Oscar-Winning Actress to Play Iowa Sports Legend in New Movie
She was born in Iowa City in the late 1930s and would become known for her groundbreaking entrance into a male-dominated sport.
Janet Guthrie (above right) had a pilot's license before she graduated from high school. After earning her degree from the University of Michigan in 1960, Guthrie joined an aviation company, working on programs that would help lead to NASA's Project Apollo. She would become one of only four women to qualify for NASA's scientist-astronaut program. Guthrie was knocked out of the running when a doctorate became a requirement.
During the time she spent working at the aviation company, Guthrie started racing cars. Little did she know that she'd make history years later.
In 1976, Guthrie was asked to test a car leading up to the Indianapolis 500, but didn't qualify for the race. That same year, she competed in the World 600 in Charlotte, her first NASCAR Cup Series event. Yes, she did both.
The next year, Guthrie became the first woman to start the Daytona 500, where she would finish 12th.
Also in 1977, Guthrie became the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. It wasn't easy, but she changed a pre-race tradition in Indianapolis that day as she explains in the video below. Guthrie's first Indy 500 lasted only 27 laps, thanks to mechanical issues with her car.
In 1978, Guthrie not only finished the Indy 500, she finished ninth.
During the post-race interview below, Guthrie divulged for the first time that she'd driven the entire 500 miles one-handed, thanks to a broken right wrist that she'd suffered days earlier. After the interview, host Jim McKay noted, "The lady can literally drive with one hand tied behind her back and compete with the men."
In 1979, Guthrie appeared in her third consecutive, and last Indianapolis 500. Her engine blew a piston, after just three laps.
The following year, which would be her last in auto racing, Guthrie became the first female driver to have a major corporate sponsorship, with Texaco Star.
Guthrie finished 11th in her second and final Daytona 500 in 1980, her fourth season on the circuit. The season would mark the end of her racing career.
Guthrie wanted to continue racing but she told NBC Sports,
Oh, it was a really terrible period of time. I mean, ’78, ’79, ’80, ’81, ’82, ’83, all those years I spent every living moment attempting to find backing to continue racing at the top levels. Finally, in 1983 I realized that if I kept it up, I was going to jump out of a high window. That was when I quit doing that and started working on the book.
In the year's since her retirement from racing, Guthrie has become a member of the Women's Sports Hall of Fame, International Motorsports Hall of Fame, Automotive Hall of Fame, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame. She also released her autobiography, 'Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle,' that she referenced above.
In 2017, 'Speed Girl: Janet Guthrie and the Race That Changed Sports Forever' was released. A new movie, which will be simply called 'Speed Girl', will be based on the book.
Actress Hillary Swank, who has won two Best Actress Oscars during her career, has signed on to play the role of Guthrie in the movie. Swank told Autoweek, she didn't hesitate:
This is an incredible true story about female empowerment and going after your dreams. When I was approached with Janet Guthrie’s story by the great team at (production company) Balcony 9, I immediately said yes. I can’t wait to bring her inspiring life to the screen.
There's no confirmed release date yet for 'Speed Girl'. I can't wait to see it. It should be a wonderful tribute to a true pioneer in women's sports. Janet Guthrie turned 84 on March 7.
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