A race car knows no gender, has no idea if its driver is a male or female. The racing world is unique in that teams aren’t separated in competition by gender or sex, and yet the disparity against women has been just as prevalent as in other aspects of the sports world.
In 1977, Tony Hulman added a qualifier to the starting command at the Indianapolis 500: “In company with the first lady ever to qualify at Indianapolis, gentlemen, start your engines!” Women in the racing industry hoped these words would become permanent, and yet have too often been missing from one of the most famous lines in motorsports.
The newest episode in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series, Qualified, documents the woman about whom those words were spoken —Janet Guthrie. She is the first woman in history to earn a place in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.
In 2005, Guthrie penned her autobiography, A Life at Full Throttle, on which filmmaker Jenna Ricker initially based the story. The ESPN documentary includes archival footage from both personal and broadcast sources, and interviews with Guthrie’s teammates and competitors, her family, and Guthrie herself. Created and produced by women, Qualified highlights Guthrie’s first attempt in 1976 to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, her return to that famed track in 1977, and her highest Indy 500 finish in 1978, and also encompasses her NASCAR career.
An aerospace engineer with a degree from the University of Michigan, Guthrie began racing in 1963 on the Sports Car Club of America circuit, and by 1972, competed full time in the sport. Guthrie battled industry perceptions as a woman before a lack of sponsorship funding ultimately ended Guthrie’s career, but not before she became an example for future generations of female racers. Guthrie apparently had no intention of being a trailblazer, and to this day, still downplays her achievements. At the same time, however, she recognizes the result of her grit and determination as a door to future generations of female racers. Many of the women who followed Guthrie in the sport have earned their own accolades, most notably, Pippa Mann, Katherine Legge, Christina Nielsen and Danica Patrick.
Qualified premiered at the 2019 South by Southwest Festival in March, and first aired on ESPN May 28, 2019.