced that the 2018 Indianapolis 500 may be the final start of her racing career. While her career may be coming to a end, her legacy will serve as an inspiration to many would-be female racers who wish to follow in her footsteps.
Sarah Fisher – Professional Racer
Sarah Fisher competed in both the IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 as racer until her retirement in 2010. From her start to her final race, she solidified a record for the most number of starts for a woman in the 94-year history of the Indy 500. While her racing chops are impressive, her career wasn’t only forged by racing. She took her talent behind the wheel and used it to guide others. From 2008-2014 she established Sarah Fisher Racing becoming the first and only female team owner in the IndyCar Series. She became the first female owner to win an IndyCar Series race proving that woman can be a force both on the track and behind the scenes.
The Force Sisters: Ashley, Courtney and Brittany, Profession Drag Racers
When it comes to drag racing royalty, look no further than national champion John Force. His daughters have not only made a name for themselves, but they have managed to surpass all expectations. Ashley Force, Top Fuel Funny Car Drag Racer, earned NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Rookie of the Year. She won her first NHRA professional category in 2008, against her father, and bested her former instructor the following year. Ashley was the first female to win the TF/F before her hiatus in 2011.
Not to be outdone, Courtney Force took up the mantle in her Advanced Auto Parts Chevy Camaro SS Funny Car for the John Force racing team. This youngest daughter broke the record in 2014 for the most Funny Car wins by a female driver in NHRA history. Courtney also snagged a win at her first national event in the Top Alcohol Dragster category at the 22nd Annual NHRA Northwest Nationals.
Brittany rounds out the trio as the 2017 Drag Racing Series Top Fuel dragster champion. She was the first female to win the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in 2016 and set a new NHRA record with a run of 3.676 seconds over 1,000 feet. The second woman in history to win a Top Fuel Championship, Brittany Force shows no signs of slowing down.}
Racing for the Future
These female motorsports driving icons serve as a reminder that we need to take chances in order to achieve our dreams. In the shadow of other competitors, against the odds and adversity, and with so much ground to cover, these women serve as a guide for future generations. Difficulties can be overcome, records will be broken, and we can be the trendsetters for motor enthusiasts everywhere, from motorcycles to four wheels.