Get to know Janet Guthrie, the retired professional race car driver

Get to know Janet Guthrie, the retired professional race car driver

Helix Odhiambo
updated at December 2, 2023 at 6:25 AM

Janet Guthrie is one of the female pioneers in motorsport. She is the first female driver to compete in a NASCAR superspeedway race. Her career accomplishments paved the way for women in the male-dominated field, and her life history has inspired many generations.

Janet Guthrie's age
Janet Guthrie is a pioneering driver and the first woman to qualify and compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. Photo: Brad Barket, D Dipasupil (modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

Janet began her career as an aerospace engineer before switching to car racing. She showed the world her talent behind the wheel by establishing herself among the best. Learn more about Janet Guthrie's biography, career achievements, and net worth here.

Janet Guthrie's profile summary

Full name

Janet Guthrie

Date of birth

7 March, 1938


85 (as of December 2023)


Iowa City, Iowa, USA




University of Michigan, Republic Aviation


Retired race car driver


William Lain and Jean Midkiff Guthrie




Warren Levine (dead)

Net worth

$15 million

How old is Janet Guthrie?

Legendary car racer Janet Guthrie (age 85 as of November 2023) was born in Iowa City, Iowa, United States. Her family moved to Miami, Florida, when she was three.

Education background

Janet attended Harris' Florida School for Girls for her high school education. She advanced her studies at the University of Michigan, graduating with a B.Sc. in physics in 1960. The former car racer later joined the Republic Aviation as a research and development engineer.

How many siblings did Janet Guthrie have?

Is Janet Guthrie still alive?
Race car driver Janet Guthrie walks onstage during the 30th Annual Salute To Women In Sports Awards at the Waldorf Astoria on 13 October 2009, in New York City. Photo: Stephen Lovekin
Source: Getty Images

The motorsport legend was born to William Lain and Jean Midkiff Guthrie. She is the eldest child in the family. Janet has four siblings, including two sisters, Margaret and Anne, and two brothers, Walter and Stewart.

Janet Guthrie's parents

Guthrie's parents were professional pilots. Her father, William, worked for Eastern Airlines for over 30 years. He made headlines on 1 August 1970 by refusing to dump waste kerosene from his jet into the atmosphere.

William ordered the crew to drain the waste fuel before taking off, which made the airline dismiss him for insubordination. Other pilots protested the decision by refusing to dump their fuel, forcing the airline to reinstate William and cease aerial dumping.

The father of five retired shortly after returning to the airline but died of a heart attack in March 1997, aged 84.

Janet Guthrie's career

Janet Guthrie's accomplishments
Janet Guthrie stands in front of her car before the 1977 Winston Cup Daytona 500 on 20 February 1977 at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Photo: ISC Archives
Source: Getty Images

William's daughter worked as an aerospace engineer at Republic Aviation after graduation. She was part of the Project Apollo team that worked to get the rocket to the moon. Guthrie also wanted to become an astronaut and applied for the position in 1964.

Unfortunately, despite passing most of the tests, she lacked the academic qualification (PhD) to progress further into the program.

When did Janet Guthrie start racing?

The University of Michigan graduate began racing in the early 1960s. She used her 1953 Jaguar XK120 M car to enter local races. Guthrie won two Sports Car Club of America races in 1964 and finished 6th place in Watkins Glen 500 in New York.

The Pilot's daughter became a full-time car racer in 1972. She raced for several years and captured the interest of multiple teams, including the Indy Car builder and team owner Rolla Vollstedt, who signed her. Here is a timeline of Janet Guthrie's stats and professional career.

First NASCAR race

Janet Guthrie's stats
American race car driver Janet Guthrie in her car for a test drive before the Trentonian 200 race in Trenton, New Jersey, in May 1976. Photo: Bettye Lane
Source: Getty Images

The most-recognized Janet Guthrie accomplishment was participating in the 1976 World 600, where she finished 15th. She became the first woman to participate in a NASCAR Winston Cup race at a Superspeedway in the United States.

Daytona 500

William's daughter competed in the Daytona 500 in 1977, making her the first woman to start in the competition. She finished 12th, beating talented drivers like Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, and David Pearson.

Indianapolis 500 (Indy 500)

The former aerospace engineer became the first female driver at the Indy 500 after competing in the race in 1977. She also finished ninth in the 1978 Indy 500, the then-highest rank by a female driver, before Danica Patrick broke it in 2005 by coming fourth.

Janet Guthrie
Race car driver Janet Guthrie prepares to take off during a race in June 1979. She was the first woman ever to compete in the Indianapolis 500. Photo: Bettmann
Source: Getty Images

Janet made her final appearance in the Daytona 500 in 1980. She finished 11th, driving for Rod Osterlund in the Texaco Star Chevrolet. She also became the first woman to hold a corporate sponsorship in domestic oval racing by partnering with Texaco Star.

Bristol Motor Speedway

Janet recorded her highest career finish in the 1977 Bristol Motor Speedway race when she placed sixth. It is also the best finish by a woman in a top NASCAR race.

Coca-Cola 500

Janet's final race in the NASCAR Cup Series came at Pocono Raceway in the Coca-Cola 500 in 1980. She finished 28th in the competition and retired the same year.

Janet Guthrie's achievements

When did Janet Guthrie start racing?
Janet Guthrie (C) reacts after recording the required run on the speedway to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Guthrie's speed was 190.325 mph. Photo: Bettmann
Source: Getty Images

The legendary driver left a lasting legacy as one of the best female drivers in history. Her achievements opened up opportunities for women in motorsport. Janet Guthrie's NASCAR career lasted four seasons (1976-1980), competing in 31 races and notching five top-10 finishes.

Janet Guthrie's hall of fame honours

The American sports celebrity entered three halls of fame thanks to her remarkable achievements in motorsport. Here is a list of her inductions.

  • International Women's Sports Hall of Fame (1980)
  • International Motorsports Hall of Fame (2006)
  • Automotive Hall of Fame (2019)

Is there a Janet Guthrie's movie?

Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank is expected to star in an upcoming movie highlighting Guthrie's life story and career journey. The film, titled Speed Girl, is based on a Stephan Talty book by the same name. A release date for the movie is yet to be revealed.

Janet Guthrie's net worth

Janet Guthrie's hall of fame
Janet Guthrie (L) and Melanie Troxel (R) during the unveiling of the Museum's Billie Jean King International Women's Sports Center at the National Sports Museum in New York City. Photo: Brian Ach
Source: Getty Images

The University of Michigan graduate has a reported net worth of around $15 million as of 2023. She earned most of the wealth from her career by signing lucrative contracts.

Fun facts about Janet Guthrie

Janet's ambition and determination to succeed in her ventures made her successful. She joined the list of prominent women like Sara Christian, Shawna Robinson, and Hailie Deegan, who changed the gender narrative in NASCAR. Discover other fascinating details about Guthrie.

Is Janet Guthrie still alive?

Janet Guthrie’s biography
Former professional race car driver Janet Guthrie attends the 33rd Annual Salute To Women In Sports Gala at Cipriani Wall Street on 17 October 2012 in New York City. Photo: Mike Coppola
Source: Getty Images

The former NASCAR racer is still alive. According to sources, she still follows racing competitions on TV but rarely attends them due to her old age. She also does motivational talks to inspire younger generations.

Janet Guthrie's husband

The 2019 Hall of Famer married former American Airlines pilot Warren Levine in 1989. They lived together for 17 years before Warren's death. He died in 2006 of a heart attack. The couple reportedly had no child.

Where does she stay?

Guthrie moved to Aspen, Colorado, in 1985, where she has lived to date. She also wrote her autobiography, Janet Guthrie, A Life at Full Throttle, after retiring and moving to Aspen.

Final word

Janet Guthrie's awards and achievements raised her reputation in the sports world. Her transition from aerospace engineering to car racing paid off. Her legacy in motorsport will live on for years.

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Helix Odhiambo photo
Helix Odhiambo
Helix Odhiambo is an award-winning Kenyan journalist and content creator with over 6 years of experience. In 2016, he won the Goal Blaze Correspondent Award for young writers.