Janet Guthrie, the keynote speaker at a conference for the Ohio Federation of Business and Professional Women Conference was not an academic, or a feminist scholar. She lived her life in the fast lane, literally! Guthrie challenged the men’s world of auto racing, speeding, and pit-stopping with the best of them, throughout the late 1970s.
Janet is the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. Guthrie was originally an aerospace engineer and after graduating from the University of Michigan, she worked with Republic Aviation. She began racing in 1963 and by 1972, she was racing on a full-time basis. Overall, Guthrie went on to compete in 33 races in NASCAR over four seasons. Her highest finish, sixth place at Bristol in 1977, is the best finish by a woman in a top-tier NASCAR race, now currently tied with Danica Patrick in 2014.
As one of the most famous and recognizable female athletes at the time, I can see why Guthrie was chosen at the keynote speaker at such an important event. She and Jo had dialogue about her racing jacket, which was and is currently in the Smithsonian Institute. Jo was unable to get her hands on the jacket, which she wanted to use as a model for an outfit for the Fantastic Feminist doll. Guthrie is now an inductee in the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame.
The conference highlighted her athletic achievements in preparation for the conference itself. Janet, may not have been a feminist in the more radical sense, but she was a powerful woman who understood the importance of women in their respective fields.