25 Female Race Car Drivers That Forever Changed NASCAR
The road to acceptance for women in motorsports has been a bit bumpy. Male counterparts have been, shall we say, less than accommodating. Corporate sponsors were reluctant to write big checks. Media coverage trended toward sexist or patronizing. After all, trailblazing at more than 200 mph isn’t for the faint of heart.
The road has opened up, however. When Janet Guthrie broke the gender barrier at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1977, she showed future generations that anything was possible. Today, there are women racing successfully at every level of motorsport. And with initiatives like The W Series — which bills itself as “the ground-breaking women’s racing series with a serious ambition: to change the face of motorsport” — dreams are being transformed into reality.
Yet while the sport’s future stars are revving up for the green flag, the bigger race is far from finished. If we've learned anything from these 25 greatest female race car drivers, it's that Victory Lane isn’t a destination, it’s a state of mind.
25. Hailie Deegan
Born: July 18, 2001
Originally from: Temecula, California
Debut season: 2018
Career highlights: Three-time Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series champion (2013, ’15, ’16), Lucas Oil Off Road Driver of the Year (2016), NASCAR Diversity Young Racer award (2017), ARCA Series Rookie of the Year (2020)
What Makes Deegan a Car Racing Great
The young and ultra-talented Southern Californian has managed to balance a burgeoning racing career with the demands of high school, going so far as to receive her diploma during driver introductions before a 2018 NASCAR K&N Pro Series race. Her focus and dedication were rewarded with a full-time ride in the NASCAR Truck Series in 2021, a move that positioned her as one of NASCAR’s next generation of stars.
Deegan is the daughter of motocross legend Brian Deegan, the 14-time X Games medalist. She got her first motorized go-kart for her eighth birthday and grew up riding dirt bikes and racing off-road. Deegan transitioned to asphalt in 2016 to pursue a career in stock car racing.
24. Tammy Jo Kirk
Born: May 6, 1962
Originally from: Dalton, Georgia
Debut season: 1991
Career highlights: Registered 37 top 10 finishes and two poles in NASCAR All Pro Series, NASCAR All Pro Series Most Popular Driver (1994), Snowball Derby Winner (1994)
What Makes Kirk a Car Racing Great
Kirk was the first woman to race in NASCAR’s Truck Series. She started her career riding flat-track motorcycles, making history as the first woman to reach an AMA Grand National Championship final (Knoxville Half Mile, 1983). She traded two wheels for four and quickly moved through several NASCAR divisions, culminating with a dramatic win at the highly coveted 1994 Snowball Derby.
With the victory, Kirk became just the second woman to win a NASCAR Touring Series event. That led to the historic truck start in 1997, driving a Geoff Bodine-owned, pink-liveried Ford at Walt Disney Speedway. She qualified ninth and finished 24th. Kirk finished the season seventh in the Rookie of the Year standings.
23. Denise McCluggage
Born: Jan. 20, 1927
Died: May 6, 2015
Originally from: El Dorado, Kansas
Debut season: 1954
Career highlights: Only female journalist and driver inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame (2001), only female driver in the Sebring Raceway Hall of Fame,Monte Carlo Rally (first, 1964), 12 Hours of Sebring GT class (first, 1961)
What Makes McCluggage a Car Racing Great
Her trademark was a white helmet with pink dots. Everything about McCluggage, on and off the track, was distinctive. As a newspaper writer and a skilled driver, she campaigned passionately for gender equality in racing. Her wins at the Monte Carlo Rally (1964) and the 12 Hours of Sebring (1961) place her in elite company.
She raced with the great Stirling Moss of England; Phil Hill, the only American-born driver to win a Formula One title; and Carroll Shelby, who raced and designed the famous cars that bore his name. She also drove for Briggs Cunningham’s renowned team and for factory-backed efforts by General Motors, Ford, Rover and Porsche. She was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2001.
22. Milka Duno
Born: April 22, 1972
Originally from: Caracas, Venezuela
Debut season: 1996
Career highlights: Three-time Indianapolis 500 qualifier, competed in 43 IndyCar races, 24 Hours of Daytona (second in 2007), Vice-Champion Driver in the LMP 675 Class of the American Le Mans Series (2001), Panoz GT Series Champion (2000)
What Makes Duno a Car Racing Great
The former naval engineer (she has four master’s degrees) became the first woman in history to win a major sports car race in North America, taking the checkered flag at the 2004 Grand Prix of Miami. Perhaps more impressive than the win, however, was finishing second in the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2007. It marked the highest finish by a female driver in the 45-year history of the race and the highest finish ever by a female driver at Daytona International Speedway.
Duno qualified for the Indy 500 from 2007 through 2009. She finished 19th in 2008, making her the highest-finishing female, ahead of Danica Patrick (22nd) and Sarah Fisher (24th). Her career included a number of NASCAR events.
21. Ethel Mobley
Born: March 8, 1914
Died: June 26, 1984
Originally from: Fort Payne, Alabama
Debut season: 1949
Career highlights: Shares distinction of NASCAR’s second female driver with Louise Smith, made more than 100 NASCAR Modified starts
What Makes Mobley a Car Racing Great
The sister of the legendary Flock brothers significantly added to the family legacy by racing in more than 100 NASCAR Modified events and making two starts in the top-flight Cup division. Mobley squared off against her famous brothers (along with all-time greats Louise Smith and Sara Christian) in NASCAR’s second official race on July 10, 1949, at the Daytona Beach and Road Course. She finished 11th, beating two of her brothers.
Mobley and Smith share the distinction of being the second women to race in NASCAR. In 1949, Mobley became the first woman to race against men in the state of Georgia. A headline from the Macon Telegraph & News read, “Stock Car Event Draws Large Field; Woman Driver to Battle Men.”
20. Sabine Schmitz
Born: May 14, 1969
Died: March 16, 2021
Originally from: Adenau, West Germany
Debut season: 1998
Career highlights: 24 Hours Nürburgring — two-timewinner with BMW (1996-97), third with Porsche (2008), ninth with Porsche (2011), sixty with Porsche (2012), VLN championship of Endurance Races winner (1998)
What Makes Schmitz a Car Racing Great
The affable Schmitz was known as “The Queen of the Ring,” courtesy of two victories in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring and an encyclopedic knowledge of the track. Schmitz notched the wins in consecutive years (1996-97) behind the wheel of a BMW M3. She grew up near the demanding 13-mile track and had mastered it like few others, recording more than 20,000 laps of the wooded, twisting circuit.
Her first laps there were behind the wheel of her mother’s car — without permission or even a license! She became a regular on the popular British TV show, “Top Gear,” developing a dedicated fanbase for her trademark wit and skill behind the wheel. She passed away from cancer at 51, prompting track officials to release this statement: “The Nürburgring has lost its most famous female racing driver.”
19. Lella Lombardi
Born: March 26, 1941
Died: March 3, 1992
Originally from: Frugarolo, Italy
Debut season: 1974
Career highlights: Most starts of any woman in Formula One, only woman to score points in Formula One,Spanish Grand Prix (sixth place, 1975), Italian Formula Three runner-up (1968), Italian Formula 850 Series champion (1970), Formula Ford Mexico champion (1971)
What Makes Lombardi a Car Racing Great
Her legacy — the only woman to score points in Formula One — stands tall. Yet the achievement by the diminutive 5-foot-2 driver drew little notice. When Maria Grazia “Lella” Lombardi climbed out of her car at the end of the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix the sixth-place finish wasn’t celebrated. “I don’t think it dawned on me,” she said later.
Lombardi leads all ladies in F1, with 12 starts for the respected car makers of Brabham, March and Williams. In 1974, Lombardi became the first woman to compete in the Race of Champions. She showcased her skill in NASCAR, too, driving in the 1977 Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Following her death at 50 from cancer, a bust was dedicated in her birthplace of Frugarolo, Italy.
18. Jennifer Jo Cobb
Born: June 12, 1973
Originally from: Kansas City, Kansas
Debut season: 1991
Career highlights: 31 NASCAR Xfinity starts, one top-10 NASCAR Truck Series finish, named among “Top 10 Most Powerful Women in NASCAR” by Fox Sports
What Makes Cobb a Car Racing Great
With more than 200 NASCAR Truck Series starts and more than a decade as a team owner, Cobb has accomplished more than any other woman in the business of racing. Her finish of 17th in season points in NASCAR’s Truck Series in 2020 was the highest for a woman in NASCAR's three top-tier divisions. Her best race result occurred in 2011, finishing sixth at Daytona International Speedway. In 2020, she led 16 laps at Talladega Superspeedway.
Her bid to return to Talladega in a Cup car, and become only the second woman to run in all three of NASCAR’s nationwide series, did not receive approval in 2021. The controversial move prompted calls for NASCAR to revamp its licensing system.
17. Pippa Mann
Born: Aug. 11, 1983
Originally from: London, England
Debut season: 2003
Career highlights: Indy Lights win at Kentucky Speedway (2010), first British woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 (2011), first female driver to win a pole position at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2010), fastest lap turned by female driver at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2017)
What Makes Mann a Car Racing Great
England’s Pippa Mann was the first woman to break the lofty 230 mph barrier at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That mark (230.103 mph), set in 2017, makes her the fastest female driver in the history of “The Brickyard.”
She’s qualified and raced in seven Indy 500s, the first time in 2011. She placed 24th in 2014, followed by a 22nd-place finish in 2015. Mann topped her previous career-high of 20th a year later (set in her debut in 2011) with an 18th-place finish, which she bettered in 2017, coming home 17th. Her best finish in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is 16th in 2019.
16. Sara Christian
Born: August 25, 1918
Died: March 7, 1960
Originally from: Dahlonega, Georgia
Debut season: 1949
Career highlights: Georgia Automobile Racing Hall of Fame (2004), recorded two top 10 finishes (1949-’50), voted Woman Driver of the Year by the United States Drivers' Association (1949)
What Makes Christian a Car Racing Great
Christian stands alone as the first woman driver in NASCAR history. She drove in the first race for the fledgling stock car association on June 19, 1949, on the dirt track at Charlotte Speedway. Later, Christian finished 18th at the Daytona Beach and Road Course, alongside fellow female pioneers Ethel Mobley and Louise Smith.
Christian made seven starts over two seasons in what was known as the Strictly Stock series, driving a Ford prepared by her husband Frank (businessman, car-builder, bootlegger). Her best finish of fifth came in 1949 at Heidelberg Raceway in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After finishing sixth (in a field of 45!) at Langhorne Speedway, Hall of Famer Curtis Turner invited her to join him in Victory Lane.
15. Brittany Force
Born: July 8, 1986
Originally from: Yorba Linda, California
Debut season: 2013
Career highlights: U.S. Nationals Top Fuel No. 1 Qualifier (2019),National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Top Fuel champion (2017), first woman to win the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, NHRA Rookie of the Year (2013)
What Makes Force a Car Racing Great
The daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force clearly was born in the fast lane. How else could she be so composed at 330 mph? Force holds the distinction of being only the second woman to claim the coveted NHRA Top Fuel title — drag racing’s pinnacle — following in the footsteps of the great Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney. In 2016, she became the first woman to win the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals.
A graduate of Cal State-Fullerton (she holds an English degree and a teaching credential), Force is one of three racing siblings, following in the footsteps of older sisters Courtney and Ashley. “It never crossed my mind that they would be drivers,” their father said.
14. Shawna Robinson
Born: Nov. 30, 1964
Originally from: Des Moines, Iowa
Debut season: 1984
Career highlights: Only woman to compete in all three of NASCAR’s nationwide series,first woman to win a pole in NASCAR Xfinity Series (Atlanta, 1994), second woman to compete in the Daytona 500 (2002), NASCAR Dash Series Rookie of the Year (1988), NASCAR Dash Series Most Popular Driver (1988-89)
What Makes Robinson a Car Racing Great
The youngest child from a large Midwest racing family became the first woman to win a NASCAR Touring Series event: the Charlotte/Daytona Dash Series race on June 10, 1988. She moved up the ladder and, in 1994, became the first woman to win a pole position in the NASCAR Busch Series, setting an Atlanta Motor Speedway track record (174.330 mph).
That led to NASCAR’s elite Cup level. Robinson qualified for seven Cup Series races in 2002, highlighted by a start in the Daytona 500, making her only the second female driver to achieve that feat. “I'm an athlete,” she said. “I've always wanted to compete, and I want to win.”
13. Simona de Silvestro
Born: Sept. 1, 1988
Originally from: Thun, Switzerland
Debut season: 2010
Career highlights: IndyCar Series top finish of second (Houston, 2013), IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year runner-up (2010)
What Makes de Silvestro a Car Racing Great
The five-time Indy 500 starter owns a top finish of 14th on the historic 2.5-mile oval. She’s one of just nine women to compete in the race, along with Janet Guthrie, Lyn St. James, Sarah Fisher, Danica Patrick, Milka Duno, Ana Beatriz, Katherine Legge and Pippa Mann. De Silvestro made 68 IndyCar Series starts through 2020, with a best finish of second in Houston (2013).
In four full-time seasons (2010-13) she registered a career-best 13th in the championship standings. Since 2019, she’s been a test driver with Porsche’s renowned sports car program. For Indy 2021, she partnered with Paretta Autosport, the series’ first all-female team. “We’re going to inspire more young girls to follow their dreams,” de Silvestro said.
12. Patty Moise
Born: Dec. 29, 1960
Originally from: Jacksonville, Florida
Debut season: 1981
Career highlights: First woman to lead a NASCAR Busch race (Road Atlanta, 1987), first woman to win a NASCAR Busch qualifying race (Talladega Superspeedway, 1988), four top 10 NASCAR Busch Series finishes
What Makes Moise a Car Racing Great
The daughter of a stock car racer, Moise drove in five NASCAR Cup races (1987-89), and 133 NASCAR Busch Series races (1986-98). In 1995, she recorded the best result by a woman in the NASCAR Busch Series, finishing seventh at Talladega Superspeedway. She had a unique affinity for the intimidating Alabama track, setting a closed-course women’s speed record of 216.607 mph there in a specially prepared Buick. She topped the mark in 1990, with a speed of 217.498 mph.
She drove her last NASCAR race in 1998. Moise married fellow NASCAR driver Elton Sawyer in 1990. Today, she tends to the couple’s thoroughbred horses at their ranch in North Carolina.
11. Katherine Legge
Born: July 12, 1980
Originally from: Surrey, England
Debut season: 2001
Career highlights: Member of the Women in Motorsport Commission of the FIA, three Atlantic Championship race wins, best finish of 22nd in the Indianapolis 500 (2012), Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona second place (2018)
What Makes Legge a Car Racing Great
You’ll have to search far and wide to find a racing formula that Legge doesn’t know. She emerged from British Formula Three, graduated to the Atlantic Championship, winning at Long Beach, California, in her first start in 2005. That year was highlighted by a test in a Formula One car with the longtime Italian outfit Minardi.
She drove in the Champ Car series full-time from 2006-07. Her 11 IndyCar starts (including the Indianapolis 500 in 2012-13) include a top result of ninth at California Speedway (2012). How about sports cars? Seven starts in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, with a second-place finish in 2018. Stock cars? Legge made four NASCAR Xfinity Series starts in 2018, with a top finish of 14th at Road America.
10. Courtney Force
Born: June 20, 1988
Originally from: Yorba Linda, Calif.
Debut season: 2005
Career highlights: 12 NHRA Funny Car wins; 1 NHRA Top Alcohol win, 11 No. 1 qualifiers in 2018; 167 professional races; her 2014 win at Topeka, Kansas, was the 100th female win in NHRA history
What Makes Force a Car Racing Great
The youngest daughter of legend John Force is another history-making member of drag racing’s first family. She’s the winningest female Funny Car driver in NHRA history, a 12-time trophy holder with an additional 17 runner-up finishes. Force owns a career-best time of 3.815 seconds in the quarter-mile and a career-best speed of 338.85 mph.
She’s raced her sister Brittany on three occasions, emerging victorious each time. After a 2018 season that featured four wins, she surprised the world of motorsports with her retirement announcement, citing her desire to spend more time with her family. She’s married to IndyCar driver Graham Rahal, the son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal.
9. Lyn St. James
Born: March 13, 1947
Originally from: Willoughby, Ohio
Debut season: 1976
Career highlights: IMSA Camel GT Rookie of the Year (1984), only woman to win an IMSA GT race (Watkins Glen, 1988), first woman to win Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award (1992), Florida Sports Hall of Fame (1994), named one of the "Top 100 Female Athletes of the Century" by Sports Illustrated, Women’s Automotive Association International Professional Achievement Award (2007)
What Makes St. James a Car Racing Great
As the first woman to surpass 200 mph (204.233 mph) on a closed course track (Talladega Superspeedway, 1985), St. James proudly wore the crown of “World’s Fastest Woman.” She returned three years later to record a speed of 232.4 mph. Over the course of two days, she broke 21 FIA international speed records.
In 1992, at age 45, St. James became the oldest driver and the first woman to win Rookie of the Year at the Indianapolis 500. She finished an impressive 11th. Ultimately, she competed in 15 IndyCar events, highlighted by seven Indy 500s. She has two victories at the 24 Hours of Daytona and one at the 12 Hours of Sebring.
8. Pat Moss
Born: Dec. 27, 1934
Originally from: Surrey, England
Died: Oct. 14, 2008
Debut season: 1955
Career highlights: Five-time Ladies European Rally Champion, Liege-Rome-Liege Rally (first, 1960) Coupe de Alpes (second, 1960), RAC Rally (second, 1961), East African Safari Rally (third, 1962), RAC Rally (third, 1962), Acropolis Rally (third, 1964), Monte Carlo Rally (third, 1965), Sestriere Rally (first, 1968), Rallye Sanremo (second, 1968)
What Makes Moss a Car Racing Great
The younger sister of Formula One star Stirling Moss became one of the most successful female rally drivers of the 1950s and ’60s. Her first passion was horses and show-jumping. But the family bug — her father competed in the Indianapolis 500 in 1924, her mother drove an ambulance during World War I and also raced — finally bit her.
From 1958 to ’62, Moss competed in 20 consecutive rallies, winning 11. She claimed the European Ladies Rally Championship five times and the Coupe de Dames of the Monte Carlo Rally eight times. She took the historic Liege-Rome-Liege Rally in 1960, but her biggest achievement was winning the Tulip Rally in 1962 in the newly introduced Mini Cooper. She raced for MG, Ford, Saab, Austin-Healey and Toyota before retiring in 1974.
7. Desiré Wilson
Born: Nov. 26, 1953
Originally from: Brakpan, South Africa
Debut season: 1973
Career highlights: Won2 FIA World Championship Sports Car Endurance races (1980), two-time 24 Hours of Daytona entrant (1982-83), 12 Hours of Sebring qualifier (1982), 11-time PPG IndyCar World Series qualifier (1983, ’84, ’86)
What Makes Wilson a Car Racing Great
One of only five women to compete in Formula One, Wilson roared onto the scene in her native South Africa, winning the country’s Formula Ford Championship and securing the coveted “Driver to Europe” award. That led to her breakthrough. She became the only woman to win a Formula One race of any type with her 1980 triumph at England’s Brands Hatch Circuit, driving in the British Aurora F1 Championship.
Later that year, Wilson entered the Formula One race at the historic English track but failed to qualify. She pursued a starting spot in the Indianapolis 500 for three consecutive years (1982-84) but failed to make the field. Her career is chronicled in the biography, “Driven by Desire: The Desiré Wilson Story”
6. Louise Smith
Born: July 31, 1916
Died: April 15, 2006
Originally from: Barnesville, Georgia
Debut season: 1949
Career highlights: First woman inducted into Motorsports Hall of Fame (1999), 38 wins across four NASCAR divisions, first woman to race on Daytona Beach, Georgia Automobile Hall of Fame, 11 NASCAR Cup Series starts
What Makes Smith a Car Racing Great
Known as “The First Lady of Racing,” Smith found fame in 1949 at the Daytona Beach and Road Course race. According to the tale, Smith intended to merely watch the historic precursor to the Daytona 500 by herself but was compelled to enter her husband's new Ford coupe, unbeknownst to him. Ultimately, she crashed spectacularly, landing on the front page of newspapers across the U.S.
Smith served as the inspiration for Louise “Barnstormer” Nash in the Pixar film “Cars 3,” which features the No. 94 1950 Nash Ambassador that she made famous. Reflecting on her career, which featured 38 wins between 1947-56, she supplied the unvarnished truth: “The men were not liking it to start with, and they wouldn’t give you an inch,” she said.
5. Sarah Fisher
Born: Oct. 4, 1980
Originally from: Columbus, Ohio
Debut season: 1995
Career highlights: First woman to appear on the podium at an IndyCar race (2000), first woman to race full-time in the Indy Racing League, Kentucky Speedway pole sitter and single-lap speed record (221.390 mph, 2002), Indy Racing League Most Popular Driver (2000-03)
What Makes Fisher a Car Racing Great
Fisher became only the third woman — and youngest — to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 when she secured a starting spot in 2000. Her average speed? 220.237 mph. Age? 19. “The car doesn't know if it's being driven by a man or woman,” she said, silencing the inevitable “How does it feel to be …” questions.
A second place at Miami in 2001 stood as the top finish by a woman until Danica Patrick's win seven years later. Fisher’s nine career Indy starts place her atop an elite list of female drivers at “The Brickyard.” In 2009, she was honored by her fellow competitors with the Scott Brayton Trophy, named for the driver who was killed at Indy. She later became a successful team owner.
4. Michèle Mouton
Born: June 23, 1951
Originally from: Grasse France
Debut season: 1974
Career highlights: Rallye Sanremo (first, 1981), Rally de Portugal (first, 1982), Acropolis Rally (first, 1982), Rally of Brazil (first, 1982), FIA Women and Motor Sport Commission President (2010), Awarded the French Knight of the Legion of Honor (2011)
What Makes Mouton a Car Racing Great
As the first (and only) woman to have won a round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Mouton continues to cast a tall shadow over the sport. She drove to victory in four World Championship rallies in the early 1980s, becoming a popular fixture behind the wheel of the iconic Audi Quattro. She finished runner-up in the world championship in 1982. Mouton was the first woman to win a major title in the sport by clinching the German Rally Championship in 1986.
Her current passion is an FIA-supported program known as “Girls on Track – Rising Stars,” which features 20 drivers from 14 countries. “It’s really living up to expectations,” said the driver who specialized in exceeding them.
3. Janet Guthrie
Born: March 7, 1938
Originally from: Iowa City, Iowa
Debut season: 1972
Career highlights: International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame 91980), International Motorsports Hall of Fame (2006), Automotive Hall of Fame (2019), Daytona 500 Rookie of the Year (1978)
What Makes Guthrie a Car Racing Great
Soft-spoken off the track, bold on it, the former sports car standout arrived on the national scene at the 1976 World 600, accompanied by a jet stream of fanfare as the first woman to compete in a NASCAR superspeedway race. A year later, she became the first woman to qualify for and compete in the Indianapolis 500, famously drawing support from four-time winner A.J. Foyt, who made a statement for inclusion by letting her practice in his car.
She’s the first woman to race in the Daytona 500 and a two-time winner at the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring. Guthrie’s helmet and driving suit are displayed in the Smithsonian Institution. “She had to prove herself every step of the way,” said Mario Andretti, who’s arguably the greatest American driver.
Academy Award winner Hilary Swank is slated to play Guthrie in a feature film.
2. Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney
Born: June 19, 1940
Originally from: Burlington, Vermont
Debut season: 1958
Career highlights: Motorsports Hall of Fame America (1990), NHRA’s Top-50 Drivers of All-Time, International Motorsports Hall of Fame (2004), NHRA Top Fuel Champion (1977, ’80, ’82), 18 NHRA national event victories
What Makes Muldowney a Car Racing Great
The fearless “First Lady of Drag Racing” established herself as a dominant force with her groundbreaking triumph in 1977 when she won the NHRA Top Fuel crown, becoming the first woman to claim drag racing's most prestigious title. With it she overcame years of opposition. “NHRA fought me every inch of the way,” she said. “But when they saw how a girl could fill the stands, they saw I was good for the sport.”
Muldowney recorded her first win at the 1971 International Hot Rod Association Southern Nationals, setting the stage for her to become the first to win multiple Top Fuel titles. In 1984, she suffered a horrific crash that left her with serious injuries and multiple surgeries, but she battled back, continuing to race until retiring in 2003. A biographical film about her life, titled “Heart Like A Wheel,” featured Bonnie Bedelia, who received a 1983 Golden Globe nomination for her performance.
1. Danica Patrick
Born: March 25, 1982
Originally from: Beloit, Wisconsin
Debut season: 2005
Career highlights: Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year (2005), IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year (2005), IndyCar Series Most Popular Driver (2005-2010), 2013 Daytona 500 pole sitter, eighth-place Daytona 500 finish is best-ever result for a woman, first woman to compete in full 36-race NASCAR Cup Series schedule
What Makes Patrick a Car Racing Great
The precocious Patrick didn’t land a race car on the moon, but her victory in the 2008 Indy Japan 300 was “one giant leap” for womankind and motorsports. At age 26, in her 50th IndyCar start, she became the first female winner in North America’s top open-wheel series.
Her career has been a procession of firsts. She’s the first (and only) woman to win a NASCAR Cup Series pole position, recording the fastest lap (196.434 mph) for the 2013 Daytona 500. She owns the highest finishes by a woman in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. In 2005, in her first try at the Indy 500, she qualified on the second row and held the lead late in the race. In 2009, she drove home third, the highest-placed finish for a woman in Indy 500 history.
Patrick’s six, top 10 finishes are the most of any female in NASCAR Cup Series competition, a record previously held by Janet Guthrie. “She’s made history in the sport,” acknowledged Hall of Fame driver Tony Stewart.