The National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) has had fans around the world revved up to see their favorite racecar drivers zoom past each other on any given racetrack for the last 54 years. However, NASCAR fans have reasons that go beyond the range of a speedometer to wound them up for the races.
Although professional sports have remained mostly male-dominated, NASCAR and its fans have witnessed a surge in female participation that began with Sara Christian in 1949. Christian was the first woman to ever race for the NASCAR Nextel cup.
Since Christian there have been more than a dozen women who have also raced for the cup.
Most recently, fans are looking to Danica Patrick, 23, to be the first woman Nextel Cup hopeful since auto-racing legend Janet Guthrie in 1977.
Patrick first earned her spot in the world of stock car racing in 2002 with a spot on the David Letterman Indy Racing team. The esteemed first lady of car racing then went on to lead the Indy 500 race in 2005 for 19 laps. Women athletes like Patrick are instrumental in diminishing the gender gap in sports and inspire women athletes all over the world to keep playing hard, or in this case, driving fast.
This year’s chase for the Nextel Cup will launch on Sept. 17 at the New Hampshire International Speedway Racetrack. Even if Patrick isn’t the first to cross the finish line, fans will be keeping their eyes open for more women to venture their way into the sport of stock car racing.