Happy belated birthday, Janet Guthrie. Racing pioneer Guthrie turned 76 on Friday, March 7. Okay, so I’m a day late. Better late than never, though, right? Anyway, it could be said that, before Danica (Patrick), there was Janet. Actually, I think I saw a FOX Sports feature article by a similar title yesterday.
Danica Patrick may have set some racing records in recent years. She became the first IndyCar driver to win a race, and in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition in 2013, she became the first female driver to claim a pole starting spot when the won the pole for the Daytona 500. She also set the record for highest-finishing Daytona 500 finish by a woman in that same race, finishing eighth.
But, again, before Danica, there was Janet. Of course there were women in NASCAR before Guthrie, too, mostly way back in the early days of the sport, but Guthrie, it can be said, paved the way. In IndyCar, Guthrie became the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500 in 1977. The next year, she was in the top-10, finishing ninth.
But before Indy, Guthrie made NASCAR history. While others like Ethel Flock before here, did compete at NASCAR’s top level, Guthrie became the first woman to compete in a Winston (now-Sprint) Cup superspeedway race in 1976. In 1977, she became the first female to compete in the Daytona 500.
As far as NASCAR top-level competition goes, Guthrie competed in 33 races between 1976 and 1980. In those races, she posted five top-10 finishes. All but one of those top-10s came in 1977, her most active year in NASCAR when she competed in 19 of the 30 races on that year’s schedule. And while Patrick hold the record of highest-finishing female in a Daytona 500, Guthrie is the record holder for highest finish for a female in any NASCAR Cup level race, due to a sixth-place finish in Bristol, Ten., in 1977.
There’s saying that you “learn something new everyday.” And at least one of the new things I learned on this day I discovered by researching the blog you’re reading now. Here’s a little tidbit of Guthrie trivia for you, in case you didn’t already know: Guthrie’s final Daytona 500 start in 1980 came in a ride owned by Rod Osterlund. Osterlund was Dale Earnhardt’s car owner for his first two years of competition in Winston Cup racing — 1979 and 1980. So, Earnhardt had Guthrie as a teammate for one race early in his career. If you’re wondering how they finished, Earnhardt was fourth and Guthrie 11th.
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But, before you go, check out this slideshow of images from Janet Guthrie’s NASCAR career (photos courtesy of ISC Archives/Getty Images):