The History Of Female Drivers in NASCAR
NASCAR has seen female drivers compete since the inception of its sanctioning body in 1949. Sara Christian was a participant in the inaugural NASCAR race at the Charlotte Speedway. Christian, Ethel Mobley and Louise Smith competed in the second official race in Daytona with Mobley finishing ahead of the other two female racers and at 11th overall.
In 1954, Betty Skelton Erde drove the pace car at Daytona and set the female stock car speed record. After no female raced in a decade, Janet Guthrie became the first woman driver to race in a superspeedway when she started the 1976 World 600, finishing in 15th place and ahead of Dale Earnhardt. The following year, Guthrie became the first woman to lead a Winston Cup Series Race under caution at the Ontario Speedway in Canada. 1986 saw the first woman lead in a Busch Series Race in Patty Moise.
Shawna Robinson became the first woman to win a NASCAR Touring Series event in 1988. Robinson also took home “Rookie of the Year” and “Most Popular Driver” honors. The following year, Robinson became the first woman to earn the pole position in a NASCAR race. In 1994, Robinson became the first woman to clinch pole position in one of the major series, topping the qualifying race for the Xfinity series Busch Light 300 series at the Atlanta Speedway on March 12, 1994.
107 women have qualified for and started at least one race in one of NASCAR’s touring series, including 16 at NASCAR’s premier level. Here is the list:
● Louise Smith (11 starts/from 1949-1952)
● Sara Christian (7 / 1949-1950)
● Ethel [Flock] Mobley (2 / 1949)
● Ann Bunselmeyer (1 / 1950)
● Ann Chester (2 / 1950)
● Ann Slaasted (1 / 1950)
● Marian Pagan (1 / 1954)
● Fifi Scott (2 / 1955)
● Goldie Parsons (1 / 1965)
● Janet Guthrie (33 / 1976-1980)
● Christine Beckers (1 / 1977)
● Lella Lombardi (1 / 1977)
● Robin McCall (2 / 1982 note: Wally Dallenbach Jr's wife)
● Patty Moise (5 / 1987-1989 note: Elton Sawyer's wife, plus ran 2 Winston Open's)
● Shawna Robinson (8 / 2001-2002)
● Danica Patrick (191 / 2012-2018)
As of September 30, 2018, only two women, Hailie Deegan and Shawna Robinson, have won a race in NASCAR’s touring series. Deegan, Robinson, Danica Patrick, Tammy Jo Kirk and Mara Reyes have won Poles.
During the 1990’s many women raced in NASCAR’s lower series. Patty Moise has a record of 133 starts for the XFINITY series from 1986-1998. Tammy Jo Kirk had 37 Top 10 finishes and two poles in the All Pro Series before becoming the first woman to start at the Camping World Truck Series.
IndyCar series driver Danica Patrick joined NASCAR in 2010. Two year later, Patrick would earn the pole at the 2012 DRIVE4COPD 300, becoming the first female driver since Shawna Robinson to clinch it. However, Patrick would finish the race at 38th place after figuring in a crash. That year, Patrick became the first woman to win the NASCAR Most Popular Nationwide Driver award. In 2013, Patrick became the first woman in Sprint Cup history to race full-time in the series. At the 2013 Daytona 500, Patrick became the first female driver to clinch pole position and lead a green flag lap. She finished 8th, the highest ever finish for an woman in the Daytona 500.
In 2014, Danica Patrick had three top 10 finishes including 6th place in Atlanta. After a 7th place finish in Martinsville a year later, Patrick tied Guthrie for most Top 10 finishes by a female NASCAR driver. She would break the record weeks later and she would finish the season as the first woman to make 100 starts in NASCAR’s Cup series. In 2017, Patrick became the first female NASCAR driver to lead the prestigious Coca Cola 600. Later that year, she announced that she would be retiring from full-time racing at the end of the 2017 season.
Last September 29, 2018, 17 year old Hailie Deegan became the first female driver to win at the K&N Pro Series Level by winning the NAPA Auto Parts Idaho 208 at the Meridian Speedway in Idaho. Deegan’s triumph was the first for a female NASCAR driver since Shawna Robinson three decades back.
Here are the Female Drivers with the most stars across the three National Series (Cup, NXS, Truck):
5. Johanna Long ( 42 XFINITY, 24 Trucks )
Johanna Long Robbins was the winner of the 2010 Snowball Derby at the Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola. Her victory was the first for a female NASCAR driver since Tammy Jo Kirk won in 1994. In 2012, she became the youngest woman to compete in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. She married fellow short track driver and Kyle Busch Motorsports engineer Hunter Robbins.
4. Shawna Robinson (69 XFINITY, 8 Cup)
Shawna Robinson competed in all three NASCAR Touring series. She is one of the 16 women to ever participate in the NASCAR Cup Series and one of only three female drivers to race in the Daytona 500. Robinson is the first woman to win a top level NASCAR sanctioned race. Robinson and NASCAR Truck Series driver Jennifer Jo Cobb competed in the 16th installment of The Amazing Race but did not win the contest.
3. Patty Moise (133 XFINITY, 5 Cup)
Patricia Sawyer Moise drove in five Winston Cup races from 1987-89 and 133 Busch Series races from 1986-1998. She is the first female driver to lead a Busch Series event. Moise is married to fellow NASCAR driver Elton Sawyer.
2. Jennifer Jo Cobb (31 XFINITY, 167 Trucks)
Jennifer Jo Cobb currently competes full-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and drives the #10 Chevrolet Silverado for her own JJC Racing. She also drives but only part-time for the NASCAR XFINITY series, driving the #55 Toyota Camry of JP Motorsports.
1. Danica Patrick (191 Cup, 61 XFINITY)
Danica Patrick is the most successful woman in the history of American open wheel racing. She is the only woman to win an IndyCar series with her victory at the 2008 Indy Japan 300. She competed in the 2018 Daytona 500 and the 2018 Indy 500 before officially retiring from full-time competition. Outside car racing, Patrick is the first woman to host the ESPYs, hosting the latest edition of ESPN’s annual award show. Most recently, she was also featured in the video for Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You” single.
At Chicagoland Speedway last June, Venturini Motorsports made history by fielding three female drivers in the same event in Natalie Decker, Leilani Munter and Toni Breidinger. Decker ( leftmost in the photo above) is seen as the future. The 20 year old ARCA rookie earned pole position during the season opener in Daytona, making her the 3rd woman in ARCA history and the fourth in Daytona’s 60 year existence to start a race from pole position. She finished the race in fifth place, her best career finish.