Danica Patrick Latest in Long Line of NASCAR Women
Danica Patrick is the only female NASCAR driver in history to win pole position in the Daytona 500, and this week it was announced that she has found a new sponsorship in Nature’s Bakery for the 2016 season, ensuring her future in the Sprint Cup Series. Danica Patrick is currently 21st in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but still has plenty of chances to perform well in the rest of the 2015 season, starting with the Irwin Tools Night Race this Saturday at the legendary Bristol Motor Speedway.
Many reporters and race fans treat Ms. Patrick and other women racers as novelties. Patrick is currently the only active woman racer in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but it wasn’t always that way. Check out some of the most prolific women in NASCAR history, going all the way back to the beginning of the organization.
Sara Christian got her start with fast cars when she married her husband, Frank. As a bootlegger, Frank was very familiar with driving cars at reckless speeds, and as his business grew he invested in stock cars and shared the experience with his wife.
Sara competed in the first race ever promoted by NASCAR that took place at North Carolina’s Charlotte Speedway on June 19, 1949, making her the first woman racer in NASCAR history. Sara continued to race into the early 1950s, and she raced against Frank at Daytona in 1949, making them the first married couple to compete against each other in a NASCAR race.
Louise Smith earned her start in racing by outrunning local police in Greenville, South Carolina.
Bill France, the founder of NASCAR, was on the lookout for women racers in the hopes their participation would boost attendance and gain the new organization some press recognition. He found Smith, and her first race was in 1946, before the formation of NASCAR. She finished third.
During her 11-year racing career, Louise won 38 races driving a variety of cars and earned the name “First Lady of Racing”. After her retirement, she sponsored other drivers and was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999.
After years without female representation in NASCAR, Janet Guthrie took to the track full-time in the 1970s after catching the racing bug when she bought a Jaguar XK 120 Coupe and dabbled in the sport in the 1960s.
In the 1977 season, she entered in 19 races and qualified for all of them. Three times Janet qualified in the top 10, and four of her finishes were in the top 10. She was the first woman to race in the Daytona 500, and was the top rookie finisher that year. Throughout the season she continued to be the top rookie in many races and finished above legendary racers like Dale Earnhardt. Guthrie also raced Indy cars in the Indianapolis 500, finishing in the top 10 in 1978.
In 2006, Janet Guthrie was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and her helmet and race suit are currently in the Smithsonian.
Danica Patrick currently races for Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Chevrolet. At the beginning of her career, she was a go-kart racer and then moved to the United Kingdom to begin racing in Formula One cars.
She became the fourth woman ever to compete in the Indianapolis 500 in 2005, and was the first woman to lead a lap at the storied race. She was the first woman to ever win an Indy Car race in 2008, when she claimed victory at the Indy Japan 300. In 2012, Danica moved to racing in NASCAR full time and was the first woman to claim the pole position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In the 2015 season, her top finish has been 7th place, and she continues to work hard to develop her racing skills.
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- Rebecca BernardEditor
A Dayton native, Rebecca got her start blogging at the curiously named Harlac's Tongue while studying abroad in the UK. She loves tooling around town with her Ford Focus named Jerome to the song they're playing on the radio. On any given weekend, you can find her with her camera at area festivals, concerts, and car shows, shopping at flea markets, or taking an adventure on the open road. See more articles by Rebecca.