Bugatti racing driver Eliska Junek was a tiny woman with big talent. Her husband, a banker, totally indulged her once he understood just how much she loved driving. She entered the 1928 Targa Florio against the likes of Divo, Louis Chiron, Tazio Nuvolari, and Rene Dreyfus and was running fourth in the race when she was sabotaged by spectators who put a large rock on the course. She finished fifth in her Bugatti, and went on to actually win a Grand Prix race at the Nurburgring in the sports car class before giving it all up when her husband was killed in a racing accident.
Pat Moss, the great Stirling’s younger sister, discovered cars and, like her famous brother before her, gave up a promising career in Olympic horse jumping in 1953 to race cars. Pat became world famous as a rally driver over the next decade, soundly beating the top make drivers of the day.
Then there was the petite sports car racer Denise McCluggage in her polka dot helmet, tearing up the tracks in the late Fifties and Sixties, who went on to become an even grater legend as an automotive journalist who still contributes to AutoWeek magazine. Winning NASCAR driver Louise Smith, the first woman inducted in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Top fuel legend Shirley Muldowney, the first driver – female or male – to win two consecutive NHRA Top Fuel World Championships. And then a third. Audi Quattro rally queen Michelle Mouton, who won three WRC rallies in 1982 and who won Pikes Peak in 1985. First woman at Indy Janet Guthrie. First woman to break 200 mph on an oval, Lyn St. James. South African Desire Wilson, who became, in 1980 at Brands Hatch, the first woman to win a Formula 1 race.
So come on down with your pretty little 100-pound self, Danica, and kick some open-wheel ass! We didn’t get the word until Monday morning’s New York Times arrived with the momentous news that you’d won the IndyCar race at Twin Ring Motegi. There was that big, blubbery photo of you with your hands covering your tear-streaked face. Go ahead and cry! The rest of us girls got a little choked up right along with you. There were undoubtedly a few guys left in your dust who had a good cry later, too.
So bring on the Indy 500. Thanks to your hard work showing the world what so many women drivers in the past century have shown the racing world before you (it’s what’s between the ears that makes the difference), maybe Sarah Fisher can finally get some real backing for her promising open-wheel career after ten years of struggle.-Jean Jennings