11 Legendary Ladies of Motorsports
The pioneers of female racing — these women made history by taking on a male-dominated world at full throttle, impressing and inspiring all who watched. Not only did they have guts for being the only females, but those vintage cars at speed were no joke. Unlike driving a modern day car, they took serious power to control and were extremely dangerous. Hats off to each of these 11 inspiring leading ladies.
1. Genevra Delphine Mudge
She's the "Eve" of women on wheels — the first female to earn a driver's license. That's a big deal! Genevra Delphine Mudge is also recognized as the first female racing driver, starting her career in 1899, during the infancy of motor-driven vehicles. Lead the way, Gen.
2. Sara Christian
When NASCAR's inaugural race took place in 1949, Sara Christian was there with all those men at Charlotte Speedway — the first woman to race in NASCAR. She went on to compete in six of eight races that year, finishing in the top five at Pittsburgh. You go, girl. Way to take ownership.
3. Arlene Hiss
(Photo: Reynolds Racing)
When this feminist schoolteacher became the first woman to race in the Indy Car championship, the men couldn't handle it. Fortunately, Arlene Hiss didn't let the misogyny deter her from becoming the first female Indy racer in history in 1976.
4. Janet Guthrie
Janet Guthrie's motorsports career was filled historic "firsts," including being the first female driver to race in the Daytona 500 in 1977 and the one who made the guys at Indianapolis 500 re-think their "Gentlemen, start your engines" kick-off in 1977. This, among other notable achievements, secured her a place in the Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 1980 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006. Even her stance in this photo is epic.
Janet's autobiography is a great read for any gearhead or history buff, find it on her website.
5. Lella Lombardi
Lella Lombardi turned heads and received nods of approval from the male-dominated Formula One world as she competed in 17 Grand Prix races between 1974 and 1976. As only the second woman in history to race in the F1 World Championship, she also remains the first and only woman score any points in F1. We are not worthy.
Read more about Formula One's First Lady in our full length feature article.
6. Pat Moss
(Photo: Steve McKelvie)
Begun in 1953, Pat Moss' rally career was so impressive, the fact that her brother was Formula One legend Stirling Moss is just a side note. Look at her posing with her car after finishing in second place at the 1960 Alpine Rally. Let all those trophies do the talking. This woman's a big deal.
7. Lyn St. James
(Photo: Road and Track)
Lyn St. James retired in 2001 after breaking ground for female racers in a number of ways during her long and lustrous 28-year career. The 1992 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year was the first woman to win that award and one of only a handful of women to ever qualify for the race (sixth in 1994). She's both a badass and class act, a truly inspiring person.
8. Denise McCluggage
(Photo: Automotive Hall of Fame)
The Automotive Hall of Famer is unquestionably one of the greats. Plain and simple, Denise McCluggage won many races, including a class win at the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally and a first-place finish in the GT category at the 1961 Sebring 12 Hours — helping further the movement toward gender equality in motorsports. We salute you.
9. Shirley Muldowney
Shirley Muldowney took the drag racing world by storm and totally owned it, becoming the first National Hot Rod Assocation (NHRA) female driver and going on to win a whopping 18 national events before her retirement in 2003. Not only was she the first woman to win the NHRA Top Fuel Championship, but she was also the first person ever to win it three times (1977, 1980 and 1982). Three!
10. Hellé Nice
Before Mariette Hélène Delangle became a famous Grand Prix racer, she was a cabaret dancer with the stage name "Hélle Nice." A skiing accident in 1928 ended her dancing career, but by the next year she was in the driver's seat setting a world land speed record. After joining Ettore Bugatti's racing team in 1931, another first, Hélle was the only woman on the Grand Prix circuit for several years. All hail, "The Bugatti Queen."
Read all about Hélle's adventurous life in racing in the book The Buggatti Queen (link to Amazon).
11. Elfrieda Mais
Elfrieda Mais was one of the first female racing drivers in history, during a time when women weren't allowed to compete against men; nevertheless, she found a way to race and became a champion in speed trials. Her adrenaline-laced career helped feed the daredevil in Elfrieda, which involved airplane wing walking and wild stunt driving. She died in 1934 at the age of 42 from a stunt-gone-wrong, driving through a wall of fire. Here's a woman who lived life to the very fullest until the very end.