Pioneering Women in NASCAR
by Tom Jensen March 03, 2023
Female drivers competed at a high level all the way back to the earliest days of NASCAR.
March is Women’s History Month, a 31-day celebration that was formally recognized by the federal government back in 1987. And right now, we’re also in the midst of a year-long observance honoring NASCAR’s 75th anniversary, which makes it a perfect time to recognize some notable female racers, most from the sport’s earliest days.
In the NASCAR Cup Series, which began racing in 1949 as the Strictly Stock Division, women competed in the very first race at the old 0.75-mile Charlotte Speedway dirt track, near where Charlotte-Douglas International Airport stands today.
Let’s take a look at some of NASCAR’s female pioneers.
Although her NASCAR career was brief, what Sara Christian accomplished has more than stood the test of time. In that first race at Charlotte in 1949, she became the first female driver to compete in NASCAR’s top division, qualifying 13th and finishing 14th in a Ford owned by her husband, Frank.
In that first Strictly Stock season of 1949, Christian competed in six of the eight races. In four of the six races, she finished in the top 15. One of her most impressive performances came in September at the challenging Langhorne Speedway, a circular 1-mile track outside of Philadelphia. In a race that had a starting field of 45 drivers, including a handful of Hall of Famers, Christian dazzled with a sixth-place finish. So impressed was race winner and Hall of Famer Curtis Turner (Class of 2016) that he invited her to Victory Lane to celebrate with him.
Christian’s next race was even better, as she finished fifth at Pittsburgh’s Heidelberg Raceway. To this day, she remains the only female driver to post a top five in the Cup Series. Despite competing on only six of eight races, Christian finished 13th in points in 1949, her only full season of competition.
Sara Christian’s fire suit is on display in Heritage Speedway on the top floor of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Ethel Flock Mobley
The sister of early NASCAR racers Tim (Class of 2014), Bob and Fonty Flock, Ethel Mobley Flock competed in two NASCAR races in 1949, posting a best finish of 11th on the Daytona Beach-Road Course in July. She was best known for competing in Modified Division races.
Another female racer, Louise Smith raced 11 times in the Cup Series between 1949 and 1952, with a best finish of 16th at Langhorne Speedway in 1949. Interestingly, the 1949 Daytona NASCAR event was the first to feature three female racers – Christian, Mobley and Smith – while the same three drivers also raced at Langhorne in 1949, the last NASCAR race with three female drivers.
Known as “The Fastest Woman in Racing,” Vicki Wood never competed in a Cup Series race, but in the 1950s, she set speed records on Daytona Beach during NASCAR time trials. In 1955, Wood finished third overall in the Class 4 (Unlimited Displacement) category for U.S. Stock Production Passenger Cars. Wood drove her Chrysler 300 to a two-way average speed on the beach of 125.838 mph. Four years later at the invitation of NASCAR founder and chairman William H.G. France (Class of 2010), Wood set a female speed record at the newly opened Daytona International Speedway, where she ran a lap of more than 130 mph in a Pontiac.
With a resume full of firsts, Janet Guthrie truly broke barriers in her racing career. The first female to compete in a NASCAR superspeedway race, Guthrie finished 15th in the 1976 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The following year, Guthrie became the first female racer to qualify for the Daytona 500, where she finished 12th, and the Indianapolis 500. In 19 Cup Series starts in 1977, Guthrie finished in the top 12 a total of 10 times, with a career-best finish of sixth at Bristol Motor Speedway. In 1978, Guthrie finished ninth in the Indianapolis 500, while in 1980, she was 11th in the Daytona 500.
Janet Guthrie’s World 600 qualifying plaque is on display in Heritage Speedway at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
From 2012-2018, Danica Patrick competed in 191 Cup Series races, posting seven top-10 finishes, including a best of sixth at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2014. In 2013, Patrick became the first female driver to win a pole in a Cup Series race when she qualified No. 1 for the season-opening Daytona 500, the biggest race on the NASCAR schedule. In that race, Patrick became the first female driver to lead a lap in a Cup Series race under green-flag conditions and finished the race in eighth place.
Danica Patrick’s 2013 Daytona 500 pole award is on display in Heritage Speedway at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Plan a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and purchase tickets at NASCARHall.com/tickets