Janet Guthrie, Open Wheel, Class of 2021
Janet Guthrie is a legend not only for her trailblazing accomplishments on the racetrack, but for her enduring impact off the track as well.
A well-educated pioneer in a motor sports world dominated by men, whether competing on the track, turning wrenches in the garage or walking into boardrooms to secure sponsorship, Guthrie changed the game forever.
In the era in which Guthrie, a former flight instructor and an aerospace engineer, showed up to race, women were rarely seen in the garage area, sometimes even banned from being there. Janet persevered and didn't let the stereotypes and negativity affect her passion and love for racing.
And she didn't just knock down barriers in one series, but across two major disciplines, NASCAR and IndyCar, competing in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500, where she was the top finishing rookie, in 1977. Also scoring two class wins in the 12 Hours of Sebring, her versatility was undeniable.
The fact that she excelled in two of racing's top disciplines in this country was extraordinary. Different people, different backgrounds, different opinions, not to mention the difference in the race cars themselves. She wasn't afraid to go where SHE wanted to go, no matter what people may have thought. The pressure she must have felt to succeed and not fail, to prove herself, must have felt like the weight of the world. But she always seemed so calm and confident.
I was fortunate enough to meet Janet a couple times during my years of covering IndyCar and the Indy 500, but my fondest memory came one February when I was on a plane from Denver to Aspen to cover the Winter X Games and Janet was sitting across from me. I said hello and we ended up chatting about women in racing and I may have asked her opinion about different women who were currently racing — she wasn't bashful about sharing her opinion and I thoroughly enjoyed our chat.
Guthrie's dedication to her craft and her unflinching strength of character paved the way for women like Danica Patrick, Lyn St. James and Sarah Fisher, as well as for women in motor sports media like me.
As I moved into broadcasting, there were several women I looked up to, who, like Janet, had carved paths for others to follow. Suzy Kolber, Hannah Storm and Katie Couric are ladies I looked up to. They came across as strong, intelligent women who weren't afraid to show their personalities, all while owning the set or show they were on. They may not have been the first in ways like Janet was, but they certainly put themselves in meaningful roles in a field dominated by men. I took a liking to their work and started to craft my dreams and ideas and a style of my own.
Janet Guthrie is a shining example of what hard work, determination and passion can do for your career, especially when the odds are stacked against you. Her final NASCAR race was the 1980 Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, but her impact continues to this day and will remain an enduring source of inspiration for generations to come.
By Jamie Little
Jamie Little is the first woman to serve as a television play- by-play announcer for a national motor sports series (ARCA Menards Series, FOX Sports, 2021), and the first woman to work the pits for both the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 national television audiences.