A Windshield Crack for Women

Cracked WindshieldToday is one of the biggest days in modern U.S. sports history.

Today, the 2012 Daytona 500 race will occur in Florida, and, for the first time in 35 years, a woman will be competing on the track, when Danica Patrick makes her debut in the race.

As she speeds through the laps on the track today with millions of thoughts in mind, Danica would be right if she were to remember another woman with gratitude and think to herself:  “Thank you, Janet.”

Janet, who?  Janet Guthrie, that is.  Are you aware of Guthrie?

As a North Carolina native, I’ve been well aware of NASCAR and the history of stock car racing, however, I was previously unaware of Ms. Guthrie — until today.

Thanks to Wikipedia, I’m now aware of the fact that Iowa native Guthrie was the first woman to qualify and compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.  Guthrie, who ran 33 races during her career, is a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, and her helmet and race suit are now housed at the Smithsonian Institution.

Guthrie not only raced cars, but she was also an aerospace engineer.  She is without doubt a professionally accomplished women and a pioneer for women in sports, and I would like to read her autobiography, “Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle.”

At this particular time in our U.S. history, when barely a week ago, a U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on the topic of religious liberty and birth control included an all-male panel, it’s important and fitting to remember those women who have and continue to break through the proverbial “glass ceiling” and barriers into what have previously been all-male arenas.

NASCAR has been male-dominated for years with its own “glass windshield,” so to speak.  When Janet Guthrie ran in the 1977 Daytona 500, she made a crack in that windshield.  Sadly, it’s taken 35 years for another woman to have that opportunity, but, today, Danica Patrick has a chance to make her own dent.

As a native Tarheel, it will be tempting to pull for N.C.-born Dale Earnhardt, Jr. today, but, deep down, I know that when the race begins millions of women like me will experience a tug at the heart and a sister-cry, “Go Danica, go!

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