Janet Guthrie

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Social Studies

Grade 3- 5


Students will learn about a woman physicist and race car driver in honor of Women's History Month. They will identify other well-known women daredevils.


Race Car Driver and Physicist
Why would a well-educated young woman choose a career as a mechanic and race car driver? Janet Guthrie's family and friends would never understand why a woman who had a wonderful job as a physicist in the aerospace department of Republic Aviation would want to throw away her life on racing cars.
Janet's love for adventure led her to the racing world. She sold everything she owned, including her XK-120 Jaguar. Her goal was to build her own race car from scratch. She bought a brand new Toyota and promptly tore it down. It took her a year to rebuild it so that it would be able to compete. Since she had no steady job, life was a struggle. She had to abandon her apartment for a single room in the back of a store. Only odd jobs kept her alive and paid for the parts she needed for her car. Finally, worn out and virtually penniless, Janet took a job as a technical editor for Sperry Rand.
Although she could find no racing sponsor, she did not give up. She kept making appointments and attempting to sell the world on the idea of a female race car driver, but sponsors thought a woman was too much of a risk. Finally, someone took a chance and asked her to race. She finished that race and continued to win in club races and some professional ones. At last Janet set her sights on a race that would test her endurance: the Indianapolis 500.
In 1976 Janet attempted to qualify for the Indy 500, but car problems eliminated her. But that same year she did become the first woman to race for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Races. In 1977 she became the first woman to race in the Indy 500; the following year she placed ninth in her Texaco-sponsored #51 racer at Indianapolis.
Janet Guthrie is a pioneer. The thrill of racing caused her to decide that a life driving off into the sunset was better than sitting at a desk. Her spirit of adventure paid off not only for her but also for every other woman whose career leads her to the speedway.
Suggested Activities

  1. Knowledge: What kinds of jobs did Janet do before and while she worked toward becoming a race car driver?
  2. Creative Thinking: If you wanted to become a race car driver, how would you find someone to sponsor you?
  3. Application: Draw your conception of the fastest race car of the future.
  4. Analysis: Why was it so difficult for Janet to find a sponsor and become a professional race car driver?
  5. Synthesis: Did Janet's experiences before her professional career as race car driver help her in any way?
  6. Evaluation: Do you think that Janet was happy with her life as a race car driver?
  7. Affective: Do you think that racing cars is hazardous? Do you think it is more hazardous for women than for men?

    1. Distribute the activity sheet to students and have them complete the activity.


  • Daredevils activity sheet
  • pencils

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