Coffee With Kyle: Janet Guthrie recounts her first starts at Indy 500 and Charlotte 600

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The first time Janet Guthrie got the call to make a run at Indy 500, she thought it had to be a prank.

An accomplished sports car driver who had been a two-time class winner at the Twelve Hours of Sebring, Guthrie still was skeptical when she was cold-called by Rolla Vollstedt, who left a message about driving his car in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“I thought it was a joke,” Guthrie, the first woman to start the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500, told Kyle Petty during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” episode (watch the video above). “I called (motorsports journalist) Chris Economaki and asked, ‘Who is this guy?’ I was wary because a couple of women got egg on their faces announcing they’d drive Indianapolis, and then it never happened.”

Guthrie said she eventually got in touch with Vollstedt, and they agreed, “let’s have a private test, and if you like me, and I like you, and the car goes fast enough, and I can make the car go fast enough, then you can make whatever publicity and noise you feel you need to, but until then, it’s our secret.”

NEW CREW: Jimmie Johnson’s team switches up at Sebring

Race Car Driver Janet Guthrie in Racing Outfit
Janet Guthrie was the first woman to start the Indy 500 (Getty Images).

The test went well, but practice and qualifying at Indianapolis in 1976 did not. Guthrie couldn’t bring Vollstedt’s car (which missed the race the previous race) up to speed amid a series of mechanical failures.

“Rolla went looking for a car to drive that was capable of making the field,” Guthrie told Petty. “A.J. Foyt agreed to let me take his car and practice. So at noon, the last day of qualifying, there I was getting ready to get into A.J. Foyt’s car that was worth about 100 times more than everything of value I owned in the whole world. And I had to bring it close to its potential without doing harm.

“Oh my Lord. Talk about pressure. I did bring it up to speed. It was quite a different animal. I ran fast enough to make the field, but they decided not to let me make a qualifying attempt, so I had to wait until the following year.”

Though Guthrie didn’t make the Indy field, Charlotte Motor Speedway promoter Humpy Wheeler recruited her to drive at the 1976 Coca-Cola 600 (then known as the World 600).

“It was like Indianapolis: ‘She’ll never make the field,’ ” Guthrie told Petty. “I very well might not have made the field had it not been for the late, great Junior Johnson. The car arrived at the track three days late and could not get out of its way. I was terrible.

“Cale Yarborough drove for Rolla at Indianapolis, and he asked Cale to take the car out in practice, and he went a 10th of a second faster than I did. It was really disgraceful. And here comes Junior Johnson. Oh my God. One of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all time for whom Cale was driving at that time. He turned to Herb Nab, his crew chief, and said, ‘Give them the setup.’ I knew perfectly well what a huge gift that was. When I went back out again, it was a different animal. There were a lot of stopwatches and a lot of hats because the word had gone around the only way I’d make the field is if NASCAR falsified my time. But I did make the field.”

1980 Daytona 500 NASCAR race
Janet Guthrie on the grid at Daytona International Speedway before finishing 11th at the 1980 Daytona 500 (Robert Alexander/Getty Images).

After qualifying 27th (behind a row of Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott), Guthrie finished 15th as the first woman to start on a superspeedway in the Cup Series – the first of 33 starts she made through 1980 in NASCAR’s premier series.

Guthrie also made three Indy 500 starts, finishing ninth in 1978 while shouldering a massive burden that paved the way for Danica Patrick and many more female drivers.

“If I made a serious mistake of some sort, it would be a very long time before another woman got a chance at the top levels of racing,” she said. “I’m sure it did make a difference. Look at Danica’s first race at Indianapolis, she had top-notch equipment and made the most of it.”

Janet Guthrie told Petty that the reception and response to her Indy and NASCAR starts at Charlotte and Indianapolis did change

“I was just a race car driver,” she said. “The woman part made no difference whatsoever. It certainly was a pleasure to see that more widely recognized after I had driven at Indianapolis and Daytona. But there was no denying the responsibility.

Janet Guthrie Driving Race Car
Janet Guthrie made three Indianapolis 500 starts, finishing ninth in 1978 (Getty Images).

“I didn’t even know about the big parade through downtown Indianapolis (on the Saturday before every Indy 500) until the first time I put a car in the field. Guys with little girls in their hands, picking them up and waving at me as if they thought what I had done augured well for their daughters’ future. I did hear that quite a lot. So I came to feel it is a responsibility. That’s not why I did it. But I came to feel it is a responsibility.”

During the sitdown with Petty, Guthrie also discussed her love of racing, her origins in aviation engineering and her experiences as a pilot and prospective NASA astronaut.

You can watch the latest full episode of Coffee With Kyle by clicking here or on the video embed above the story.

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IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta: How to watch, start times, schedule, entry list

AUTO: NOV 13 IMSA - Motul Petit Le Mans
David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Start times, TV schedule: The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will conclude the 2022 season this weekend with the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta, which also will mark the end of the line for the DPi class.

The premier Daytona Prototype international category, which started in 2017, will be replaced by the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with its LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to Le Mans.

For the third time in four years, an Acura will be crowned the champion in DPi as the No. 10 of Wayne Taylor Racing holds a 19-point edge over the No. 60 of Meyer Shank Racing.

Last year, WTR’s No. 10 entered the season finale with a 19-point lead but lost the title to the No. 31 Cadillac of Action Express.

Full-time WTR drivers Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor (who will be joined by Brendon Hartley in the No. 10 this weekend) have a series-leading four victories this season. The MSR duo of Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves this weekend) won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and have five runner-up finishes this year.

Championship scenarios in the other four categories:

GTD Pro: Points leaders Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet will clinch the title by starting in their No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

–GTD: There are 140 points separating the top four teams with Roman De Angelis and the No. 27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 leading by 45 points.

–LMP2: John Farano is first in the driver standings by 33 points over Dwight Merriman and Ryan Dalziel. In the team standings, the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports leads by 19 points over the No. 8 Tower Motorsport (Farano’s team).

–LMP3: No. 54 CORE autosport drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun lead by 83 points over the No. 74 Riley Motorsports of Gar Robinson.

Here are the start times, starting lineup, schedule and TV info for the IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta (all times are ET):


Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta start times, schedule, TV info

When: Saturday, 12:10 p.m. ET

Race distance: Ten hours on the 12-turn, 2.54-mile road course

TV: Noon-3 p.m., NBC; 3-10:30 p.m., USA Network. Peacock, the NBC Sports App,and NBCSports.com will have streaming coverage of the event from flag to flag beginning at noon. Leigh Diffey and Dave Burns are the play by play announcers with analysts Calvin Fish, Townsend Bell, James Hinchcliffe and Brian Till. The pit reporters are Kevin Lee, Hannah Newhouse, Dillon Welch and Matt Yocum.

IMSA.com live TV qualifying stream: Friday, 3:35 p.m. ET.

IMSA Radio: All sessions are live on IMSA.com and RadioLeMans.com; SiriusXM live race coverage will begin Saturday at noon (XM 207, Internet/App 992).

Forecast: According to Wunderground.com, it’s expected to be 63 degrees with an 85% chance of rain at the green flag.

Entry list: Click here to see the 48-car field for the IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta


Daily schedule IMSA Petit Le Mans

Here’s a rundown of the Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia:

Wednesday, Sept. 28

9:30 a.m.: Mazda MX-5 practice

10:25 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup

12:30 p.m.: Prototype Challenge practice

1:15 p.m.: Mazda MX-5 practcice

2 p.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup practice

3:30 p.m.: Michelin Challenge practice

Thursday, Sept. 29

8 a.m.: Prototype Challenge practice

9 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup qualifying

9:50 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

11:40 a.m.: Prototype Challenge qualifying

12:10 p.m.: Michelin Challenge practice

1:50 p.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 1

2:55 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

5 p.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup, Race 1

6 p.m.: Michelin Challenge qualifying

7:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

Friday, Sept. 30

8 a.m.: Prototype Challenge race

9:50 a.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 2

10:55 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup, Race 2

1:10 p.m.: IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race

3:40 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship qualifying

Saturday, Oct. 1

9:15 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

12:10 p.m.: Petit Le Mans