15 Incredible Women In Racing / Motorsport History
Don’t Call Them “Female Drivers”.
These Are Bada** Racers.
The United States recognizes every March as Women’s History Month – a celebration of the incredible women who have made a difference in the country.
We wanted to honor this special month by celebrating 15 incredible women in racing – many of whom have started their careers by racing go-karts (not too dissimilar from K1 Speed!). What follows is by no means a complete list, but a mere selection from the long list of women who have made a difference in auto racing.
1. Michèle Mouton
We start with legendary driver Michèle Mouton. This French racer competed with the factory Audi team in the World Rally Championship and finished second to Walter Röhrl in the driver’s championship in 1982. When she left WRC, she had four victories to her name and remains the last woman to compete in the pinnacle of rallying. She’s also a class-winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and finished runner-up in the European Rally Championship with FIAT in 1977.
2. Maria Teresa de Filippis
Italian racer Maria Teresa de Filippis was the first woman to race in Formula One. She competed as a Maserati factory driver from ’58 to ’59 and participated in five championship F1 races with a best finish of 10th at the 1958 Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps. Additionally, she finished runner-up in an Italian sports car championship in 1954.
3. Janet Guthrie
History was made in 1977 when Janet Guthrie became the first woman to qualify and compete in both the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500, earning Top Rookie honors in the latter. The year before, she made history as the first woman to compete in a NASCAR Cup super speedway race. If that wasn’t enough, she was also the first woman to lead a lap in the NASCAR Cup Series. Unfortunately, due to gender, she was unable to secure corporate sponsorship and was forced to retire prematurely. What might have been..
4. Denise McCluggage
Denise McCluggage fought for equality in motorsports and automotive journalism alike. Sporting her iconic polka-dot helmet, McCluggage won her class at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1961, driving a Ferrari 250 GT SWB. McCluggage also scored another class win at the Monte Carlo Rally in a Ford Falcon in 1964 with another remarkable woman – English rally driver, Anne Hall. But that’s not all. She also helped launch Autoweek and won the Ken W. Purdy Award for excellence in automotive journalism, among other journalism awards.
5. Lyn St. James
Lyn St. James became the first woman to take Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors in 1992 when she finished 11th, and competed in the legendary race seven times. Other notable accomplishments include two victories at the 24 Hours of Daytona, one win at 12 Hours of Sebring, and second in class at 24 Hours of the Nurburgring. A documentary on St. James produced by Adam Carolla’s Chassy Media was supposed to happen several years ago, but unfortunately, news has gone silent.
6. Danica Patrick
Arguably the most popular lady in recent motorsport history, Danica Patrick is the only woman to win an IndyCar race, and to take pole in NASCAR (for the Daytona 500, no less). She also has the most starts, laps led, and top-ten finishes of any woman in NASCAR Cup history. Though she left the cockpit for good after the 2018 Indy 500, she can still be found at the track as a network TV analyst. Perhaps Patrick’s greatest contribution to motorsport are the legions of young women who’ve been inspired to follow in her footsteps.
7. Christina Nielsen
In 2016, Christina Nielsen became the first woman to win a major professional sports car championship in North America by winning the GT Daytona Championship in the IMSA SportsCar Championship. The next year she won the championship again with Scuderia Corsa Ferrari. This achievement was even recognized by LEGO with their 2018 Ferrari 488 GT3 Scuderia Corsa set from their Speed Champions line. In 2021, she’s racing in IMSA GTD with fellow bada** woman Katherine Legge in a Porsche 911 GT3 R.
8. Simona de Silvestro
Simona de Silvestro became the first full-time woman to compete AND score points in Formula E. This Swiss racer was also a full-time IndyCar driver for four seasons and tested in F1. She nearly making the Sauber F1 team as a championship driver in 2015 before sponsorship money fell short (seeing a pattern?). She competed full-time with Nissan in the highly-competitive Australian Supercars Championship, and is currently a Porsche Factory driver in the ADAC GT Master series.
9. Brittany, Courtney, & Ashley Force
Brittany, Courtney, and Ashley Force are the daughters of the most winning driver in NHRA history – John Force. But they don’t just share the famous name – they appear to have the same winning DNA as well. Brittany Force became the second woman in history to win a Top Fuel Championship (after Shirley Muldowney – more on her later) in 2017, and is also the first woman to win the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals. Ashley Force Hood was NHRA’s Funny Car Rookie of the Year in 2007 and became the first woman to earn a win in Top Fuel and Funny Cars in 2008. Courtney Force Rahal is the third woman to win in Funny Car history, and the only woman to qualify in first and win at the Winternationals.
10. Jamie Chadwick
One of the young up-and-comers on this list, British driver Jamie Chadwick rose to popularity after winning the inaugural all-women Formula 3-level racing series, W Series, in 2019. It all started with go kart racing in 2011, before she steadily moved up the categories into car racing. After her W Series championship title, she raced in the 2020 Formula Regional European Championship where she earned a podium and finished 9th in the standings. Since 2020, she has also been a development driver for the iconic Williams F1 team. In 2021, Chadwick will compete with Veloce Racing (founded by race design legend Adrian Newey and ex-F1 driver Jean-Eric Vergne) in the all-new and all-electric Extreme E Championship.
11. Leena Gade
Okay, so Leena Gade isn’t a racing driver, but she is one heck of a race car engineer. In her career, she’s won three overall victories at Le Mans with Audi and the 2012 World Endurance Championship. Ironically, she’s been awarded TopGear’s “Man of the Year” award, which is in dire need of a name change. She worked for awhile as James Hinchcliffe’s engineer at Schmidt Petersen Racing for the 2018 IndyCar Series season, and currently works on vehicle dynamics for Multimatic – who ran Mazda’s IMSA prototype up until 2020.
12. Sara Christian
Sara Christian became the first woman to race in NASCAR when she drove in their very first Strictly Stock (what is now the Cup Series) race on June 19, 1949 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In a total of seven NASCAR races, Christian claimed two top-ten finishes.
12. Lella Lombardi
Fifteen years after Maria Teresa de Filippis, fellow Italian Lella Lombardi became the only woman to score a F1 championship point with her sixth-place finish at the 1975 Spanish GP. Lombardi is the only other woman besides de Filippis to qualify for a F1 race, and was the first woman to qualify and compete in the Race of Champions.
14. Shirley Muldowney
Shirley Muldowney became the first woman to receive a NHRA license to drive a Top Fuel dragster. Muldowney then won NHRA Top Fuel Championships in ’77, ’80, and ’82 – becoming the first PERSON to win two and three Top Fuel titles. By the time she retired in 2003, the “First Lady of Drag Racing” had won a total of 18 NHRA events. She even had her own Commodore 64 game in 1987 – “Shirley Muldowney’s Top Fuel Challenge” – which this author fondly remembers playing.
15. Sarah Fisher
Nine Indy 500 starts (most of any woman). First and only woman to own a team in IndyCar Series history. Youngest team owner in IndyCar series history – period. First woman to win an Indycar Series race as a team owner. And youngest woman to compete at the Indy 500 (age 19 in 2000). Yeah, you can say Sarah Fisher is a big deal.
Will YOU Make the List One Day?
It seems like more and more women are interested in motor racing each year. And thankfully, we’re seeing more initiatives to give women a better chance to succeed in the sport. If you’re a woman, or a parent of a young woman, there’s no better place to start racing than at K1 Speed. Click the button below to find your nearest K1 Speed go kart track.
Who’s The Woman in Racing You Most Admire?
Again, this list is such a small glimpse at the phenomenal women that have contributed to motorsport. We could’ve gone on for much longer: Katherine Legge, Tatiana Calderón, Courtney Crone, Hailie Deegan, Natalie Decker.. the list thankfully keeps growing and growing with every year.
Who are some of your favorites that we didn’t have time to mention? Comment below!