Racing has long been a male dominated sport. Still, from time to time, women have made their way into the racing arena at the competitive level, working out their inner speed demons on winding stretches of asphalt. Today, more and more women are taking their love of automobiles out to the track.
Here are just a few of the notable women who have paved the way, so to speak, with incredible accomplishments in the world of racing.
Easily the best-known female racecar driver—and arguably the most successful woman in American open-wheel racing—Patrick started out driving go-karts at age 10. By her early 20s, she became the first woman to lead laps and score a top five finish at the Indianapolis 500, where she led 19 laps and finished 4th place in her first outing in 2005.
She accomplished many more "firsts" for women in racing, winning the IndyCar Series Indy Japan 300 in 2008, a NASCAR Cup Series pole in 2013 (setting the fastest time in qualifying and finishing 8th in the race), and breaking the record for the most top 10 finishes of any female in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2015 with a total of seven wins.
Today, she is an author, entrepreneur, and inspirational speaker.
Muldowney is renowned as the first woman licensed to drive a Top Fuel dragster back in 1973, although she obtained her NHRA pro license in 1965. After winning the IHRA Southern Nationals in 1971, she teamed up with Connie Kalitta. The two raced Ford Mustangs as the Bounty Hunter and Bounty Huntress from 1972-1977.
In 1977, she won her first NHRA Top Fuel world championship, followed by two more wins in 1980 and 1982. She was sidelined for 18 months following a serious crash in 1984, but continued to race until her retirement in 2003. In 2005, she was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.
Born in France in 1899, Siko started racing in the 1920s. By 1930, she entered her first Le Mans, alongside teammate Marguerite Mareuse. They were not only the first females to do so, but they were the first female team. They finished 7th place, to the astonishment of all.
The team finished 9th in 1931, but suffered a disqualification. In 1932, however, Siko nabbed 4th place in Le Mans with teammate Jean Sabipa (AKA Louis Charaval). Today, Siko remains the highest-finishing woman in Le Mans history.
Carol "Bunny" Burkett
Lauded as a female pioneer in the drag racing world, Burkett remained the first and only woman to win an NHRA national event funny car title at the NHRA Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Dragway in 1986. The same year, she won the IHRA Top Alcohol Championship and ranked 4th in the NHRA Top 10 TAFC standings.
She continued to race Top Alcohol Funny cars until 2015, when she retired at the age of 70. In 2020, she received a Lifetime Achievement award at the Holley National Hot Rod Reunion.
Women have had a role in racing almost since the sport began. Thanks to the pioneering efforts and major successes of racers like Danica Patrick, Shirley Muldowney, Odette Siko, and Carol "Bunny" Burkett, more women are starting to explore their passion for putting the pedal to the metal.