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Women of the Indy 500

Updated on September 16, 2014

Women Racing at the Indianapolis 500

It has been over a century since the very first Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Yes, the event billed as "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" has been around since 1911. And once again this year, we expect to see women racing in the Indy 500.

But it wasn't always that way. No, it took some real pioneers to pave the way for todays female race car drivers. First, the phenominal Janet Guthrie, and then the vibrant Lyn St. James made way for today's ladies to start their engines on the famous two and a half mile oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Before Guthrie could even attempt her rookie test in 1976, a long-standing rule had to be expunged from the speedway's rulebook in order for her to be allowed to climb into the cockpit of an IndyCar.

Guthrie was a true ground breaker, but those who have come after her have been pretty amazing, too. Read on to see what I mean.

Page created 03/23/2011.


It WAS a Man's World

Until 1971

For the whole of six decades following its inception in 1911, the Indianapolis 500 really was a man's world. Oh, women were allowed to WATCH. But that was all. In those times, ladies would don their raceday fashions, complete with hat, usually in black and white. and either take their place in the stands, or lounge demurely on a picnic blanket in the infield. There were NO women allowed on or near the track, or in the pits. It was considered bad luck - even if the woman happened to own one of the race cars!

A tiny step was made in 1959, when an official position for women was created in connection with the race. That was the year that Ann Lawrie James became the first 500 Festival Queen. Yeah. It was her official duty to smile and look pretty.

In 1971, the rule banning women in the pits was finally abolished. It only took 60 years!

*Public Domain photo of Joe Dawson taking the checkered flag to win the 1912 Indy 500. Curated from Wikipedia.

Indy Motor Speedway 7 Piece Flag Set - The Seven Flags of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race

Do you know what each of the flags mean?

Here's a very simple, boiled down explanation

Green - GO (Official start of race, or restart after a yellow)

White - One lap left!

Blue with diagonal orange stripe - Move over and let someone pass

Black and white checks - Crossing the finish line

Red - STOP the race

Black - Return to pits (the car is getting a penalty)

Yellow - Caution (race continues behind pace car with no change in running order)


Women in the 2013 Indianapolis 500

FOUR Lstarted their engines in 2013!

Sat, May 18 was Pole Day; Sun, May 19 was Bump Day


We thought we knew that three female drivers would attempt to qualify for this year's race.

Surprise! Another woman materialized! Katherine Legg, who had been without ride up until the last minute, appeared to bump herself in!

So, then, there were four. Happily, all four successfully qualified for the 2013 Indianapolis 500!

Car owner Sara Fisher will be there, too, with Josef Newgarden at the wheel of her car, number 21.

Who are the FOUR female drivers?

- Simona de Silvestro (Switzerland)

- Ana Beatriz (Brazil)

- Pippa Mann (United Kingdom)

- Katherine Legg (United kingdom)

To see their starting positions and qualifying speeds, see the next section.

Best wishes to our three lady drivers and car owner Sara Fisher for safe and speedy race! Here's a tip of the hat to them, and a wish for great finishing positions in this year's race.

race car clip art from OpenClipArt, P.D.

When the Green Flag Flies - Here's Where They'll Start

  • Simona de Silvestro - Car Number 78

    Starting 24th, on the outside of row eight.

    The only female driver to win a position on pole day, Simona is driving for KV Racing Technology

    Her qualifying speed: 225.226

  • Joseph Newgarden - in # 21

    Begins the race on the inside of row 6 (the 25th position)

    He drives for the only female owner, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.

    His four lap average: 225.731

    (faster than Simona, but he did not make the field on pole day)

  • Ana Beatriz - driving number 18

    Starts 29th, in the middle of the tenth row

    Qualifying average: 224.184

  • Pippa Mann - in car 63

    Will begin alongside Ana, on the outside

    The slowest racer in the 224 range, with 224.005

  • Katherine Legge - # 81

    Starts dead last, in the 33rd place, but she made the field!

    What it took to get into the race: 223.176


When Janet Guthrie Changed Everything

As I said earlier, Indy had always been pretty much a man's world.

But in 1976, Janet Guthrie drove right through Indy's glass cieling, becoming the first woman ever to qualify to race at the fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Oh, my! What a stir she made!

Although the aerospace engineer passed her rookie test and received her USAC driving license that year, she didn't actually run in the race until the following year, when she qualified 26th and finished 29th.

Guthrie 1978 ride

In 1978, Janet drive to her best finish - 9th place. A top ten finish - not bad for someone who wouldn't have even been allowed to come near a car on race day just a decade before.

The 1979 race was her third and last race Indy 500. Although she returned to the speedway in 1980, she failed to qualify that year. That made me sad.


What Would He Say?

??? The BIG Question ???

1977: I remember so well - Guthrie was in the field, and history was being made! The BIG question, and topic of conversation in our family before the start of the race was:

How will he say it?

"He" was Tony Hulman, owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and "it" was the command to start engines. Surely, he couldn't say "Gentlemen, Start Your Engines." (Well, he never just 'said' it, anyway, he orated it.) But, this year was different. After all, the first woman ever, ever, ever, was in the race, and Janet Guthrie was no gentleman! It was an historic moment.

So, we waited. . . and speculated . . . and the suspense built. Finally, the songs had been sung, the baloons released, the flyover completed, and the invocation given. It was time. We held our breath, and then came the words:

"In company with the first lady ever to qualify at Indianapolis,

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!"

We cheered! We all agreed it was fitting, and absolutely perfect!

In Company With

~ 1977 ~

The Command to Start Engines was altered from the traditional

"Gentlemen, Start Your Engines"


"In company with the first lady ever to qualify at Indianapolis,

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!"

Did You Hear It?

Did you hear Tony Hulman give the historic command to start engines that day?

See results

A Life at Full Throttle - by Janet Guthrie

Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle
Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle

A Life at Full Throttle was 20 years in the writing!

After her last year at Indy, Gutherie went on to do a lot of things, including authoring a book, which took her 20 years to complete. It came out last year, and here's a link, if you're interesting in reading it. Twenty years in the making, and I hear from more than one source that it was worth it. My copy is on order.


Janet Guthrie Speaks at Centennial Dinner

Guthrie was one of the first

to be named to the

Women's Sports Hall of Fame.

Her firesuit and helmet are

enshrined in the Smithsonian.


Lyn St. James

I always smile when I think of Lyn St. James, because it also makes me think of my big brother. He was absolutely crazy about her! Sometimes, he seemed like a schoolboy with a crush, though he was an old married man with grown sons. I've never seen anything like it!

I must admit, however, that, like her female predecessor at Indy, Lyn St. James is one impressive human being. Lyn Started off strong at Indy, being the first female ever to be named the Indianapolis 500's rookie of the Year, in 1992.

Between 1992 and 2000, St. James drove in seven Indy 500s. Other racing venues she tackled were the 24 Hours of LeMans,, the 24 Hourse of Daytona (2 wins) and the 12 Hours of Sebring (1 win). She was named one of the top 100 Women Athletes of the Century by sports Illustrated for Women.

St. James in 2012photo by Chuck Carroll

Used under CC unported license 3.0

Besides being the first female rookie of the year, she, along with Sara Fisher, became the first two women to compete against one another, when the they both made the field in 2000, Ironically, they also went out of the race together, when their cars tapped one another in turn 1 less than half way through the race.

Lyn St James Today

Since climbing out of her IndyCar cockpit, St. James has been a busy lady. In addition to her book, Lyn St. James: An Incredible Journey , in 2002, she is also a motivational speaker, has etablashed the Women in the Winner's Circle Foundation, and its driver academy, and works with the The Henry Ford museum, on an exhibit that documents the accomplishments of women in racing.



Sarah Fisher

It's hard to believe young Sara Fisher is already retired as a driver. I remember when, in 2000, she became the youngest woman ever to compete at Indy. She was just 19 years old, and her qualifying average was an impressive 220.237 mph. In 2003, she pushed it even farther, qualifying at 229.439, and I believe this still may be the female qualifying record.

Sara also holds the distinction of being the first female full time IndyCar Series owner/driver. (Janet Guthrie was actually the first female owner/driver, but it was for the Indy 500, and not for the full series.)

On a personal note, she was also the last racer my dad ever rooted for. He so wanted to see a lady in Victory Lane before he died. Sadly, that didn't happen. We said our final good-byes to him in the hour after the conclusion of the 2000 race.

Sarah at Indy in 2007, CC

Sarah herself retired from driving a couple of years ago. She had been a race car driver for 25 years - this lady started young!

Today, Sarah is a wife, mother of a young daughter names Zoey, and a successful Indy Car team owner. Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing is looking forward to the completion of their new multimillion dollar headquarters building in Speedway, Indiana.


Danica Patrick

has moved to NASCAR

In 2005, Danica Patrick burst onto the IndyCar scene, and took the racing world by storm. She was immediately immensely popular with the press and fans, and it was widely said that she had a good shot at the pole position as a mere rookie. While that wasn't to be, she still made racing history that day, by qualifing fourth, which was the highest ever by a female driver.

Other "firsts" that she achieved in her initial Indy 500 included clocking the fastest Indy practice speed of the month (229.880), becoming the first woman ever to lead the Greatest Spectacle in Racing (for 19 of the 200 laps) and finishing 4th in the race - the highest ever for a woman. She was on fire! She won the coveted Rookie of the Year Award for 2005, a surprise to no one. And all for this, just for starters - it was her first year in the big league of racing!

Danica's still going strong, on and off the track. Who doesn't recognize the GoDaddy Girl? And her fans, for the most part, are still non-stop fans, too!

Having Left IndyCar for stock cars, Dainca continues to secure her place in racing history. In February, 2013, she became the first woman to sit on the pole for NASCAR's crown jewel - the Daytona 500.

OK, I get why she did it... defected to NASCAR, I mean. It was a wise business decision. She's no dummy. But, as an Indy Car fan, I'm still disappointed that I won't be seeing her in the road rockets any more.

Gifts for Danica Patrick fans

Here are some ideas for gifts for Danica Fans


Recent Female Arrivals

In recent years, more females have arrived on the IndyCar scene:

Milka Duno ( first quaified in 2007)

Ana "Bia" Beatriz (first qualified in 2010)

Simona de Silvestro (first qualified in 2010)

THREE at Once

2007 marked the first time three women (Fisher, Patrick and Duno) started the race.

FOUR at Once

2010 brought another first, with four women (Fisher, Patrick, de Silvestro, and Beatriz) in the field.

Your Favorite Female Racer

Who is YOUR Favorite Femail IndyCar Driver?

See results

Women of the 2012 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race

Three women qualified for, and raced in the 2012 Indianapolis on Sunday, May 27, 2012.

Along with the three female race drivers, two men were driving for a race team with a female owner. Here's how they did:

ANA BEATRIZ finished 23rd

Ana Beatriz was 10 laps down as the winner, Dario Franchitti, crossed the finish line.

SIMONA de SILVESTRO finished 32nd

Simona de Silvestro's car number 78 was black flagged on lap 10 for failing to get up to speed. Jean Alesi was also out on that lap for not being fast enough to race had . Both cars had Lotus engines.

KATHERINE LEGGE (R) finished 22nd

British driver Katherine Legge was running one lap down at the end.

Team Owner SARA FISHER' cars finished 25th and 30th

Josef Newgarden finished 25th, while Brian Clauson's was 30th. Both cars suffered mechanical failures, on laps 46 and 161, respectively.

Bryan Clauson Crashes During Qualifying

Young Bryan Clauson, one of Sarah Fisher's two rookie drivers, crashed on the last lap of his qualifying run on pole day for the 2012 Indianapolis 500.

He is reportedly OK, but will have to make another qualifying attempt on bump day.

Women in the 2011 Indy 500

How Well Did They Do?


She LED 10 laps very late in the race, but running in fuel conservation mode and turning laps only in the teens (215 - 217,) had to give up the lead to pit for fuel. Finished 10th.

Ed Carpenter, driving for Sarah Fisher Racing, finished 11th


The first British woman ever to run in the Indy 500 was on her 198th lap when the winner crossed the yard of bricks. She finished 20th.


Finished 21st in her second Indy 500 appearance, completing 197 of the 200 lap race.


Driving with severelhy burned and bandaged hands from last week's crash, she went out early in the race, with handling problems. She finished 31st.

Winner of the 2011 Indianapolis 500: DAN WHELDON. He was running second when the 1st place car, driven by rookie J.R. Holdebrand, hit the wall in the last turn of the last lap, allowing Wheldon to take the lead and the win. It was his second win, his first being in 2005.

The world will have to wait at least one more year to see a female in Victory Lane

Simona de Silvestro's Fiery Indy Car Crash - May, 2011

This crash happened on Thursday, May 19th, TWO DAYS before pole day. The amazing thing is that the lady driving this car was back at the track on Saturday, medical clearance in hand. With her primary car torn up in the crash, she climbed into her back-up car, and turned in a qualifying run of 224.392 miles per hour. And she did this with bandaged hands, both of which were burned in the crash, one worse than the other, with 2nd degree burns.

That's some amazing lady!

Comments are welcome and appreciated. Say hello, root for your favorite lady IndyCar driver, or share a story about seeing a great female racer.

Start Your Keyboard! - And Say Hello...

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    • junebugco profile image


      5 years ago

      No female winner in 2013. Perhaps next year.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Lot of new names in the list! Certainly very courageous women in a physically demanding sport!

    • SquidooPower profile image


      6 years ago

      How will he say it was hilarious.

    • dotpattern profile image

      Pat Moire 

      7 years ago from West Village, New York City

      My best friends father went to Indi since the 1960s (or whenever it started) and he has these cool stickpins from at the race days. Gonna have to put them online - they're so excellent.

    • gamecheathub profile image


      7 years ago

      Growing up, my birthday would always be on the same weekend as the Indianapolis 500 and I used to watch the race every year. Janet Guthrie and Lyn St. James were the bomb and I thought it was really cool that they made it to the race after qualifying. What a great lens. This is cool. (ps. one of your videos has been taken down)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      They are women....hear them roar down the race track!

    • UKGhostwriter profile image


      7 years ago

      I think this is a great lens because we don't tend to salute the many female champions on our so-called 'man's world'.

    • Krafick profile image


      7 years ago

      I must confess I don't know much about them, but they do look great. In the movie Easy Virtue Larita (Jessica Biel) wins the Monaco Grand Prix but is disqualified for not being a man. I don't know if the rule still stands.

    • Monika Weise profile image

      Monika Weise 

      7 years ago from Indianapolis, IN USA

      I'll never forget that first race with Janet Guthrie. Not so much a fan of Danica, but love most of the other female racers.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Your lens is really useful, thank you very much, and welcome to visit my website picnic blanket.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 

      7 years ago

      Just goes to prove that women are very talented and can do anything they put their minds to.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great feature on these women. I did not know anything about this before but now I am interested to know more.

    • Spook LM profile image

      Spook LM 

      7 years ago

      Thoroughly enjoyed reading this and especially the starters quote when the first lady driver was allowed to race. Blessed by a sporting Angel.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      awesome lens, I like it when the girls can compete with the boys!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hello CruiseReady

      I really like racing especially open wheel racing. I think it is brilliant that there are woman racers. I would like to see much more woman racers in the future.

      I am a Formula 1 FAN! And would definitely like to see some woman F1 drivers. I reckon it would do the sport good. But hey that is just me!

      Good lens I enjoyed it.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      7 years ago from Colorado

      Nicely done! Very interesting. I always love to read about trailblazers.

    • profile image


      7 years ago


      you have a great site


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