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NASCAR’s Dubious’s 1977 Showcase of Women Drivers

Janet Guthrie prepares for the 1976 Firecracker 400.

Janet Guthrie prepares for the 1976 Firecracker 400.
image: AP (AP)

In 1977, three women lined up to claim the green flag at the NASCAR Cup Series ‘Firecracker 400, a race held at the Daytona International Speedway. Veterans open the American wheel Janet GuthrieFormula one racer Lella Lombardiand endurance racer Christine Beckers were invited to compete as a way to highlight international female talent – or less generously, to see it crushed by NASCAR’s popular male superiority.

The last time the three women started the same NASCAR event was during the first year of the competition. Ethel Mobley, Louise Smithand Sara Christian participated in the 1949 Strictly race on Daytona Beach Road. Since then, NASCAR has become a largely male-dominated scene, one where women are routinely barred from even entering a cellar or garage. However, the 1977 Firecracker 400 was supposed to change that.

Welcome to Women in Motorsport Monday, where we share the stories of badass women who have conquered the racetrack throughout the years.

Lella Lombardi (left) and Christine Beckers at Le Mans in 1977.

Lella Lombardi (left) and Christine Beckers at Le Mans in 1977.
image: AFP (beautiful pictures)

Since its first run in 1959 and into 2019, the Firecracker 400 has been a July 4th anniversary race. Although it’s a point race, it often becomes an exhibition where racers go. can join and compete on a major NASCAR leg once.

In 1977, three women were set to compete on that stage. IndyCar driver Janet Guthrie, endurance racer Christine Beckers and Formula One driver Lella Lombardi were all invited by NASCAR to race, in some cases promised to pay $25,000 or more to participate in the event. Meanwhile maybe seen as a positive move from NASCAR – a way to celebrate the burgeoning women’s liberation movement as it exists both in sport and in the world at large – not everyone is sure that the motives of The series is pure.

Here’s a bit of the event in Janet Guthrie’s autobiography, A Life at Full Throttle:

The Daytona/NASCAR press release, which has been out since mid-June, describes the event as a “match of wits” between the three of us. Many reporters were biting and practically licking their lips about the anticipated skirmish.

Guthrie refused to take the bait, but she wrote that she was a bit confused by the invitation. After all, she’s competed in a number of NASCAR races, and she doesn’t have to open her arms to be exact. Suddenly, she’s invited to compete at one of the biggest events of the season.

Guthrie’s team owner, Lynda Ferreri, has doubts of her own: “If they can discredit us in the eyes of our sponsor, they will take a big step towards purging. entirely their women’s fields.”

Ferrari continued:

You haven’t read all those letters yet National Speed ​​Sports News about how if a woman can qualify at Indianapolis like you did, it proves championship racing is a dance sport, and real racing fans should come back the Sprint car race where the real men?

NASCAR is not stupid. They don’t want the status of their sport to drop, as the professions are often when women are involved.

According to Guthrie’s book, Lombardi and Beckers both had enough money to buy solid cars, a successful partnership, and a coveted garage location while Guthrie was left to compete with a group of tickers to the west. later – although she has benefited from the NASCAR experience, which she offers to share with two other women.

Complicating matters further was the fact that neither Beckers nor Lombardi had a firm grasp of the English language. After their first outing, Beckers wondered what she was doing at NASCAR, and Lombardi was quoted as saying that driving a vintage car was like riding a buffalo. Guthrie was able to qualify in the top half of the field. Even with all the resources devoted to Lombardi and Beckers, the other two women could not have achieved such a feat.

However, the race itself was a failure for all involved. Eleven laps, Guthrie’s engine blew up. Beckers and Lombardi both dropped out of school because of mechanical problems. Lombardi was ranked 31st, Beckers 37th and Guthrie 40th in the 41-car category.

One woman didn’t enter the Firecracker contest again until 11 years later, when Patty Moise took her turn and was placed 26th.

In a way, it seems NASCAR has achieved the somewhat difficult goal that parties like Ferreri suspect. The series can be said to have given female competitors an opportunity, and women are not excluded from the job. Never mind that all three women had mechanical breakdowns that had nothing to do with their driving talents.

However, Guthrie is determined to prove the value of women in the racing world. After that race, she finished in the top 10 in four NASCAR events in 1977.

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