Women in Racing
18 artifacts in this set
Amelia Earhart was better known for racing airplanes -- particularly in the 1929 Women's Air Derby -- but she made a notable appearance at America's most famous auto race. In 1935, Earhart served as an honorary referee at the Indianapolis 500. She became the first woman to hold an official position at the celebrated race.
Vicki Wood was the first woman to compete in NASCAR, setting records from 1953 to 1963. After success at local tracks near her native Detroit, Wood caught the attention of Chrysler's public relations office. Chrysler arranged for Wood to try for a record at Daytona Beach, Florida, in one of the Carl Kiekhaefer team's Chrysler 300 cars.
In 1956, Vicki Wood set a one-way record of 143.82 mph driving a Kiekhaefer Chrysler on Daytona Beach. Four year later, she set another record on the beach with a one-way speed of 150.375 mph. Wood continued to compete in NASCAR, driving a series of Pontiacs and Fords, before retiring in 1963.
Journalist Denise McCluggage was covering auto racing for the New York Herald when she began driving race cars herself. She had no formal training but proved to be a natural talent on the track. Racing through the 1950s and 1960s, she earned sports car victories at Nassau, Watkins Glen, and Sebring. McCluggage also helped found Autoweek magazine in 1958.
Promotional Photograph for "Heart Like a Wheel," Showing Actress Bonnie Bedelia and Drag Racer Shirley Muldowney, 1983
Shirley Muldowney earned her NHRA drag racing competition license in 1965 and began driving in NHRA's Top Fuel class in 1973. She won national championships in 1977, 1980 and 1982 -- the first woman to win a national title in any form of professional auto racing. Muldowney's life inspired the 1983 movie Heart Like a Wheel starring Bonnie Bedelia.
Sunbeam Alpine Driven by Donna Mae Mims, Janet Guthrie, and Suzy Dietrich at the Daytona 24 Hour Continental Race, February 1966
Suzy Dietrich, Janet Guthrie, and Donna Mae Mims made history in 1966 when they became one of the first two all-female driver teams to finish an international 24-hour endurance race. Competing for the Ring Free Racing Team, the three drivers and their Sunbeam Alpine finished 32nd at the 24 Hours of Daytona. They completed 389 laps around the 3.8-mile circuit.
Janet Guthrie broke one of auto racing's highest glass ceilings in 1977 when she became the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500. Guthrie wore this glove in that race. Engine problems held her back to finish in 29th position. Guthrie raced again at Indy in 1978 and 1979. She also competed in 33 NASCAR races over four seasons.
Lyn St. James launched her professional sports car racing career in 1979. Through 1991, she earned two wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona and one win at the 12 Hours of Sebring, and she competed twice in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. St. James fulfilled a lifelong dream when she qualified for the Indianapolis 500 in 1992.
Beyond her skills as a driver, Lyn St. James had a considerable talent for the business side of racing. She arranged a deal with department store chain JCPenney to sponsor her effort at Indy in 1992.
For all her experience with sports cars on road courses, Lyn St. James had never competed on an oval track before her Indianapolis 500 debut in 1992. She was named Rookie of the Year for her strong 11th-place finish -- the first woman to earn that honor. St. James competed in the Indy 500 six more times through 2000.
Following her own racing success, Lyn St. James established the Complete Driver Academy in 1994 to train and support young women pursuing careers in motorsport. More than 275 female drivers graduated from the academy, including top talents like Sarah Fisher, Danica Patrick, and Erin Crocker.
Racing Suit Worn by Erin Crocker While Competing in the 2003 Season of World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series
Erin Crocker competed in her first professional races while studying at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where she earned a degree in 2003. Sensing a great recruiting opportunity, the school sponsored Crocker's World of Outlaws sprint car racing efforts following her graduation. In 2006, Crocker became the first woman to run a full season in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series.
Sarah Fisher competed in her first IndyCar Series race in 1999. Her third-place finish at Kentucky Speedway in 2000 made her the first woman to earn an IndyCar podium position. Fisher formed her own team, Sarah Fisher Racing, in 2008. She retired from competitive driving after the 2010 season. Fisher wore this suit in October 2009 to promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
South Africa native Desire Wilson won her first races, in micro-midget cars, at age five. She moved to Great Britain in 1978 and competed in Formula One races. Wilson's signature helmet design, blue with a yellow crown wrapped around the top, was a nod to her regal nickname: the "African Queen."
Desire Wilson's Formula One career was distinguished by her win at the British Aurora Championship at Brands Hatch in 1980. Her victory made Wilson the first woman to win an F1 race of any kind. She later competed in endurance races -- including three appearances at the 24 Hours of Le Mans -- before retiring in 1997.
Tammy Jo Kirk raced motorcycles as a teenager, and in 1983 she was the first woman to reach a Grand National Championship final. Kirk moved to automobiles in 1989, and she joined NASCAR's southeastern regional series two years later. In 1997, Kirk became the first woman to compete in NASCAR's national truck series. She retired from racing in 2003.
Danica Patrick honed her driving skills in Formula Ford races in the United Kingdom. She returned to the United States and, from 2005 to 2011, competed in the IndyCar Series. Patrick transitioned to NASCAR full time in 2012. The following year, she earned pole position at the Daytona 500, becoming the first woman to win the pole at a top-level NASCAR race.
Brittany Force launched her NHRA Top Fuel drag racing career in 2013. She earned the Auto Club Road to the Future Award -- NHRA's Rookie of the Year prize -- that season and won the Top Fuel Championship in 2017. Drag racing is a Force family tradition. Brittany's father, John, and sisters, Ashley and Courtney, also competed successfully in the sport.