Well over 95% of motorsports history has been made by men. This is hardly surprising, given the temperamental nature of the machines, the immense physical demands needed to wrestle a car around a track on six-inch wide bias-ply tires and no downforce (or, in some rectum-dilating cases, lift), and the overall high probability of severe disfigurement or death. Not the most welcoming environment for men or women.
Eventually, though, racing became a tamer, more sanitized sport. Concurrently, attitudes about gender and the role(s) of women changed, paving the way for pioneers like Louise Smith, Pat Moss, Denise McCluggage, Shirley Muldowney, Janet Guthrie and Michele Mouton to shatter the glass ceilings that hovered over motorsports. Today it seems more women than ever are donning helmets and dropping the hammer, however – men being men – we tend to fixate on how they look more than how they drive. (We’re sorry; please direct all anger and venom at Darwin.) What else would compel us to compile the following list?
Obviously no list of contemporary fast femmes would be complete without Danica Patrick. The petite Illinois native may dabble in modeling (including back-to-back appearances in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue), but she’s also a serial historymaker in motorsports: First woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 (2005), highest finish by a woman in the Indianapolis 500 (3rd in 2009) first woman to win an Indy car race (Twin Ring Motegi, 2008), and the highest-finishing woman in a NASCAR national touring series (4th place at last weekend’s Las Vegas Motor Speedway Nationwide Series race). While certainly not the first lady to compete at this level, she’s definitely the one who has opened the floodgates for others to follow.
While just about every American on the street will assume it’s a medical condition based on its name, the DTM (German Touring Car Championship) is actually a very exciting, very competitive racing series where wild-looking facsimiles of the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class duke it out on the road a street courses of Germany and elsewhere. One driver who competes in the series is Scotland’s Susie Stoddart.
Once considered the top female kart racer in the world, Stoddart has a best finish of 7th on two occasions during her five seasons in DTM. Not a terrific record, but keep in mind she’s been driving year-old privateer Benzes against former series champions and ex-Formula 1 drivers in factory rides throughout her sojourn in the series.
Ashley Force Hood
More than a few women choose to follow in the footsteps of their fathers. However, when your father is 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion (and high priest of loquaciousness) John Force, your chosen vocation can hardly be considered a picnic. Even so, Ashley Force Hood has spent the last four seasons racing alongside her old man in one of his 8,000hp Mustang-bodied monsters.
Thus far she’s racked up four career wins (she beat her dad to become the first woman to win an NHRA Funny Car race in April 2008), and was named World’s Hottest Athlete (male or female) in a 2007 AOL poll. However, she’s sitting out the 2011 season because she and husband Danny Hood (who heads up John Force Racing’s parts department) are expecting their first child in August.
When Mercedes-Benz driver Pierre Levegh and more than 80 spectators perished in an accident during the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans, the fallout was huge. Switzerland actually banned motorsports altogether, a ban that remains in place to this day. But that hasn’t stopped some inhabitants of the landlocked nation taking up racing as a career, including 25-year-old Rahel Frey.
With wins in Swiss Formula Renault (a series whose races are all run outside Swiss boarders, of course) and German Formula 3 (the first woman to win in that series) as well as A1GP and FIA GT1 World Championship on her resume, this wavy-haired, blue-eyed cutie will be contesting her first DTM season at the wheel of an Audi A4 this year. Her motto is apropos for any racing driver: “Go fast and never give up.”
Never heard of this young lady? Chances are you will soon. This 25-year-old Brazilian – whose full name is (deep breath) Ana Beatriz Caselato Gomes de Figueiredo – is set for her first full season campaign in the IZOD IndyCar Series. She’s already picked up two wins in the Firestone Indy Lights Series, which is one step below the big cars, but that’s not her most impressive feat; no, that honor goes to her appearance at the 2010 International Challenge of Go-Kart Champions in Brazil. In the second heat of the event, Beatriz charged from 11th on the grid to win, passing (among others) Formula 1 veterans Felipe Massa and Rubens Barrichello on her way to victory in the heat and second in the overall standings. Yeah, she’s good.
Sprint car and midget racing is, dollar for dollar, pound for pound, some of the best knock-down, drag-out motorsports action known to humankind. Considering how cutthroat the competition is, it takes a special breed of driver to succeed. It should stand to reason, then, that 21-year-old Canadian Alison Macleod (who hails from the same town as sportscar racing legend and all-around great guy Ron Fellows) is a special talent. She’s the winningest female drive in USAC history, and was signed by Ford as a development driver at the age of 14. These days she’s looking at breaking into stock cars, and as far as we can tell, she has the pace (not to mention the face) to succeed.
Simona De Silvestro
In the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season opener on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, a driver making her first start in the series led for a handful of green flag laps. She then went on to turn in many more remarkable performances in an underfunded ride last year, including winning Rookie of the Year at the Indianapolis 500. Of course, those who have been following the career of Switzerland’s Simona De Silvestro for a while (including her nearly-winning the championship in the now-defunct Atlantic Series in 2009) were hardly surprised by these results.
Humble, reserved and refreshingly level-headed, the 22-year-old is more focused on shaving tenths and hundredths off her lap times than she is getting dolled up for the cameras, but as demonstrated above, you wouldn’t know it by looking at her when she is. With a new car, a new sponsor and a season’s worth of experience for 2011, look for the “Swiss Miss” to make an even bigger impression on fans and competitors alike.
For the last 15 or so years, most short track racers have been setting their sights on NASCAR. It used to be the next step for USAC Sprints and Midgets drivers was Indy cars. It appears that Shannon McIntosh wants to follow that career path of old, as the 21-year-old Ohio native has signed up to drive in the US F2000 National Championship. Success in that series could see her move up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, onto the Star Mazda Series, Firestone Indy Lights and, just maybe, the IZOD IndyCar Series. Who says kids these days don’t appreciate tradition?
After spending much of her childhood in karting, including Junior championships in her native Switzerland and the whole of Europe, Cyndie Allemann decided to make a career out of racing at age 16. Since then, the now-24-year-old Allemann has had stints in Formula Renault, Formula 3, Firestone Indy Lights and the FIA GT1 World Championship. She’s currently looking for a ride for 2011, but any sponsor worth its mettle will know that Cyndie will draw attention to whatever she’s pitching.
When you think of auto racing, you don’t usually expect to see environmentally-conscious vegetarians showing up at the track, a place where fermented dinosaurs are wantonly burned and superheated livestock parts are ingested by the truckload. But Leilani Münter not only shows up at the track, she races. The Minnesota native has competed in stock car racing at levels ranging from local short track to ARCA, and competed in what’s now the Firestone Indy Lights Series in 2007.
Not surprisingly, Münter is a big proponent of alternative fuels in racing, and when she isn’t suited up and behind the wheel, she’s behind a microphone speaking on behalf of environmental and animal rights organizations and agitating for the creation and passage of green legislation. She’s also the sister-in-law of The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and used to body double for Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Great Britain has produced more than a few Indy car success stories over the years: Jim Clark. Graham Hill. Nigel Mansell. Dan Wheldon. Dario Franchitti. One member of the current bumper crop of Brits hoping to join that list is London-born Pippa Mann.
After some frankly underwhelming results in the lower formulae (including her first few years in Firestone Indy Lights), the fashionable 27-year-old found her groove on ovals last year, taking three pole positions (including the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis, becoming the first woman to top a qualifying chart at the Brickyard) and her first win at Kentucky. Next stop? Rumor has it she’ll be entered in a few IZOD IndyCar Series races this year.
Although motherhood has sidelined Ashley Force Hood for 2011, her little sister Courtney Force will be getting quite a bit of Funny Car seat time, and might be stepping up to the Funny Car ranks sooner rather than later. The statuesque 22-year-old has lots of seat time in a Top Alcohol Dragster, just as big sister Ashley did before moving up. In fact, it was Ashley who has been tutoring her in the finer points of wrestling a nitro-gulping, carbon fiber-bodied beast down the dragstip.
Courtney will not be competing this year, but she will be testing on Mondays after selected national events on the Full Throttle Drag Racing tour. And next year? Stay tuned.
What’s the deal with Switzerland and all its cute she-racers? Seinfeldian riffing aside, we’re seriously curious if there’s something in the water. Or the cheese. No matter, though; what does matter is we’re going to tell you about Natacha Gachnang.
Part of a racing family (Her cousin is Formula 1 driver Sebastien Buemi.), Gachnang has extensive experience in sports cars and various open-wheel feeder series, including the Star Mazda Series here in North America. Last year she teamed with her countrywomen Cyndie Allemann and Rahel Frey in a GT1 class Ford GT at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This despite breaking her leg in an identical car in a qualifying accident in Abu Dhabi just two months earlier. Arrestingly beautiful and tough? We need to sit down.
Racing through the desert is not for the faint of heart. Rough terrain, dust, sweltering temperatures, venomous critters, and bandits are just some of the things that can ruin your day. But that hasn’t stopped Portugal’s Madalena Antas from making a name for herself, blasting over the dunes in Nissan pickups and SUVs. The 34-year-old Antas is actually following in the footsteps of her late mother, Teresa Cupertino De Miranda, by competing in the Dakar Rally and other rally raid events. She’s also a painter and, more relevant to the purposes of this list, off-the-charts gorgeous. Pontuação!
We know, we know… Ms. Duno isn’t what you’d call “fast.” Just ask Danica. The Venezuelan is, however, the holder of four (yes, four) masters degrees, has scored numerous class wins and a few overall wins in sports car racing (admittedly due in no small part to her co-drivers), has a earned reputation as being extremely fan-friendly, and wrote a bilingual children’s book that extols the virtues of a good education. Also, she’s a former model, but you probably figured that out looking at her picture, right?