Janet Guthrie On Making Indy 500 History Janet Guthrie is the first woman to qualify and compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.
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Janet Guthrie On Making Indy 500 History

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Janet Guthrie On Making Indy 500 History

Janet Guthrie On Making Indy 500 History

Janet Guthrie On Making Indy 500 History

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Janet Guthrie is the first woman to qualify and compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now to a new segment we're calling Replay - great moments in sports history as remembered by the athletes who were involved; this week, the Indianapolis 500.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Well-timed because this year's race takes place on Sunday. It's a huge draw for racing fans in my home state of Indiana, and it's a big deal for drivers, especially rookies who easily think of it as a highlight of a career. Janet Guthrie was the first woman to compete in the Indy 500, but she says the big moment came the weekend before when she qualified for the race.

MARTIN: It was 1977, and the racing world was fascinated. Here's how Guthrie recalls that hot, dry day when nothing seemed to be going right.

JANET GUTHRIE: In qualifying, you may take up to three laps to warm up the car. But in practice that morning, the engine had started making bad noises, and I told the guys that I wanted to take the green flag the second time around, not the third. I said we don't have a lap to spare because I knew engines, and the noises I was hearing meant that the engine could come unglued at any moment.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Her debut, considerably reported in the press, was somewhat overshadowed by a host of mechanical problems, which would have dampened the spirits of anyone less determined.

GUTHRIE: On that last run down to the green flag, all the work is done. All you have to do is go straight ahead, trying to push the accelerator pedal through the floor and hoping that the engine won't blow up because that would have meant you were out of the race. And I had looked at the oil pressure gauge coming out of turn four. It read zero. I don't think I breathed between there and the checkered flag, but the engine held, and I knew I was in the field for the Indianapolis 500.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But finally, she passed the 165-mile-per-hour phase of her test and removed the rookie stripes from her car.

GUTHRIE: Once you've gone under the checkered flag and it's done, your vision sort of opens up. It takes in the green grass, the trees, the clouds. I struggled up out of the seat, and the car is very narrow, and it takes a bit of wiggling to get into it and out of it. And there was a lot of hugging and celebrating and the new pose for the official qualifying photo. And, of course, I knew this would change my life, and, in fact, it did.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And coming with the first lady ever to qualify at Indianapolis, gentlemen, start your engines.

GUTHRIE: As far as I was concerned, I wasn't a woman driver. I was just a driver. And, of course, the significance of that was rather forcibly impressed upon me later on and became something that I had to live up to. But at the time, it never crossed my mind.

MARTIN: Guthrie finished in 29th place at her first Indy 500, but she would qualify and race two more times. Women drivers are still a rarity in the race today. This year, only Danica Patrick qualified, and it's her last run. She has said she is retiring.

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