6 Racers That Broke Barriers Who You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
6. Rajo Jack
Long before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Baseball, Rajo Jack was a familiar West Coast driver and frequent race winner. Refusing to let racism against his African-American lineage stop him, Rajo Jack built his own cars and won races in stock car, midget and almost every other type of auto racing from the late 20’s to the early ‘50’s. His excellence on the track and in the garage won over most of his fellow drivers, many of whom would back him up when the petty racism of the time would show it’s ugly face. Rajo Jack didn’t break barriers- he drove right over them. In 2002 he was voted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame. Click here to read more about Rajo Jack in our Driving Line racer profile.
5. Genevra Delphine Mudge
Genevra only looks delicate. Many consider her to be the first female racing driver, and she goes way back to the first years of motor-driven vehicles. Starting around 1899, she cruised the horsepoop and garbage strewn streets of New York City in a Waverly Electric- yes, a working electric car at the turn of the century. She was the first woman to earn a driver’s license and later took up auto racing in a gasoline-powered Locomobile.
4. Arlene Hiss
Most fans think of Janet Guthrie as being the first woman to race Indy cars, having qualified for the 500 in 1977. The truth is, Arlene Hiss beat her by one year. Wife of driver Mike Hiss, Arlene was a schoolteacher with a heavy right foot and feminist symbolism sewn into her driving suit. She made the field at the 1976 Phoenix 150 in a Gurney Eagle and finished 14th. The men folk didn’t like it all and there was much squawking about racing being a ‘man’s game’ and how women should know their place. Guthrie would feel the full force of this misogyny a year later at Indy.
3. Elfrieda Mais
Mais was born in Indianapolis in 1910, one year before the first 500-mile race. A wild woman from the start, Elfrieda became an airplane stuntwoman and wingwalker. Trading in wings for tires, she was racing cars by 1912. Forbidden to compete directly against men, she became a champion in speed trials- racing against the clock- and gave in to her daredevil compulsions by performing as a stunt driver.
2. Sara Christian
Being the first woman to race in NASCAR, Sara impressed everyone by running in six of the eight 1949 races, making decent results, including a respectable 5th place finish at Pittsburg. But it’s the sneer on her face that makes it for me. Night racing. Leather belt holding the door shut. Rock-smashed window. No F*#*s Given.
1. Mario Andretti
It seems like we’ve all known and admired Mario our whole lives. Considered the best all-around driver in history, this Italian-born, Pennsylvania- raised, dirt-track trained multiple champion won major races and titles in all major categories- Indy Car, Formula One, Endurance and NASCAR. It is his upset win at the ’67 Daytona 500, NASCAR’s biggest spectacle, that gets Mario on this list. NASCAR was still an almost exclusively SOUTHERN series and those good ole’ boys were none too pleased when that ‘eye-talian fella dove in and snatched their biggest prize, and they weren’t afraid to show it. The anti-foreigner bias was something Super Mario was able to shrug-off early in his ascent to greatness and it wasn’t long before his genius behind the wheel made him a force that couldn’t be ignored.