ESPN's 'Qualified' Highlights Boundary-Breaking Race Car Driver Janet Guthrie


Return our attention to the world of motor sports, which has the rare distinction as being one of the sports where men and women are sensually on a level playing field in that body strength and physical speed take a back seat to focus precision and skill and yet women have struggled to break through at the highest levels of motor sports. That is the topic of the latest thirty for thirty film. It's called qualified. It used to be and women can't do it. They don't have the strength. They don't have the endurance. They're gonna endanger lives. You don't hear that anymore. What you do. Here is they're never gonna win. Then believe me if I didn't think I could win I would quit. But I do think I can win for four year stretch starting in nineteen seventy seven Janet Guthrie attempted to accomplish where women had never done qualify for and win the world's most famous race. The Indianapolis five hundred unsurprisingly she faced a ton of resistance, we'll five or six other rookies year. And she gets all attention, and they don't get nothing. Do you think she'll be able to last six hundred mile? No. No. What was surprising to the establishment was how good of a research at Guthrie actually what's despite inferior equipment funding that paled in comparison to some of the other teams and open hostility from her male competitors. Guthrie not only qualified, but earned a top ten finish in nineteen seventy within two years. She finished ahead. Mario andretti. The lady can literally with one hand tied behind her back with them in. On today's episode. Look at Janet Guthrie struggles her achievements her determination and how her career suddenly stalled out the director of qualified generic, and her producer, Carolina Waterlo will join me in a moment. But first, it is my pleasure. To say Hello to the legend herself Janet Guthrie, welcome to the thirty for thirty podcasts. And congratulations on this film will thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. So I want to get into the film when your career, but I was wondering if you could just describe what it's like to drive an IndyCar. Well, there's nothing that I know of that require is such focus without a lapse for such a long time, because you can't afford to make small mistakes, because small mistakes have shot at turning into unseemly mishaps. You're trying to beat the next guy end of the corner, but you're not going to put him in the wall. In order to do it. Hang on. John is still doing quite well second, Indianapolis five hundred AJ just one place in front of. Treaded guthrie. So it's a very interesting combination of competition. And yet, you're responsible for the well being of the person you're competing against. I don't know anything like it really. Anything can happen. One of the things I learned from the film that you grew up. You learn how to fly you parachuted. But in your answer, just then you didn't say anything along the lines of. Well, I am a thrill seeker. And I really liked going fast or something like that. I mean so where does that fit into to the appeal? Well, I guess I was born at venturous and grew up in sufficiently socialized of flying was great fun. What of the elements is that this wonderful machinery, the airplanes the race carries in able women to compete right out there, the level of human ability, because the broad shoulders and big muscles, don't count. That's part of the appeal finding out what it's like out there the limits of human capability, so this may be naive question. But why was it so hard to make that case throughout the seventies that this isn't about physical broad shoulders in the way that you just described this is about folk? This and all the things that aren't sort of inherently different between men and women. Oh, mythology. I'm afraid actually I had been racing sports car is for women had always participated. I'd been doing that kind of thing for thirteen years. And I could count the problems on the fingers of one hand that had anything to do with my being a woman, it just really wasn't an issue. So to come in to the top levels of racing and this country IndyCar racing and NASCAR Cup racing. And discover the not everybody thought that way was a quite as apprise actually when you were trying to break in. Did you get a sense that there was sort of actual misogyny at place, or was it more just like we have an old boys club here? We like our little network, and now trying to crash the party. Well, unfortunately, what was being said, was along. The lines of women did have strength women don't have the endurance. Women don't. Ev the emotional stability, Iman are going to endanger our lives times. It made made a mad mostly. I could laugh at it because I figured they would learn better and indeed, for the most part that did happen when you first started breaking in, and particularly when you got to Indy cars, your first few races, it felt like not just all eyes on you, but also testing you, you know what I mean? People were pretty explicit about this is your one chance. And if you screw it up, then you're not going to get a second chance. Well, I knew if a screwed up that it would be a long time. If for a woman got another chance. Yes. I did have to be a little extra cautious those first few races. So that not only did I give the fast or. Cars in a room. I gave them so much room that there wasn't going to be a doubt in their mind. And then as time went on, of course, I could home in on that a little more. But you look for hence. Coming up on the smart car. Chris allowed to make any mistakes day with lower Parador faster cars. Yeah. Given them all over the world. You bet. We'll hear lots more from Janika three in a bit. But now let's talk to the people who had to craft her story qualified director, Jen Ricker, and producer Caroline Waterlo. Jenna started a conversation by talking about whether Janika through was a story that she knew about or whether she felt like she was really rescuing a story that had been lost to history. I didn't know who Johnny go through was myself. And I think what happened for me is in being introduced her story. I was a little ticked. I didn't know who she was. I was like the first woman. I don't know who the first one when you qualified for the Indianapolis five hundred this is insane. And I think it started like throwing down a rabbit hole of like how many more women don't I know about. And, and I think that became something very clear to us as we were learning more about her in culling research is that most people didn't know about her, and this is an overarching problem beyond the sport beyond her story is that every time we find out about a woman, it's still a novelty, and the more novelties the less progress, you can make. And if people can identify with somebody who's come before it looks like a pretty big mountain to scale to go after something. So it it didn't up having a big impact on us. The Juno about the story. I did not Jenna, read the book and. I was very excited about it. And she and I became friends through another mutual friend who is also a producer on the film Nina, Kristich, and Nina, and I had worked on the OJ made in America doc, together. She's a archival genius, and our other producer, Greg. So the four of us all kind of came together, and John had this incredible disease of an excitement for the story, and we all immediately agreed and sort of got on board to me, it was like seventies women race cars. Awesome. The need. There's no you look at a picture of her her suits with her car. And you just think I need to know everything about this. And so it was kind of a no brainer for me to want to produce it and try to talk. Yes. PIN into making it people who are listening to this podcast will have heard her and got of personality. I'm wondering if you can take a crack at describing Janet's personality to natio- single minded in pursuit of things, she's very inflammable. And so it's probably what maters such a great race car driver. Like, as we did this discovering. Like never seen it IndyCar race. Never seen a NASCAR race. And then gets in these cars and excels. And I think that's to or credit, you know she did jump from kinda crappy sports cars to the top level of the sport. And it's to your credit that it was like give me the machine. And I will make it excel. Yeah. And then the great joy of, of Janet as a character to is you go the next layer to her. And it's like oh, she jumped out of a plane when she was sixteen right? Oh, she's an aeronautical engineer. Oh, she built her own engine? You know, we talk about, you know, stem in education, outright, science technology, engineering math, you know, she is like the stem spokesperson of all time, and that's another all the areas that she excelled in are just these kind of have traditionally not been is that we hear about women. Do you think she was motivated by just? I'm really good at this and I want to do this or how much did she recognize the sort of trail-blazing nature of what she was doing? She. Was not trying to be the first she was not trying to make a huge feminist statement. She's like I'm just trying to drive my car and I am good at it, and I and I love it and I want to do it, so please, let me do it. But then she talks about in the film how over time as people point out to her, that she is this trailblazer. And she sorta realizes that it has become a role that she does feel some responsibility towards in terms of being this woman to blaze a trail. And so she she, she's a reluctant hero in that sense. I think that was one of the things certainly that drew me to her. I think that most trailblazers arrest people who do these things aren't consciously thinking, I'm going to carry this banner. It is because they're so focused on the thing. They believe they're meant to do that. Eventually, there's a wake behind them. I think for all women. It's always like you're, you're carrying all of them and had on your back. Like, what are you? I'm just trying to go shopping. You know, like it's always so weighted down. Down, and it's a big burden to carry that doesn't happen to men excelling it something or stepping out of the norm. They're not all of a sudden given us albatross, the failure. Yes. So high. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I thought that came through really strongly in the film and continues to this day. But just this notion that certain people have much shorter leashes than others. Certain people I shouldn't mince words like white men, get much longer leash than others. You have to be perfect if you're going to try and be I. Yeah. Or even eat. Yeah. Even get the shot. It's, it's. But there were there were explicit. I mean it was explicit in that moment. I mean, they're you know, I'm trying to remember the particular quote. But there were, there were race officials basically saying this is your chance to prove a new only get one. Yeah. Right. You have to raise Trenton before let you even set, you know, step on the track at Indy that was very much like, you know, someone's going to get killed with this woman on the track. I mean now I mean it's about as high stakes as you could imagine for her going improve herself. I mean people were very concerned about it. There's times when it's like how this is an old boys club, and people are being just sorta, like joke fraternal about it. But then there's times when, like some of the signs that were out there and some of the language of use was like, and had, like, really scary. Grandstands behind his. It was always see the people agitate ner say rude things the save. Nice has get the tips out of the pets here come to young guys seem I say, hi Janet, you got to qualify said, I hope so. He said, well, we don't we hope you crash on our corner. I didn't really have a thick skin. If that's what it took to get a shot at the Indianapolis five hundred I would deal with it. That's all. Couple years before Janet arrives on the scene. Women aren't even allowed in the pit area. And so these female sportswriters sued the track to get access. And I was reading one of the articles about it, and there's drivers saying if I see one on the track and went around the bitch over. I mean this is what they're saying. And this is just somebody asking to do your job and be reporter. It was sort of shocking, and then not shocking. In nineteen seventy eight Gordon Johncock an Indy champion. He shook the car down when he came back. He got out of the Carney, through his helmet. He was furious. And he realized that

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