The chairwoman of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for almost thirty years, Mari Hulman George died in November 2018 at age 83. George is credited as a pioneer who owned a race team in the 1950s and 1960s and oversaw a period of significant growth and change during her tenure. An active philanthropist as well, George focused on racing, animals and people. More specifically, she advocated for the adoption of retired greyhounds, was a big supporter of Special Olympics and endowed the Mari Hulman George School of Equine Studies at Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods (Indiana). Like George, other women have been pioneers in the fields of motor and horse racing. Let’s discover some of these women.
The first U.S. woman to receive a jockey’s license, Anna Lee Aldred was eighteen years old when she broke the gender barrier in horse racing. The year was 1939 and racing officials couldn’t find any language to prevent her from getting a license. Aldred had raced almost her entire life when she became a jockey; she had won her first race when she was six years old. Her skills were possibly were genetic – her father was a horse trainer and racer and other family members were famous rodeo riders. Aldred raced from 1939 until 1945 – when she became too big at five foot five inches tall and 118 pounds. After leaving racing, she rode in rodeos as a trick rider. She also served as a “ponyboy,” assisting the jockeys at the fairgrounds. Aldred continued to ride until she was 80 years old and broke a hip. She has been inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame as well as the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.
“The First Lady of Drag Racing,” Shirley Muldowney grew up loving both speed and competition. She started racing cars and winning, which she really liked! Like Aldred, she broke a gender barrier in 1965 when she became the first woman licensed to compete in the supercharged gasoline dragster category by the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). After the category in which she was racing was discontinued, she moved into funny cars and in 1971 won her first national event. Those funny cars were very dangerous, however, and after recovering from serious burns, she became the first woman to receive a license to race in the Top Fuel category. She advanced to her first finals, and the first finals to which a woman had advanced, in a Top Fuel race in 1975. In 1977, Muldowney became the first person to win three consecutive NHRA event titles. Also in that year, she became the first woman to win the NHRA Series Crown. So significant were these accomplishments that the U.S. House of Representatives presented her with an “Outstanding Achievement Award” in 1977. She retired in 2003 after 40 years of auto racing.
In 1969 at age 20, Diane Crump became the first woman jockey to ride in a pari-mutuel horse race. She had a police escort to the race track as previous women who had tried to race were heckled. In addition, the male jockeys were not in favor of women being added to the field. Some had thrown rocks at the trailer used as the women’s locker room. In 1970, Crump became the first woman jockey to ride a horse at the Kentucky Derby. Although she didn’t win, she also didn’t come in last! Crump retired from being a jockey in 1985, served as a trainer for a while until returning to jockeying. Today she runs an equine sales business.
Janet Guthrie followed in the footsteps of Shirley Muldowney. In 1976, she became the first woman to compete in a NASCAR Winston Cup superspeedway
event. She was the first woman to compete in the Daytona 500 in 1976. Guthrie competed in her first Indy 500 (at the speedway that Mari Hulman George chaired) in 1977. Her 1976 attempt to qualify was not successful and was blamed on her gender, not on her skill level or her speed. Guthrie competed in a total of eleven Indy car events before retiring due to lack of funding. Her helmet and race suit are enshrined at the Smithsonian Institution and she has been inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1993, Julie Krone became the first female jockey to win a Triple Crown horse racing event. She won the Belmont Stakes riding a horse named Colonial Affair. Krone was a show horse rider during her childhood, at competitions in Michigan. Her first race as a jockey was in 1981 and she won her first race also in 1981. She is one of eight jockeys to date featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. In 1993, she received an ESPY Award as the Female Athlete of the Year. Krone retired for a time and served as a horse racing commentator before returning to the race track as a jockey. Her 2004 retirement occurred after injuries she suffered while riding. Krone has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, and the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.
Women participate and contribute to every area of our lives including motor and horse racing. The women profiled above and many other women, almost all of whom we have not heard about nor learned about in school, across all fields of endeavor, are profiled in our book, Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. Help us by continuing to tell women’s stories. Write women back into history!
Charlotte S. Waisman, Ph.D. is a national champion and advocate for women as a professor and keynote speaker. A corporate leader, executive coach, and facilitator, she conducts leadership workshops nationally.