In a Motorsport that is primarily dominated by males, it can be easy to forget the greatest female NASCAR drivers – past and present.
There have been many female NASCAR drivers across the top three NASCAR series and a couple of career paths that these fierce females have taken in order to end up in stock-car racing. For example, Danica Patrick and Janet Guthrie all transitioned from different sorts of racing. Whereas the likes of Jennifer Jo Cobb took the more “conventional” route of racing stock-cars throughout her younger years and progressed from there.
Regardless of how these wonder women all ended up racing in NASCAR, they are definitely worth mentioning, remembering, and honouring.
When looking at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, there are two names that stand out especially. The first is Danica Patrick. In five years of driving for NASCAR, she has had 173 career starts and counting. Through these, she’s had seven top ten finishes and one pole – the only pole ever achieved by a woman in the premier series in modern times.
Her highest points finish was 24th on 2015 and 2016. Previously, she had run seven full seasons in IndyCar before receiving a full-time opportunity with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2013. Danica is also the first woman to win an IndyCar race (Indy Japan 300 in 2008), and she owns the highest finish by a female (Indianapolis 500), finishing third in 2009. For Danica, gender isn’t a factor in her road to success:
“I’ve never seen myself as a ‘girl driver.’ I’m just a driver.”
Danica continues to work hard, both on and off the track. Her perseverance and attitude towards her role in NASCAR is something to be admired, and she is an incredible inspiration for females.
Another notable figure from the premier series is Janet Guthrie. She became the first female race car driver to compete in a NASCAR Winston Cup Stock Car race, the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500. She had 33 starts and five top ten finishes. She finished 29th at Indianapolis, 12th at Daytona and her best finish was sixth place at Bristol. Two years later, she finished 9th at Indianapolis and set the fastest time of the day… Twice.
Unfortunately, funding ran out for Janet, but her achievements and importance to NASCAR have been aptly recognised when she was named to the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1980 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006. Her participation, determination and hard work all undoubtedly contributed to making it easier for female drivers to get into racing.
At a time when women’s rights were being fought for, Janet Guthrie broke many rules upon her emergence into NASCAR. On being asked if female drivers were as strong as their male counterparts her response was simply:
“You drive the car, you don’t carry it.”
Punchy words from a remarkable pioneer of a woman.
When looking at the NASCAR Xfinity and Truck Series, Jennifer Jo Cobb is the woman to focus on. She started racing in 1991, but her breakthrough happened in 2002 when she went on to make 9 started in the ARCA racing series. Two years later, she made her NASCAR debut in the Xfinity Busch Series and finished 43rd due to crashing on lap 2. Jennifer made 29 starts and her best points finish was 29th in 2011.
One year previously, in 2010 – she announced that she would focus on and run full-time in the Truck Series. It didn’t take long for her to rank as the highest female points finisher in history in any of the NASCAR Series. She achieved 17th place in her own No. 10 Chevrolet Silverado Truck after she purchased the assets from Rick Crawford in the same year. Following on from this, she continued to compete in the Truck Series for her team – Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing.
To date, she has made 141 starts in the Truck Series and has earned one top 10 finish and her best points finish was 16th in 2014. She continues to take part and we certainly haven’t seen the last of this bold woman just yet. Unlike Danica Patrick and Janet Guthrie who don’t let their gender influence their actions, Jennifer told NASCAR.com that she actually uses her gender as inspiration to push harder to achieve her goals:
“I, personally, am motivated by the fact that I will have to work a little harder to overcome being different. It makes me feel empowered to accomplish something that nobody expected me to do.”
Determination doesn’t discriminate based on gender. However, in a predominantly male sport – it’s great to see females who are there to prove that when everyone is out on the racetrack and in their vehicles – it’s every driver for themselves. It’s amazing to see these women with such grit, dedication, speed and passion for something they want to succeed in. Additionally, it’s also impressive to see how each of these women have adopted slightly different approaches to reach the same end goal – and that’s to be fast females.