Girl Power: Influential Women in Racing

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The spotlight on female racecar drivers is shining brighter than ever, but this is not a new phenomenon. Women have been and continue to be involved in all aspects of the racing industry, whether as drivers, team owners, or pit crew members. From green flag to checkered, these are some of the most influential women in racing history.

Janet Guthrie

Janet Guthrie/Image Credit: Automotive Hall of Fame

It was tough being a female racer in the 1970s; just ask Janet Guthrie. In her career as an IndyCar and NASCAR driver, Janet often had to deal with sponsors who doubted her abilities and a lack of respect from other drivers. But she proved why she belonged in the sport, becoming the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. She was also the first woman to lead a lap in NASCAR’s top series. Her trailblazing career even includes a 9th-place finish in the 1978 Indy 500 with a broken wrist.

Sarah Fisher

Sarah Fisher at a Formula 1 demonstration/Image Credit: W Series

Sarah Fisher grew up in the racing world and began driving quarter midgets at the age of five. It wouldn’t be long before she made her IndyCar debut at only 19. Sarah was breaking barriers and records from the beginning, being the youngest woman to run the Indianapolis 500. She was also the first woman to earn a pole position in a major American open-wheel race. In the latter part of her career, Sarah traded her racing helmet for a headset as she became a team owner. Sarah Fisher Racing was the starting point for future two-time series champion Josef Newgarden.

Brehanna Daniels

Brehanna Daniels at the 2021 Coca-Cola 600/Image Credit: Brehanna Daniels

Being a NASCAR pit crew member requires some serious muscle. Having to carry 50-pound tires, 90 pounds of fuel, and make all those changes to the car in under 15 seconds calls for strength, speed, and balance. Brehanna Daniels, currently a tire changer in the NASCAR Cup Series, developed those skills as a college athlete, playing basketball at Norfolk State University. Brehanna is the first Black woman on a Cup crew. She was also part of the first female duo to pit a car in the Daytona 500, joining fellow NASCAR Drive for Diversity member Breanna O’Leary.

Lyn St. James

Lyn St. James at Indianapolis Motor Speedway/Image Credit: Lyn St. James

It’s never too late to be a rookie at something, and certainly never too late to be named the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year. Lyn St. James won that honor in 1992 at the age of 45, finishing 11th in her first race at the historic track. She is the first woman to win this award and the only rookie in that race to still be running at the finish. Prior to her stint in IndyCar, she was a successful sports car driver with two class victories in the prestigious 24 Hours of Daytona.

Kelley Earnhardt Miller

Kelley Earnhardt Miller/Image Credit: JR Motorsports

Kelley Earnhardt Miller’s name may sound familiar if you know anything about NASCAR. Along with her brother, longtime Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kelley co-owns NASCAR Xfinity Series team JR Motorsports. She serves as the business manager of JRM, overseeing both its racing and management teams. She also works very closely with Dale on his personal business ventures. Besides being one of the most recognizable and influential executives in the sport, Kelley was also involved in bringing Danica Patrick to NASCAR in 2011.

Paretta Autosport

Beth Paretta and Roger Penske at Indy 500 Announcement/Image Credit: Paretta Autosport

The women behind the 2021 Indianapolis 500 entry for Paretta Autosport are no strangers to the world of racing. Owner Beth Paretta was the Director of Marketing and Operations for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ performance division, overseeing such achievements as Dodge’s NASCAR Cup Series championship in 2012. Driver Simona de Silvestro ran 4 full seasons in IndyCar and is one of only three women to earn a podium finish in the series. Joining these amazing women are a majority-female pit crew and an all-female front office.
These women and many others have proven that great things happen when you combine horsepower with Girl Power. Thanks to these impactful ladies, women continue to make strides in motorsports – breaking records and winning races.

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Kasey McNerney

Kasey McNerney

Kasey McNerney is a native of Phoenix, Arizona, and inherited her interest in cars from her dad. She previously worked at Phoenix Raceway, where she assisted with communications for NASCAR events. Currently, Kasey writes automotive content for BestRide and works with auto and auto-adjacent businesses to strengthen their social media presence.