Raceway association welcomes famed Indy 500 racer
By Romi Herron For the Beacon-News February 3, 2013 10:59PM
One of Janet Guthrie's racing cars added to the festivities Saturday at the Meadowdale International Raceway Preservation Association's Winter Banquet, where the Guthrie, the first woman to compete at the Indy 500, was the honored guest speaker. Romi Herron for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 5, 2013 6:34AM
More than 150 attended the Meadowdale International Raceway Preservation Association’s 4th Annual Awards Winter Banquet Saturday, where 74-year-old Janet Guthrie shared stories from her iconic racing career and autobiography, “Janet Guthrie: A Life At Full Throttle.”
The event, held at Hilton Double Tree in Arlington Heights, featured two auctions, a book signing, and showcased one of Guthrie’s actual race cars on display.
Following a brief slide presentation of Guthrie racing to the finish line in her Texaco Star racing gear, she was greeted with a standing ovation.
“That emotional scene was the Indy 500 of 1978 where I finished in the Top 10 with a team I formed and managed myself,” said Guthrie, dressed in a navy blue suit. “I had a budget of about five percent of the budget of the top running team at the time.”
A student of physics at University of Michigan, Guthrie explained her love for speed led her to buy a Jaguar for an ultimate sportscar experience. Later, she and friends built a racecar from scratch, she explained. Even before that, though, she pursued sports associated with high risk.
“People usually want to know how I got started in racing,” she said. “I made a parachute jump when I was 16, got a pilots license at 17 and was a flight instructor at 20. In college I studied physics — which was an adventure of the mind.”
Guthrie’s sense of humor was threaded throughout her speech Saturday, as she shared a story about a fan letter. The writer, who thought Guthrie was in show business, gushed with compliments about Guthrie’s beauty and fame, Guthrie said. “(The letter) continued, ‘Please send me your autograph. You’re my favorite actress.’”
After racing at the Indy 500 as the first woman to compete there, Guthrie later was invited to give NASCAR stockcar racing a go. The culture, she said, was memorable. She finished 15th in her first ever stock car race.
“The reception I got from the good old boys was a bit cool,” she said. “Women in that culture were supposed to be decorative accessories or pretend to be decorative accessories.”
While women were involved in the sport of racing, they were relegated to roles other than driver.
“Women weren’t allowed in the pits or press box for any reason whatsoever,” Guthrie said. “(Women) could be a scorer or reporter, she could own the racecar, but she couldn’t drive it.”
In overcoming those ideals, Guthrie said she garnered valuable wisdom.
“I learned how to read a shop manual written in its original British. how to tear down and rebuild.”
Guthrie talked with guests and posed for pictures after the presentation, in which she said attitudes about women in racing did change, reflecting on that shift as “one of my deepest pleasures.”
Meadowdale International Raceway Preservation Association is geared to promote and preserve the history of Meadowdale International Raceway, which operated from 1958 to 1968 in Carpentersville. The nonprofit group aims to educate the local, state and national community on the importance of the track, where former racers who later were inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America include Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Roger Penske, Carl Haas, Fred Lorenzen, Peter Revson, Curtis Turner, Lloyd Ruby, Paul Goldsmith, Gary Nixon, and George Follmer.
More information about Meadowdale International Raceway Preservation Association is available at the organization’s website, www.mirpa.org.