Janet Guthrie’s fabulous story will be brought to the big screen!

Friday May 14, 2021 by Eliane Gilain

Janet Guthrie marked the history of American motorsport through her exploits, both on and off the track. This pioneer, who was an airplane pilot at 17 before becoming an aeronautical engineer, has never backed down in the face of challenges, and has notably established herself in a very masculine world, that of the single-seater series and NASCAR.

Janet Guthrie is the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500 (in 1977) and the Daytona 500 in the same year. She had started in the NASCAR Cup in the Charlotte 600 the previous season. She also took part 8 times in the 12 Hours of Sebring, winning her class in 1970 in an Austin-Healey Sprite, and in two Trans Am series races, finishing 4th in Mexico City in 1978 in a Porsche 935.

Born in 1938 in Iowa City, she took part in her first car race at the age of 25, in the SCCA, aboard a Jaguar XK140 and it was only at the age of 34 that she began her professional career. Between 1976 and 1978, she competed in 33 NASCAR Winston Cup races, finishing in the Top 12 on 10 occasions. Guthrie also finished Top 6 on the Bristol Oval in 1977 while for her first appearance in the Daytona 500 in 1977, she placed 12th despite the fact that two of her engine cylinders exploded within 10 laps of the arrival! In 1980, she finished the event in 11th position.

To celebrate this American heroine, a film will soon be dedicated to her fascinating destiny. Two Oscar winner actress Hilary Swank will play Janet Guthrie in the film that will be called « Speed ​​Girl ». He mainly focused on the life of the racing driver in the 1970s.

For Swank, it was an immediate yes to play this role. “It’s a truly incredible story about empowering women and making their dreams come true,” Swank tells our colleagues at Autoweek. “When the Balcony 9 team (producer) approached me with Janet Guthrie’s story, I was immediately up for the role. I am delighted to be able to bring her inspiring life to the big screen, ”she added.

The 1970s are undoubtedly the most interesting period in Janet Guthrie’s career as they bear witness to her arrival in the greatest races. Besides NASCAR, she has competed in 11 IndyCar events. She tried to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1976, without success. Several pointed to the fact that she was a woman to explain her failure, which enraged the champion AJ Foyt who let her do laps with the third car of his team. Guthrie’s laps didn’t count, but the lap times on this car would have qualified him for the race and put him in the middle of the grid.

In 1977, she finally competed in her first Indy 500 but retired after 27 laps, following a mechanical failure. In 1978, she managed to qualify 15th before finishing the race in 9th place, all with a broken wrist two days earlier while playing tennis! The following year, she qualified in 14th position, but she saw her engine fail on the first lap.

In 1980, Janet Guthrie was introduced to the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, in 2006 to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and in 2019 to the Automotive Hall of Fame. Until today, the pilot has always had the plight of women in motorsport at heart and she still participates in movements to help female pilots all over the world. Filming for the feature film is slated to begin this year, but no release date has been revealed.

To learn more about Janet Guthrie’s story, we invite you to read the article written by our colleague René Fagnan on the subject.

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