The Indianapolis 500, also often called the Indy 500, is a popular automobile race that is held every year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana. This event is held during Memorial Day weekend, which is always at the end of May.
The very first race was in 1911, and it was won by Ray Harroun. The Indy 500 celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2011; however, the 100th running of the race wasn’t until 2016. The race consists of 200 laps for a total of 500 miles. The only time it wasn’t 500 miles was in 1916 when it was shortened to 300.
In the early years, women were strongly discouraged from participating in the Indianapolis 500. They were essentially banned for several decades. Women reporters weren’t even allowed in the pit area until 1971.
This would all change in 1977 when a woman driver qualified, and was allowed to race for the first time. In recent years, while a woman driver hasn’t won outright yet, one did make it to a third place finish.
Want to read more about women drivers in the Indianapolis 500? Click ‘Start Slideshow’ to begin reading!
Janet Guthrie was the first female drive to arrive in Indianapolis looking to qualify for the race back in 1976. However, she didn’t quite make it when it came to speed or preparation time during the qualifying round. She was finally able to pass the rookie test, but continued to have setbacks in terms of mechanical problems with her car.
During the final day of the trials, Guthrie borrowed a backup car from A.J. Foyt. She was able to reach the necessary speed with this car, though she didn’t end up qualifying for that year’s race.
Did Janet Guthrie end up qualifying to actually race? Keep reading to find out!
Guthrie returned to the Indianapolis 500 for the 1977 race, and qualified with three total starts. A year later, she would earn herself a ninth place finish in the 1978 race. Afterward, she would admit to driving with a broken wrist, which would make her finish that much more impressive.
Throughout her career in the Indianapolis 500, Guthrie would have a mixed reception amongst the media, fans, and fellow competitors. Her experience with the race was quite frustrating for her, since she saw setbacks that ranged from car troubles, and things like there being no female bathrooms in any of the areas.
Janet Guthrie’s full career ranged from 1977 to 1979. Her best start was in the 1979 race when she started at the 14th position. Her best finish was at the 1978 race when she finished in ninth place.
The next woman racer wouldn’t be until 1982. Who was it? Click ‘Next’ to find out all about her!
Desire Wilson is a former woman racer for the Indianapolis 500 who is from South Africa. She passed the driver’s test that you have to pass before you can attempt to qualify on May 11, 1982.
During the qualifying set, she managed to earn the distinction of the fastest lap ever made by a woman driver. However, she failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 due to unfortunate engine trouble. She attempted two more times, also failing to qualify. Her last attempt was in 1984.
What else has Wilson accomplished in her race-driving career? Keep reading to find out!
Wilson actually had quite the racing career in various other races not connected to the Indianapolis 500. As an example, she became the only woman driver to win one of the Formula One races. She won at the Brands Hatch during the 1980 British Aurora F1 series. Because of this, they named a grandstand after her, which was quite the honor back then.
Wilson continued to race until 1997. Many of her races were done all over the world. One of her last races was the North American Touring Car Championship in which she finished in 14th place.
There wouldn’t be another female racer for the Indy 500 until 1992. Read more about this racer by clicking ‘Next!’
Lyn St. James
There wasn’t another woman driver until 1992 when Lyn St. James qualified for the race. She was chosen to drive for Dick Simon Racing. Because they had a contract with the Ford company, she was given an older engine at first that was underpowered and not very good. However, she had issues getting the car up to speed.
The team she was with ended up securing a Chevrolet engine later that month, and she was able to get up to a speed of 220 miles per hour. St. James was given the Rookie of the Year distinction after she finished the race in 11th place when she had started the race at the 27th position that year.
How did St. James’ career with the Indy 500 go compared to others? Keep reading to find out!
Throughout her career, she managed to make seven total career starts. At one point, she qualified in sixth place in 1994. However, St. James was never able to eclipse the top ten. She was close during the 1997 race having reached the ninth position, but she was taken out when she only had 11 laps to go when another car crashed into hers.
St. James’ career lasted from 1992 until 2000. Her best start was during the 1994 race when she was placed in the sixth position for the beginning of the race. Her best finish was during the 1992 race when she completed the race in the 11th position.
There was another long break between women drivers. What year had another woman driver? Click ‘Next’ to find out!
There wouldn’t be another woman driver until the year 2000 just as St. James was ending her career. Sarah Fisher joined St. James for the 2000 Indy 500 race, making it the first time the two women would start the same year. Ever since this year, there has been at least one female starter in each year that followed.
Fisher has the distinction of being the youngest woman to compete in the Indy 500 as she was only 19-years-old when she competed in her first race. She was also the first woman to have a ten-year career in the Indianapolis 500. She had her last race in 2010.
How did Fisher measure up to her competition? Keep reading to find out!
Sarah Fisher had a total of nine career starts between 2000 and 2004, and again between 2007 and 2010. Her best career start was when she started in the ninth position for the 2002 race. Her best finish was when she finished in 17th place for the 2009 race.
As far as other distinctions, when she started the Sarah Fisher Racing team in 2008, she became the first and so far only female team owner, and the youngest owner period in the IndyCar Series. The last race for her team was in 2014.
Which female driver has the highest finish in the Indianapolis 500? Click ‘Next’ to find out the answer!
When Danica Patrick made her debut at the Indianapolis 500 in 2005, she became Rookie of the Year when she qualified in fourth place and actually led for 19 laps. She is the first woman driver to lead in laps during the Indianapolis 500, as well as the Daytona 500.
While Patrick has never won an Indy 500 race, she has come close by finishing in third place during the 2009 race. She was the first female driver to win the IndyCar Series race. She also won the award of Most Popular Driver for the IndyCar Series from 2005 to 2010.
What criticism has Patrick gotten over the years? Keep reading to find out!
Criticism that Patrick has gotten began in the beginning of her career when in 2005 Robby Gordon claimed that her comparatively lower body weight have her an unfair advantage in the race. He was, of course, meaning that her car could go faster and handle easier because of her lower body weight. CBS New York also rated her as one of the top five overrated athletes of 2014.
Danica Patrick passed her Indianapolis 500 driver’s test on May 8, 2005. She had seven career starts between 2005 and 2011. Danica’s best start was when she started at fourth place for the 2005 race, her very first race. Her best finish was when she finished in third in 2009. In her career at the Indy 500, she has led 29 laps.
Which Venezuelan woman started racing in the Indy 500 in 2007? Click ‘Next’ to find out!
Milka Duno is a Venezuelan woman who got her start in the Indianapolis 500 in 2007. On May 6, 2007, Duno completed her rookie test successfully for the Indianapolis 500 race. This running of the Indy 500 was the first time when three women were racing at the same time.
Duno qualified on May 19 of that year. She was one of two rookie drivers competing in that race. She; however, crashed out of the race on lap 65 and finished in 31st place. Duno qualified for her second Indianapolis 500 in 2008 and finished in 19th place. She raced with both Danica and Sarah for this race. All three women had accidents, but only Duno would be able to finish the race.
How did Duno compare to the other women who raced the Indy 500? Keeping reading to find out!
Duno’s best start and finish both occurred during the 2008 race. She started in at the 27th position, and finished in the 19th position. Duno had three career starts from 2007 to 2009. Her last Indianapolis 500 race was in 2010.
Duno had quite a few controversial instances throughout her career. She was criticized for not driving fast enough and blocking other drivers a number of different times. In 2008, Danica Patrick confronted her for being too slow during a practice session.
Which Swiss racer started her Indy 500 career in 2010? Click on ‘Next’ to find out!
Simona de Silvestro
Simona de Silvestro is a female Swiss racer. On May 22, 2010, Simona qualified in the 22nd position for the 2010 Indianapolis 500 race. She finished the race in 14th position, and this earned her the Rookie of the Year honors.
The year that she started, she was a part of the quartet of women racers who all competed that year. These women were Simona, Patrick, Fisher, and another woman named Ana Beatriz. In 2011, she received second-degree burns on her right hand and superficial burns on her left hand when she crashed during practice for the Indianapolis 500. She later used her backup car to help her qualify for the race in 24th place.
How does Simona rank with the other drivers? Keep reading to find out!
Simona had five career starts from 2010 through 2013, and then again in 2015. Her best start was in 2015 when she started in the 18th position. Her best finish was in 2010 when she finished in 14th place.
The last time that she raced during the Indianapolis 500 was in 2015 when she finished in the 19th position. Her best finish for her overall career was at the Atlantic Championship in 2009 when she placed in third.
Which female racer started racing for the Indy 500 the same year as de Silvestro? Click ‘Next’ to find out!
Ana Beatriz is a Brazilian racecar driver who first started racing in the Indianapolis 500 in 2010, the same year as de Silvestro. She finished the race in the 21st position after having started in the 21st position.
The following year in 2011, she started in the 32nd position, but finished in the 21st. Both times she raced for the Dreyer & Reinhold Racing team.
How did Ana measure up against the competition? Keep reading to find out!
Ana had four career starts from 2010 to 2013. Her best start position was in 2012 when she started in 13th place. Her best finish was in 2013 when she placed at 15th.
She almost completely stopped racing in 2013, only having raced in the Circuito Nova Schin Stock Car Brasil races in 2014 and 2015.
Who was the first female driver from the UK to race in the Indy 500? Click ‘Next’ to find out!
Pippa Mann started her Indianapolis 500 career in 2011. Mann qualified for the 2011 Indianapolis 500 by coming in 32nd. By doing so, she became the first British woman ever to qualify for the 500-mile race.
During the race, she moved up 12 positions and finished in 20th place. She managed to do so despite having a mechanical problem with her on-board water supply, which caused her to be severely dehydrated by the time the race was over.
Did Mann qualify for the 2012 Indy 500? Continue reading to find out!
Pippa Mann attempted to qualify for the 2012 Indy 500 but failed to do so. She had been attempting to race for the Dale Coyne Racing team. Even though she did not qualify, the team signed her up to race for them in 2013. During the 2013 Indy 500, she finished in 30th place out of the 33 spots. Mann only completed 46 out of the 200 laps.
Mann had five career starts for the Indianapolis 500. Her best start was when she started in the 30th position, and her best finish was when she finished in the 22nd position, both happening in the 2012 race. Her last race was in 2016.
Who was the last woman to start racing in the Indianapolis 500? Click ‘Next’ to find out!
Katherina Legge is the second British woman to start racing in the Indianapolis 500. She started appearing in this race in 2012. She started the race in 30th position, and finished in 22nd position.
She only raced in the Indy 500 once more in 2013. She started in the 33rd position, and finished in 26th position. 2013 would be her final year to compete in any professional race.
What race did she try to restart her racing career? Keep reading to find out!
In May 2015, Legge announced her involvement with the Grace Autosport project to enter the 2016 Indianapolis 500 race. The team was to be all-female and they intended to help promote engineering and technology as a possible career path for young girls.
The team even confirmed it had the support of the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission. These plans; however, were never realized as they ultimately decided not to attempt to qualify. Reasons are unknown.
Who were some other notable women involved in the Indianapolis 500? Click ‘Next’ to find out!
Notable Women in the Indy 500
In 1983, Amber Furst tried to attempt to enter that year’s race. However, she was ultimately denied entry because she lacked experience. She was also not allowed to participate in that year’s rookie program.
When Tony Hulman passed away in 1977, Mary Fendrich Hulman, his wife, stepped up and became chairman of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. She ended up retiring in 1988, and her daughter, Mari Hulman George took over her position until 2016.
Who are some other notable women in the Indianapolis 500? Keep reading to find out!
Four women: Pippa Mann, Ana Beatriz, Cyndie Allemann, and Mishael Abbott have participated in the Freedom 100 race that was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This happened on the Friday before the Indianapolis 500. As a part of this quartet, Beatriz had the best finish of fifth place in 2008, and Mann won the pole for the event in 2010.
There have only ever been two women drivers to attempt to qualify for NASCAR’s Brickyard 400, the other major event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 2001, Shawna Robinson attempted, but ended up failing to qualify. In 2013, Danica Patrick had the distinction of being the first woman to be a part of the Brickyard 400.
The first actual professional female competition that took place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was not actually an automobile race. It was the LPGA 500 Ladies Classic that took place in 1968. It was played at the Speedway Golf Course. This was the only time that this tournament took place at this venue.
Why are there not many more female drivers in the Indianapolis 500? Click ‘Next’ to find out!
More Women Drivers Are Needed
One of the big reasons that there are not very many women drivers for the Indianapolis 500 is because of a lack of money. Most drivers get a lot of sponsorships to help them pay for their entry and practice. Unfortunately, there just are not a lot of sponsors for women drivers. However, having said this, many men are also reporting that getting the right sponsorship is difficult for them as well. So, this may not always be the issue that causes women to not get into the sport.
Even though there have been more women racers, and it brought more women and girls to watch the races with more interest, it did not mean that many were interested in actually competing.
What are some other reasons for women not competing in professional racing? Keep reading to find out!
It is a stigma that because men are stronger, then they are a better driver in professional racing. This is, of course, not true but it takes a while for this stigma to go away. Until it does, there just will not be a lot of women willing to try racing.
Also, parents have something to do with it, too. When a son has an interest in racing, parents will encourage it if possible. If a daughter shows interest, many parents will try to stir them into a more feminine sport, such as dancing or swimming. Once we break the mold that racing is only for boys, then there will be more women racers. Things are getting better, but it will take at least another decade or two before we start seeing real change on this issue.