NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick speaks with crew members following her practice run for the Nationwide DRIVE4COPD at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, February 24, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/Brian Blanco
The "First Lady of Drag Racing" was and still is a pioneer in auto racing. After becoming the first woman to get a licence from the National Hot Rod Association to drive a Top Fuel dragster, Muldowney went on to win the NHRA Top Fuel championship in 1977, 1980 and 1982. In total she has won a total of 18 NHRA national titles. And she did against a background of hostility to her sex and her talents. A high-school drop out, Muldowney married at 16 to mechanic Jack Muldowney, who built her first race car. A famous quote of Muldowney was: "Jack was the mechanic. He was the guy who tuned the cars that let the girl beat all the boys. I was a kid from upstate New York with no guidance, no direction. I was headed for trouble, nothing going for me. Then I found the sport at a very young age and was able to make something out of it." Her life was immortalized in the 1983 hit movie Heart Like A Wheel.
2) Janet Guthrie
Guthrie was the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in 1977 but finished 29th when the timing gear in the Offenhauser engine for her No. 27 Lightning failed. She would go on to become the first woman to race in the NASCAR Winston Cup World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1978 where she finished 15th. The next season she qualified for the Daytona 500 where she finished 12th despite her engine losing two cylinders with 10 laps to go. Guthrie's helmet and race suit are in the Smithsonian Institution.
3) Ashley Force Hood
The daughter of NHRA drag-racing legend John Force, Ashley has made a name for herself in Top Fuel Funny Car racing. She won rookie of the year in 2007 and the next season beat her father - a 15-time national Funny Car champion - in the NHRA Summit Southern Nationals held at the Atlanta Dragway and became the first woman to win in that drag-racing category.
4) Danica Patrick
Patrick is the most successful female to race in the IZOD IndyCar Series, winning the 2008 Japan Indy 300 race - the only women in the history of open-wheel racing to win at that level. She also holds the record for the highest finish in the Indianapolis 500 for a woman - third in 2009 - and she holds the record for most consecutive finishes by a woman in IndyCar (50). Patrick moved to NASCAR full-time in the 2012 season competing in the Nationwide Series where she became the highest-finishing female - fourth - in the Sam's Town 300 Nationwide Series Race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
5) Lyn St. James
St. James is tied with Patrick with the most starts in the Indianapolis 500 with seven and became the first female to win rookie-of-the-year honours when she finished 11th in 1992 driving a Chevrolet-powered Lola. She also has two victories at the 24 Hours of Daytona, one win at the 12 Hours of Sebring, and competed twice at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.