Hailie Deegan

Where Are They Now? Catching up with Janet Guthrie

3 Comments

Janet Guthrie never set out to be a pioneer or trailblazer. All she wanted to be was a race car driver.

The Iowa native considered herself just like every other racer out there: she loved going fast.

That she was a female was inconsequential. She never sought attention just because of her gender. Rather, she wanted to be judged solely on her merits behind the wheel.

Unfortunately, many in the racing world – particularly fellow competitors and fans in NASCAR and IndyCar – thought otherwise.

To those jaded observers, a stock car or open-wheel car was no place for a woman to be in. Yet that’s precisely where Guthrie aspired to be.

Janet Guthrie led the way for generations of female racers to follow, becoming the first woman to race in both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. (Photo by D Dipasupil/FilmMagic/via Getty Images.)

May 30 marks the 44th anniversary of Guthrie’s first appearance in a NASCAR race. She started 27th in the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and finished 15th, a remarkable showing considering it was her first-ever foray into the world of NASCAR.

The male-only world of NASCAR, that is.

Her Charlotte debut – which would mark the first time a female raced on a NASCAR superspeedway – would be the first of 33 appearances for Guthrie in the then-Winston Cup Series between 1976 and 1980.

Even to this day, more than four decades later, Guthrie’s name remains synonymous with opening the door for other female racers who wanted to make their mark in the world of motorsports, particularly in NASCAR and IndyCar.

Virtually every female who has come along in some form of stock car racing, from NASCAR Cup to the lowest levels of sportsman racing, from Danica Patrick to Hailie Deegan, has Guthrie to thank for paving the way for them.

Even now, at the age of 82, Guthrie has never forgotten the weight that rested on her shoulders when she took the green flag at Charlotte.

“I knew back at the time that if I screwed up, it would be an exceedingly long time before another woman got a chance,” said Guthrie, who was 38 at the time of the Charlotte race. “I came to feel it as a responsibility, really.

“I mean, I didn’t do what I did to prove anything for women. I did it because I was a racing driver right through to my bone marrow.”

Guthrie achieved a number of firsts in her career, with the most notable year of her life being 1977 when she became the first woman to compete in both the Daytona 500 (finished 12th and was named the race’s top rookie) and the Indianapolis 500.

**************************

After graduating from the University of Michigan, Guthrie began what she thought would be a long career as an aerospace engineer.

The desire to make airplanes go faster rubbed off in four-wheel form with Guthrie, who began racing sports cars in her mid-20s. She would become quite successful, including earning two wins in her class in the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race.

Guthrie said she was much more accepted as a female racer in sports car racing, particularly on the Sports Car Club of America circuit. The more she raced, the more opponents and fans looked at her solely as a very tough competitor, not as a female.

But by the mid-1970s, when she was racing sports cars full-time, the lure – particularly IndyCar racing – kept getting stronger for Guthrie.

It was that lure that eventually led to an unexpected career detour into NASCAR.

In 1976, Guthrie was offered a ride to become the first woman to race in the Indianapolis 500, but her car wasn’t competitive enough and she failed to make the field.

When her effort fell short at Indy, Charlotte Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler offered Guthrie a ride in NASCAR’s longest race, the World 600 – which ran later on the same day as the Indy 500.

Despite having never been in a stock car, Guthrie jumped at the chance to further show her four-wheeled versatility.

David Pearson (inside front row) won the 1976 World 600, which was where Janet Guthrie made her NASCAR debut, finishing 15th. (Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

While there was quite a bit of insolence among her male competitors, Guthrie got some help from some competitors including Donnie Allison and Buddy Baker.

But some others that initially helped Guthrie were soon forced by peer pressure to ultimately ignore her.

“Somebody would give me a little hand and I would credit them when talking to a newspaper reporter and then that driver wouldn’t speak to me,” Guthrie said. “Oh my God, they’d apparently get a hard time from everybody else – so I learned not to do that.”

That is, until she got the Junior Johnson and Cale Yarborough seal of approval.

“The single most significant thing that happened was when (team owner) Rolla Vollstedt called Cale, who agreed to take my car out and practice it. Cale took it out and his speeds weren’t any more competitive than mine had been.

“Then Junior Johnson walked over to where we were standing and he and Cale talked and Junior looked at me and he said to Herb Nab (Yarborough’s crew chief) ‘give her the setup.’ And that made all the difference in the world. That was a gift that was truly priceless. I’ll never forget Junior Johnson for doing that.”

**************************

Guthrie earned five top-10 finishes in her 33 career starts in stock car racing’s highest level, including a career-best sixth-place finish at Bristol in 1977.

That would remain the highest finish by a woman in modern day Cup racing (from 1971 to the present day) until Patrick equaled Guthrie’s finish at Atlanta in 2014.

Sara Christian was the only woman in NASCAR history to earn a top-5 finish — finished fifth — in a dirt race in Pittsburgh in 1949, but that preceded the Grand National Series, which eventually became the Winston Cup Series in 1971. Christian also recorded a sixth-place finish three races earlier in 1949 at Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway.

“We had run high on previous occasions, but something always happened,” Guthrie said. “Bristol was a ferociously difficult track, so short, so many high-banked turns, no time to relax.

“Everything went right for us that time. Nobody spun where I couldn’t avoid them, the engine didn’t blow and we didn’t have any significant handling issues. I really felt very, very good about that race.”

Doing so well on one of NASCAR’s most challenging tracks also marked a breakthrough when it came to how fellow drivers treated her. Instead of their dwelling on her being a female, Guthrie finally began to be treated like one of the boys – and she loved it.

“The most gratifying thing was to see attitudes change — and they did change,” Guthrie said. “They were starting to joke with me and give me a hard time and that kind of stuff. That really made me feel very good.”

Another high point of Guthrie’s NASCAR career was the 1977 season-ending race at Ontario Motor Speedway, when she became the first woman to ever lead a Cup race.

“That was one my very greatest pleasures,” she said. “The high point of that race really was going at it hammer and tongs with Bobby Allison for lap after lap after lap.

“I mean, I had so much fun. I’d pass him, he’d pass me back. We just went back and forth and back and forth. It was wonderful. I just loved it – until the head gasket failed and I ended up in some insignificant position (24th).”

**************************

After competing in 31 NASCAR races between 1976-78, Guthrie couldn’t get a ride and was forced to sit out the 1979 season. She returned for two final starts in 1980, including being Dale Earnhardt’s teammate in that year’s Daytona 500 – he finished fourth, she was 11th.

Janet Guthrie became the first woman to race in the Daytona 500 in 1977. (Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

Guthrie’s NASCAR career abruptly ended after her final Cup start in the 1980 Coca-Cola 500 (finished 28th) at Pocono Raceway.

The reason for her departure was perhaps the one element Guthrie ultimately had most in common with countless male race car drivers over the years – lack of sponsorship.

She failed to get even one overture from other teams, including small, underfunded operations.

“Oh, it was a really terrible period of time,” Guthrie said. “I mean, ’78, ’79, ’80, ’81, ’82, ’83, all those years I spent every living moment attempting to find backing to continue racing at the top levels.

“Finally, in 1983 I realized that if I kept it up, I was going to jump out of a high window. That was when I quit doing that and started working on the book.”

Unable to race, Guthrie’s book – “Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle” – became a labor of love. It took her 23 years to write before it was published in 2005.

“I really thought of that book as my own legacy,” Guthrie said. “Sports Illustrated called it, I’ll never forget this, ‘An uplifting work that is one of the best books ever written about racing.’ I thought that was pretty nice.”

With the book now out of print, Guthrie is looking to republish it on her own on the Kindle platform, to introduce her life story to a new audience, particularly young, aspiring female racers.

While opportunities for women in NASCAR have increased since her time in the sport, including initiatives such as Drive for Diversity and a number of rising stars such as Hailie Deegan, Guthrie admits things are still not equal.

“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,” she said.

A resident of Aspen, Colorado for the last 30-plus years, Guthrie is active in the town’s arts scene as well as belongs to a garden club. She also keeps up with racing by watching on TV but doesn’t attend many races.

Guthrie has been inducted into more than a half-dozen motorsports halls of fame and is again among five nominees – the others are Mike Helton, Alvin Hawkins, Dr. Joseph Mattioli and Ralph Seagraves – for the 2021 Landmark Award for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Because she didn’t log the minimum 10 years in NASCAR to be eligible to be inducted into the Hall as a driver, winning the Landmark Award would still acknowledge all that she went through in her NASCAR career.

While she calls being considered for NASCAR’s Landmark Award “very flattering,” Guthrie admits there remains one big lament in her life.

“I wish with all my heart that I had been able to continue racing so that I would have the 10 years in NASCAR necessary to be considered for the Hall of Fame itself,” she said. “I really feel that I would have won Cup races.

“I mean, I led a race, I had run with the leaders on various occasions and I knew what I could do there. Now in Indy cars, I only drove 11 races, so I can’t make the same assertion with the same confidence. But in NASCAR I can.

“Oh, I’d give anything to go back to 1980.”

Editor’s note: We will have another story focusing on Janet Guthie’s IndyCar career – most notably the Indianapolis 500 – next week on MotorSportsTalk. 

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Mother’s Day show on NBCSN to feature Kelley Earnhardt Miller

Leave a comment
NBCSN will air “On Her Turf: Inspiring Greatness” to celebrate Mother’s Day at 8 p.m. ET today.
The special looks back on great female sports performances while also weaving in a little bit of a Mother’s Day theme and recognizing first responders. From game changers to championship moms, ones to watch to breathtaking moments, “On Her Turf: Inspiring Greatness” spans numerous sports and athletes.
The special, hosted by Kathryn Tappen and Rebecca Lowe, features a multitude of guests, including skier Lindsey Vonn, swimmer Dara Torres, NASCAR driver Hailie Deegan and hockey players Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando. They’ll discuss their careers and how they’ve handled life during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Kelley Earnhardt Miller also is on the show and talks with her brother, Dale Earnhardt Jr, about her years in racing and managing a NASCAR team.

Spotlighted moments include Simone Biles with her 2016 all-around gold medal floor routine, Serena and Venus Williams together in the 1999 French Open doubles title and against each other in the 2002 French Open title, Tatyana McFadden with inspiring marathons in the 2016 Paralympic Games and 2018 in Boston, Michelle Wie with a 2014 win at the Lotte Championship and many more.

Catch the show at 8 p.m. ET today on NBCSN or watch the show online here.

Also, be sure to follow “On Her Turf” on Instagram

 

Winners and Losers after opening weekend of Daytona Speedweeks

Leave a comment

WINNERS

Erik JonesLet’s see, overshoots his pit stall, involved in three accidents … and wins the Busch Clash a year after finishing last in this event. Even he couldn’t believe it. “I don’t know if it’s the biggest win,” Jones said of his career, “but definitely one of the coolest. I mean, just from an aspect that me and my friends will laugh about this one for a long time looking back at it, wondering how we won.” They won’t be the only ones.

History repeating (sort of) — Credit Erik Jones and his team for attempting to duplicate the victory lane photo of Terry Labonte and his team after Labonte won at Bristol in 1995 with a smashed car. Jones’ damaged car wasn’t too far off from Labonte’s.

JTG Daugherty Racing — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. gets the accolades for winning the Daytona 500 pole with his new team, but let’s also give credit to the team for the car and its alliance with Hendrick Motorsports that gave the car Hendrick power.

Brendan Gaughan and Justin HaleyBoth are guaranteed a starting spot in the Daytona 500 after being the two fastest among the non-chartered cars in qualifying.

Hailie DeeganMichael Self won his second ARCA race at Daytona on Saturday but Deegan finished second in her first series race at Daytona. Her finish ties the highest result for a female driver in series history.

LOSERS

Team (Penske) camaraderie — Brad Keselowski was livid with teammate Joey Logano for blocks that led to both crashing, along with Kyle Busch. Said Keselowski of Logano’s blocking: “We were in a position to finish it off, and we got destroyed for no reason. You would think these guys would be smarter than that. … Somebody throws a stupid block that’s never going to work and wrecks half the field and then goes ‘eh.’ Maybe we need to take the helmets out of these cars and take the seat belts out. Somebody will get hurt and then we’ll stop driving like assholes.”

History — Never before in the history of the Busch Clash has the eighth-place car finished 10 laps down. That’s where Ryan Blaney placed because of a crash. Only six cars were running at the end of Sunday’s event.

Martin Truex Jr. He was eliminated by a crash in the Clash for the third time in the last four years.

Hailie Deegan says runner-up finish at Daytona is like winning

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Michael Self celebrated, but Hailie Deegan and her family rejoiced Saturday night.

Deegan finished second to Self in her first ARCA race at Daytona International Speedway. Deegan’s finish tied Shawna Robinson and Erin Crocker for the best finish by a female in an ARCA race. Robinson finished second at Daytona in 1999. Crocker placed second three times, the last time in 2007 at Kentucky.

MORE: A crucial year for for Hailie Deegan’s career begins at Daytona 

“Second is winning this weekend,” said Deegan, who moved from Toyota’s development program to Ford’s development program in the offseason. “I think winning the first race would have been a little too high of standards for us this season. Everything would have been downhill. So at least I have something to work toward.”

The 18-year-old smiled as she spoke.

Her father couldn’t stop smiling. He and wife, Marissa, embraced Hailie after the race with Marissa shouting “awesome!”

“Her day will come,” Brian Deegan said on pit road of his daughter. “She’s got momentum. The main thing with her is she had a lot of momentum at the beginning of last year. Once she gets momentum, it’s on. She doesn’t want to lose. She’ll work 18 hours a day. She’ll work at the gym, study tape. She’s serious. We’re on a mission.”

Saturday’s mission for Deegan was to learn. She ran in the top 10 most of the race and learned from spotter Eric Holmes, who encouraged her at times and told her what not to do other times.

Most of the incidents were behind her in Saturday’s 80-lap race but one happened in front of her. She was pushing Chuck Hiers through Turn 2 when the contact turned Hiers and sent him into the wall.

“There were moments where I thought, ‘God, I shouldn’t have done that,’ “ Deegan said. “And there were moments when it was like, ‘Okay, that is good.’ People have to keep in mind we are ARCA racing. We aren’t Cup racing. We aren’t Xfinity racing. Most of the people here are here to learn and eventually get to that level and work out the kinks at this level.

“I think I learned a lot of good takeaways from this race. Some things I could have tried and been more aggressive on, but everything I did in this race got us that second place finish.”

Next for Deegan and the ARCA Series will be March 6 at Phoenix Raceway.

“I feel like the first race sets the tone for the season,” she said Saturday. “Having a good first race can help keep the ball rolling and help the guys at the shop. When you are on a nice, positive high level, you bounce that off each other and the work ethic and it just helps for the rest of the year.”

Michael Self, Hailie Deegan finish 1-2 in ARCA season opener

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Michael Self held off a last-lap challenge by Hailie Deegan to win Saturday’s ARCA Menards Series Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona International Speedway.

Self started from the pole and led 60 of the 80 laps in the 200-mile event. It was Self’s eighth career ARCA win (in 40 starts), including his second triumph in the season opener at Daytona.

“This is amazing, man, to start the season off like this, it’s unbelievable,” Self told FS1. “It’s just a great day overall. What an amazing car, to have our (Venturini Motorsports) cars finish 1 and 3 (teammate Drew Dollar) is unbelievable.”

Making her rookie effort at Daytona, Deegan becomes the third female (Erin Crocker three times and Shawna Robinson once) to finish runner-up in a race in ARCA Menards Series history. It was also her best finish in seven ARCA starts thus far.

“Coming into this race, my first goal was to finish, second goal was top 3 to top 5, I would have been ecstatic,” Deegan told FS1. “To come out here and finish second, runner-up, nothing could have been better. Obviously, every driver wants to win, but this was a victory for me.”

There were several incidents in the 80-lap, 200-mile event, but none bigger than a wreck on Lap 39 when more than a dozen cars were involved in a high-speed wreck. Among notable drivers involved were David Gravel, Natalie Decker, Andy Seuss and Dominique Van Wierengen.

On Lap 50, Deegan made slight contact with the right rear corner of Chuck Hiers, sending him head-on into the wall. Hiers and Deegan were running fifth and sixth at the time. Deegan’s car was not damaged in the incident.

With 11 laps to go, 2018 NHRA Pro Stock champ Tanner Gray’s day ended early when he was sent to pit road by ARCA officials due to excessive smoke from under the hood. Gray was running fourth when his motor let go.

The next ARCA Menards Series race is March 6 at Phoenix Raceway.

ARCA Daytona results

Follow @JerryBonkowski