The trailblazers and up-and-coming women in NASCAR
For years, women have been making a tremendous impact on the sports landscape either as an athlete, coach, rules official or executive. These trailblazers have continued to redefine roles and inspire future generations, especially of young women, not only to be more involved in the sports industry, but then to also succeed.
The list includes some of the best their sport has ever seen – men or women. Michele Roberts, President of the NBA Players Association, is the first female to head a major professional sports union in North America. The late Pat Summitt, who coached the Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team, accumulated 1,098 career wins during her 38-year tenure, which is the most all-time in NCAA basketball history – men or women. Serena Williams has also etched her name amongst the greatest in women’s tennis history, winning 23 Grand Slam singles titles and ranking No. 1 in the world in singles on seven separate occasions in her storied 22-year career.
Many of these powerful women have become an inspiration for others, as they have tackled their dreams head on and have thrived in the process. Janet Guthrie was that person in the motorsports world. In 1977, Guthrie became the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. Her historic career in NASCAR also consisted of a sixth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway, which is the highest finish for a female in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. In 2016, NASCAR nominated her for the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR for her ground-breaking achievements in the sport.
Guthrie was a pioneer for all women who have worked in the NASCAR industry, and in recognizing March as Women’s History Month, let’s take a look at other women who have made remarkable strides in NASCAR.
A prominent figure in the NASCAR world today is the granddaughter of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., Lesa France Kennedy. Kennedy serves as Chief Executive Officer and Vice Chairperson of the Board of Directors for International Speedway Corporation (ISC), the motorsports entertainment company that owns 13 tracks across the country, including Homestead-Miami Speedway. In addition, she serves as a Vice Chairperson on the NASCAR board of directors.
Along with overseeing the operations of the 13 facilities in the ISC family, Kennedy was instrumental in the $400 million Daytona Rising project, which helped redesign the track into the first motorsports stadium and completely changed the way that fans experience race weekend.
Kennedy also heads the day-to-day business components of the company.
Kennedy has been labeled as a visionary by her peers around NASCAR and those around the sports industry. In fact, in 2015 Forbes Magazine recognized her as “The Most Powerful Woman in Sports” because of her highly-influential role in NASCAR.
NASCAR has also had a strong female figure in the manufacturer world with Alba Colon. Colon had been competing in Formula SAE for four years, where she had been building and exhibiting race cars. Then in 1994, she was asked to join GM as a mechanical engineer where she ran data acquisitions. Colon’s efforts landed her a top engineering position as Chevrolet’s program manager in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2001.
On the officiating end, we have seen women excel on the NASCAR stage, too. Jamie DiPietro worked on the NASCAR officials crew for 11 years and had taken on many different roles during her time inspecting vehicles. In 2010, DiPietro moved up in the NASCAR ranks where she became the manager of safety inspections.
Kelly Earnhardt Miller, daughter of the legendary Dale Earnhardt and sister of Dale Earnhardt Jr., has also made an impact on the sport, except as an owner. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte graduate is the co-owner of JR Motorsports, which competes in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Earnhardt Miller has lead the racing team to 26 XFINITY Series victories and an XFINITY Series championship in 2014, which was celebrated at Homestead-Miami Speedway when Chase Elliott claimed the title.
In addition, the sport of NASCAR has seen another female driver become an important part of its rich history. Danica Patrick stepped onto the NASCAR scene in 2013 when she received a full-time opportunity to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing. Following a successful career in IndyCar, where she became the first woman to win an IndyCar race, Patrick has become one of the most popular drivers in the sport.
Patrick started off her first full-time season strong by winning the pole in the 2013 Daytona 500, becoming the first female driver to win a pole in NASCAR. Since then, Danica has made more history, including tying Guthrie for the best finish by a woman in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. Recognized on the cover of Sports Illustrated multiple times and a winner of the Kids Choice Awards for Favorite Female Athlete in 2008 and 2013, Patrick’s household name has had an enormous impact on the sport, drawing national media coverage and influencing and engaging a younger generation of fans.
Julia Landauer, 25, raced full-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West in 2016 where she finished fourth in the final points standings. Her overall finish was the highest ever by a female driver in the series. Landauer was a member of the 2016 NASCAR Next Class, a program used to help promote up-and-coming drivers in the sport. Her success on the track landed Landauer on Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 in sports for 2017.
Madeline Crane, 19, and Macy Causey, 16, are also moving up the NASCAR ranks as part of the 2017 class in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program. Causey, whose grandmother became the first woman to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, is competing in the NASCAR Whelen All American Series this year. Crane, who is returning for a second season with the Drive for Diversity program, is also competing in the NASCAR Whelen All American Series in 2017, where she finished with two top-5 and 12 top-10 finishes in 2016.
As sports progressively move into the future, women in sports such as NASCAR, will continue to play an important role in the industry. Their groundbreaking efforts and inspirational leadership will draw even more women to pursue their goals in the sports world.
Sunday, March 26
at 3:30 PM (ET)
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway
Tune In: FOX
Saturday, March 25
at 4:00 PM (ET)
NASCAR XFINITY Series California 300 at Auto Club Speedway
Tune In: FS1
*NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is off, returns April 1*
AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY
Porsche and BMW Owners Club
Formula & Automobile Racing Association
Trans Am Series & F4 U.S. Championship
Miami Grand Prix Remote Control Car Racing
Fast Lane Friday Presented by the Ticket Clinic
Sports Car Club of America
High Performance Driving Experience
Porsche Club of America
2017 HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY NASCAR DATES
Nov. 17 Ford EcoBoost 200 Camping World Truck Series Championship Race
Nov. 18 Ford EcoBoost 300 XFINITY Series Championship Race
Nov. 19 Ford EcoBoost 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race
Matt Becherer is President of Homestead-Miami Speedway. This long-time motorsports executive is one of the good guys, and he leads a team of 40 that operate the track. If you would like to talk to Matt, he can be reached at chatwithmatt @homesteadmiamispeedway.com.
© Copyright 2017, South Dade News Leader, Homestead, FL.