VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Janet Guthrie, First Woman Driver At Indy 500, Part 2 On Arlene Hiss
Janet Guthrie made her way into the sports history books in 1977 after becoming the first female driver to qualify for and compete in the Indianapolis 500, and her road to achieve this feat was not easy.
The 81-year-old told uSports exclusively about who has inspired her in her career and what racing fans’ reaction to her success was like over the years.
One fellow female driver Guthrie was influenced by was Arlene Hiss, the ex-wife of late 1972 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Mike Hiss, who died in December 2018. Arlene Hiss competed with Tom Williams Racing at the 1976 Winston Cup Series.
“Arlene drove an Indy car race at Phoenix before I drove my first race at Trenton [Speedway in New Jersey],” said Guthrie. “And Arlene had been a capable sports car racing driver. She had been quite good but she found herself really in an impossible situation and the stress had to be seen to be believed.”
Guthrie continued: ” I was there at the time and basically, Arlene blew it. She was a better driver than what she showed there, but the uproar was such that she never got another chance.”
Guthrie also recalled some of the funny chants that came from the stands while she competed at the Indy 500 and Daytona 500, but also admitted that some of the more sexist jeers made her angry.
“Get the tits out of the pits!” Guthrie revealed NASCAR fans often chanted in the 1970s whenever a female driver appeared.
Last month, Guthrie was featured in an ESPN 30 For 30 documentary called Qualified.
Guthrie also explained the major obstacles she faced in her first professional races.
“The first year I went to Indianapolis, I didn’t make a qualifying attempt because the car wasn’t fast enough,” she said. “But my team owner made a move that was completely unprecedented for a team owner: he found someone who would let me take his car out and practice and hopefully let me make a qualifying attempt. And that someone was A.J. Foyt. Talk about pressure.”
Foyt is the only NASCAR driver in history to have won the following four major races: the Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Guthrie also said drivers in her time often had a rising rate rear suspension, which gave drivers “no feedback as to where the edge was.” She said that in one race, she felt that this type of suspension nearly made the tires turn into “bubble gum.”
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