INDIANAPOLIS — It took 61 years before we finally had a woman be able to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. The first Indy 500 took place in 1911 and other than both World War’s, the race has always been around here in the Circle City each Memorial Day or Memorial Day weekend.
But, it wasn’t until 1977 to when we finally saw the first female join the ranks of ‘500 participants. Janet Guthrie was the pioneer to pave the path for females that auto racing wasn’t just a mans sport, women should be included too. There’s a great documentary about Guthrie and her racing career, but the historic 1977 race was big for not just Indy, but for all women across the board.
Unfortunately, the list of females to have been able to race in the biggest sporting event in the world is limited. As we sit here today, 777 drivers have ever raced in the Indy 500. Unfortunately, only nine of those drivers are females. That’s right, only nine women in the history of entire of the world has ever strapped herself into an Indy Car on Memorial Day weekend here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
That number isn’t going to grow on Aug. 23 either.
For the first time since 1999, no women will be in the field of 33. Guthrie started it in 1977 and raced in 1978 and 1979 too. It took 13 years before we’d get another female in Lyn St. James. She’d race six straight years but 1998 and 1999 were the only years after that we’d not have a female participant.
St. James and Sarah Fisher were here in 2000 as it was St. James’ seventh and final Indy 500 start but Fisher’s first. Fisher, ran in all five years between 2000 and 2004, then was back four more between 2007 and 2010. In 2005, it was Danica Patrick’s turn and like Guthrie, she really put more attention for females and racing.
Danica, became the first woman to lead a lap in that race and gave us the best results out of a female erasing the stigma that females aren’t fast enough. I’m glad she shoved that narrative back to the 20th century and was damn fast here in all eight of her Indy appearances.
That led a path for Milka Duno, Ana Beatriz, Simon De Silvestro, Pippa Mann and Katherine Legge to Indy.
In 2007, we saw multiple females in this race with Fisher, Patrick and Duno. It would stay that way for 2008 and 2009 too. In 2010, it was three, but Duno was out and Beatriz in.
For 2011, the 100th anniversary of the first ever Indy 500 in 1911, we saw a record four female drivers in the field of 33. Patrick, Beatriz, De Silvestro and Mann all joined. 2012 was back to three, but Danica went to NASCAR, Pippa out for a year but Beatriz, De Silvestro and Legge came into the mix.
Mann, kept the dream alive for females the last several years and Danica didn’t come back until her one off in 2018. De Silvestro went overseas after the 2015 season. Legge, ran twice in 2012 and 2013. Mann, stayed for six races in a seven year span between 2013 and 2019.
Now, there’s no one left to carry the torch. Mann, would be the only one but with a pandemic, there wasn’t enough time and money to secure funding for her to keep this streak going.
Still, it’s not an IndyCar problem or IMS problem here. Yes, more females need to be found as the dream isn’t dead. It’s just the pipeline isn’t stocked full of them wanting to come through the ranks right now. USAC has a few and there’s a couple in the Road to Indy program, but none are in Indy Lights yet and the ones racing now are still new to this and in their early years.
What we need to focus on is, don’t give up. Just because we may have a few years here without any females in this big race, it doesn’t mean that the dream for females not having a path isn’t shut. It’s as open now as ever.
We need to do a better job of letting females know that karting and .25 midgets is a good path for them. They’re welcome here and welcome to dream like they are the nine women to race here before them and make it a goal to add themselves to that list.