#RespectYourElders: Janet Guthrie, 81, is a former professional race car driver, pilot, flight instructor and aerospace engineer. She is the first woman to qualify and compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.
Guthrie was born in Iowa City, but moved to Miami with her family at the age of three. She attended an all-girls high school in Florida before going back to the Midwest to study physics at the University of Michigan.
Guthrie initially wanted to be a pilot. After graduating, she began a career with Republic Aviation where she worked as an engineer in research and development for projects that were precursors to Project Apollo.
In the early 1960s, Guthrie purchased a Jaguar XK 120 coupe, which changed her life forever. She fell in love with racing. Guthrie spent over a decade after that working as an engineer to support her passion for driving fast cars. She built her own engine, did her own body work on the car, and usually slept in it overnight.
Guthrie faced intense scrutiny and criticism for being a female in a male-dominated sport. She used that as fuel to become a trailblazer for women everywhere.
“(Racing) is a matter of spirit, not strength. It is a matter of doing your best each little moment. There’s never a break. You must have desire, a very intense desire to keep going,” Guthrie once said.
By 1972, Guthrie was racing on a full-time basis. After five more years of competing she qualified for and competed in the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500. She was the first woman to do either. She earned the honor of Top Rookie at the Daytona 500 that year. Guthrie also competed in 33 NASCAR Cup races over five seasons.
Guthrie is in the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and the Automotive Hall of Fame.
“You don’t have to dig very far or very hard before you find there have always been women doing amazing things,” Guthrie said in an interview. “It’s just that their history gets lost.”