Racing She-roes

When Bertha Benz went on the first long-distance automobile trip in 1888 (with her sons), the wife of Carl Benz (the Benz of Mercedes Benz) demonstrated that automobile travel was practical. Wide-scale adoption of automobiles followed her daring adventure (which she undertook without informing her husband). Today, women not only drive, they also race cars professionally. Match the race car driver with her accomplishment:

____ 1. The first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.

____ 2. In 2008, the first woman to win a major league open-wheel race in a North American Series held in Japan.

____ 3. The first woman licensed to compete by the National Hot Rod Association (1965).

A. Shirley Muldowney
B. Janet Guthrie
C. Danica Patrick

For over forty years, Shirley Muldowney has pursued her passions for speed and competition, which she discovered as a teenager. She raced in 1963 and 1964, but turned the racing world upside down in 1965 when she was licensed to compete by the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). Muldowney was a drag racer and she was the first woman to compete in the Top Gas category. When the Top Gas category was eliminated, she became a "funny car" driver and won her first national event in 1971. The category above funny cars was Top Fuel and she became the first woman to be licensed to compete at that level. In 1975, she became the first woman to advance to the finals in a Top Fuel competition and, later that year, the first woman to break the 5-second barrier. The next year, she became the first woman to win an NHRA national event. But she wasn't done yet. In 1977, Muldowney became the first woman in any fuel class category to be bestowed with the NRHA Professional Series Crown. Also that year, the U.S. House of Representatives honored her with an Outstanding Achievement Award. Muldowney continued to race, win, and receive honors until a horrific crash in 1984. But even that didn't stop her. She was back racing in 1986, winning and setting new records. She continued to race until 2003.

Muldowney paved the way for Janet Guthrie who became the first woman to qualify for and compete in the Indianapolis 500. The first woman to compete in a NASCAR Winston Cup stock race in 1976, she made further racing history in 1977 when she competed in the Indianapolis 500 (where she was named the Top Rookie) as well as the Daytona 500 (also the first woman). She returned in 1978 to both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500, placing in both. Her ninth-place finish at Indy in 1978 remained the best finish for a woman until 2005. In 2006, she was named to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. The Smithsonian Institution displays her helmet and driving suit.

In 2005, Danica Patrick finished fourth at the Indianapolis 500 and displaced Janet Guthrie as the woman with the best finish. That historic finish also resulted in her being the first woman to lead laps and to score a top-five finish. When she was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated shortly thereafter, that was the first time in 20 years that a race car driver had graced the front of the magazine. In 2008, Patrick won a major league open-wheel race in a North American Series held in Japan, the first woman to achieve that distinction. Again, she appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, only the fourth race car driver to have been featured twice. Patrick began competing in go-karts when she was young and continues to set new milestones today. A celebrity, as well as a race car driver, Patrick has been featured on magazine covers and in thirteen Super Bowl ads, more than any other celebrity.

Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. These race car drivers are among the more than 850 women profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. We salute their accomplishments, their persistence, and their tenacity in overcoming obstacles.

(Answers 1-B, 2-C, 3-A)