Women in Racing
In 'Racing Dreams,' Annabeth talks about her aspiration to become the first female racer to win the Daytona 500 — what NASCAR calls its "biggest, richest and most prestigious motorsports event."
Annabeth follows in the footsteps of women trailblazers who have made their mark in racing. Though racing is still a male-dominated sport, women are now competing at various racing levels and the opportunities for them are growing. As of 2008, women made up approximately 25 percent of the 61,000 members of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), the largest sanctioning body for car racing (as the WKA is for karting). At the highest levels of NASCAR, however, representation from women is much scarcer. Since 1950, only 15 women have started cup races.
The first known female racers were active in France in the 19th century, but it wasn't until the 1940s that women appeared on the amateur racing circuit in the United States. In 1949, Sara Christian became the first woman to race in a NASCAR event, and Janet Guthrie made history in 1977 by becoming the first woman to qualify for the Indy 500. (The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where that event is held, had only begun allowing women in the pits and garages in 1971.)
In 2005, Danica Patrick became the fourth woman to race in the Indy 500 and went on to win the Indy Japan 300, making her the first woman to win an Indy race. Patrick has since become one of the most popular and successful female racecar drivers. In Racing Dreams, one observer calls Annabeth "the next Danica Patrick."
Patrick herself was a go-kart racer in the WKA and trained as a young girl with fellow racing pioneer Lyn St. James, who had 15 IndyCar starts in the 1980s and was the first female named rookie of the year at an Indy 500. She is now an advocate for training women to be top racers. Her organization, the Women in the Winner's Circle Foundation, brings together women from across the motorsports community at an annual event honoring female drivers.
NASCAR is also making an effort to train qualified female racers. In 2009, Annabeth became the youngest person ever selected for NASCAR's Drive for Diversity, a driver development program started in 2000 with the goal of preparing women and minorities to compete in both regional and national motorsports events.
NASCAR reports that more than 40 percent of NASCAR's 75 million fans are now women. According to Fox Sports, NASCAR is the televised sport with the second largest female audience, with only football attracting more female viewers.
Photo caption: Annabeth Barnes with her father Darren Barnes. Credit: Kent Smith
» Allison, Liz. The Girl’s Guide to NASCAR. New York: Center Street, 2006.
» Bernstein, Viv. “Danica Patrick’s Possible Impact Hard to Gauge." ESPN
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» ESPN.com, Matt Willis Blog. "Danica Patrick Could Open Doors."
» Janet Guthrie
» Keating, Steve. "Motor Racing: IndyCar Land of Opportunity for Women Racers." Reuters, May 27, 2011.
» Racing Dreams. American Public Media: The Story, May 13, 2010.
» "Women in Racing: Why Should Boys Have All the Fun?" Coronado Speed Festival, September 3, 2008.