There are some enlightened racing series, like FIA’s electric off-road Extreme E series which require one female driver and one male driver on each team. There’s also the the W-Series, in which the top female drivers from around the world compete against each other in equally-prepared, open-wheel racecars. Yet it’s only been a few years since ‘grid girls’ were standing around Formula 1 races in high heels and short skits while holding umbrellas. We’re no closer to a woman in F1 than 45 years ago when Lella Lombardi crossed the finish line at the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix.
IndyCar has done a little better. Long before Lyn St. James, Pippa Mann and Katherine Legge competed in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, there was Janet Guthrie. She was the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, and raced in three consecutive Indy 500s from 1977 to 1979.
Janet Guthrie is finally getting the Hollywood treatment. According to Deadline, a feature film about Guthrie is set to be filmed, with Million Dollar Baby actress Hillary Swank in the leading role. The movie is based on the book Speed Girl by Stephan Talty. Set in the 1970s when the fight for women’s rights was gaining speed, Guthrie made an unsuccesful bid for the Indianapolis 500 in 1976 despite relentless opposition from the racing establishment and the men she hoped to race against. In subsequent years, Janet qualified for the race and tore down stereotypes about female drivers.
In a 2020 Interview with the Charlotte Observer, Guthrie commented on being the first woman to race in the Indy 500, and what it truly meant:
“There were these guys who had little girls on their shoulders and were sort of waving these little girls as if I represented hope for the future.”Janet Guthrie
The 2021 running of the Indianapolis 500 is set to run later this month, and for the second year in a row, there isn’t a single female driver in the field. Until last year, there was at least one female driver at Indianapolis for the last 20 years, with a high point reached at the 2010 Indy 500 when Danica Patrick, Sarah Fisher, Ana Beatriz and Simona de Silvestro raced, while Milka Duno entered a car (but did not qualify).
Hopefully the upcoming film inspires the young generation of speed girls to keep on racing to the top.