Danica Patrick isn’t the first or only female race car driver in history, and she certainly won’t be the last! To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re honoring ladies whose need for speed has sent them hurtling through social barriers and right over the finish line for more than 120 years.
At just 26 years old, Christina Nielsen is one of the youngest internationally recognized female race car drivers. Nielsen grew up in Denmark, and as she says on her website, she believes that “nothing, including your gender, should stop you from pursuing your dreams and doing what you want.” We couldn’t have said it any better!
Only two women race car drivers in history have qualified for and competed in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, and Janet Guthrie was the first (Danica Patrick was the second). Before her racing career, Guthrie was a respected aerospace engineer and flight instructor—she even applied to travel to space in 1964!
Venezuela native Milka Duno earned second place in the 24 Hours of Daytona race in 2007, the highest placement ever earned by a female in the event’s history. She was also the first Hispanic woman to compete in the Indy 500 in 2007. These are just a few of the countless accolades that make her a legend amongst both women race car drivers and Hispanic drivers alike.
Sara Christian, a native of Dahlonega, Georgia, was a competitor in NASCAR’s first ever race in 1949—making her the first female race car driver to participate in a NASCAR race. During Christian’s career, she and her husband, Frank Christian, also became the first married couple to compete against each other in a NASCAR race. How’s that for a little “friendly competition?!”
Much like Sara Christian, Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney was the first female race car driver to compete in her respective racing league–the National Hot Rod Association. In 1965, Muldowney was the first female race car driver to receive a license to compete in the “supercharged gasoline dragster” category of drag racing. She went on to be awarded three national championships from the National Hot Rod Association—a feat that no other woman had come close to before.
Leilani Münter’s background isn’t what you might expect. She holds a college degree in biology and, like many before her, Münter is one of many women changing the way we drive. In addition to being a successful female race car driver, Münter is an environmental activist who’s passionate about clean energy, electric cars, and wildlife protection. Her mother is a Hawaiian native, and her father grew up in Germany, but Leilani was born in Minnesota. Her motto is, “Never underestimate a vegetarian hippie chick with a race car.”
Maria Teresa de Filippis
In 1958, Italian Maria Teresa de Filippis became the first woman to compete in and finish a Formula One race. Legend has it that she originally took up racing after her older brothers made a bet that she would be “slow,” but she proved them way wrong by becoming one of the most respected female race car drivers in history!
Direct Auto & Life Insurance is proud to shine the spotlight on female race car drivers and history makers. Which of these women race car drivers inspires you? Let us know in a comment below and follow Direct Auto on Facebook and Twitter for more fast facts