For many, NASCAR is synonymous with fast cars and the men who drive them. Historically, women were relegated to being scantily clad race starters, trophy girls and wives. But just as women have progressed in other sports, women have come a long way in NASCAR. Long before Danica Patrick hit the scene women began making strides in NASCAR. Today, in honor of Women’s History Month and NASCAR Week we’re highlighting some of those historically significant women who dared to go beyond trophy holding trophies and photo ops and into NASCAR boardrooms and cars.
Lesa France Kennedy
Forbes magazine named Lesa France Kennedy the Most Influential Woman in Sports and for good reason. As a member of NASCAR’s founding France family, Kenney has done her family and racing proud. She is the CEO and Vice Chairperson of the Board of Directors for the International Speedway Corporation and the Vice Chairperson of NASCAR. For the work she’s done to expand NASCAR into Chicago, the work she did with the Daytona Rising project and a host of other accomplishments, Kennedy is known as a powerful visionary who has helped grow racing and represent women in sports in an extraordinary way.
In 2015, Kim Lopez became the first woman and Latino to be the chief starter at the famed Daytona 500. It took Lopez 11 years of flagging NASCAR races in the Sprint Cup (now Monster Cup) and XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series before mounting the tower in Florida. As chief starter, Lopez is responsible for displaying the eight flags that tell race to start, slow down, move over or stop. For little girls who love racing, Lopez stands as proof that they can be anything they want.
Kelley Earnhardt Miller
Kelley Earnhardt Miller is racing royalty for sure. She is the daughter of Dale “The Intimidator” Earnhardt and sister of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Once hailed by Dale Sr. as being more talented than Dale Jr., Miller turned in her racing tires for behind the scenes roles. As the co-owner and Vice President of JR Motorsports, she’s credited with bringing Danica Patrick on to drive the team’s Nationwide Series car and has been instrumental in the team’s success.
As Program Manager for General Motors’ (GM) NASCAR Monster Cup Progam, Alba Colon is the top engineer at GM. In this capacity she leads GM’s teams by making their cars as fast as possible. Her expertise helped Dale Earnhardt earn his only Daytona 500 trophy in 1998 and has led to ten more Daytona 500 titles for Chevrolet. She has been instrumental in championships won by Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick.
Before Danica Patrick could even spell NASCAR Janet Guthrie was driving fast. In 1977, she became the first woman to compete in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. She went on to compete in 33 NASCAR and 11 Indy Races. Guthrie would finish her career with five top-ten finishes and solidified her position as a trailblazer for women and a bona fide race car driver. In 1980 she was inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and in 2006 she was inducted in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Just as these women (and others) paved and continued to pave the way for women in NASCAR, others vigorously continued in their footsteps. The latest generation of NASCAR women reinforce their value in NASCAR as executives, crew members, drivers and officials. Make sure to celebrate NASCAR and Women’s History Month by sharing this article and tuning in to GladiatHers® on Instagram as we journey with Minorities in Sports to the Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Rinnai 250 and Active Pest Control 200!