10 Best Female NASCAR Drivers of All Time
Competing in a man’s sport isn’t easy, but these women NASCAR drivers did it well.
Published November 10, 2018
According to Simmons, 29% of women are NASCAR fans, so it only makes sense the motorsport would have females interested in getting behind the wheel. That doesn’t mean every woman who has ever tried to race in NASCAR has been good. In fact, some have been downright awful. With that said, it takes a lot of work to make a name for yourself as a girl in motorsports. That’s why we want to honor the ten best female NASCAR drivers of all time.
While we could’ve listed far more than ten, it seemed fitting to pick the best female NASCAR drivers from a variety of eras. You’ll see some of the first to enter the sport as well as some recent names we’re sure you’ve heard about. In no particular order, here are the ladies who’ve made a name for themselves in what was once a man’s sport.
1. Sara Christian
You can’t talk about female NASCAR drivers without mentioning the very first woman to join the ranks. In 1949, Sara Christian drove in the first race at Charlotte Speedway. She drove a Ford owned by Frank Christian, her husband. She qualified in 13th place, but Bob Flock took over her car during the race because his engine expired during the 38th lap.
During the second race in Daytona Beach, she finished 18th. This race saw two other female NASCAR drivers as well, both Louise Smith and Ethel Mobley. Since Sara’s husband also raced, they earned the record of being the only couple to compete against each other until 1986.
Christian became the first woman to place in the Top 10 with her sixth-place finish at Langhorne Speedway. Then, she finished fifth at Heidelberg Raceway.
Aside from her racing history, she’s also won some awards. These include:
- 1949 U.S. Drivers Association Woman Driver of the Year
- Induction into the Georgia Automobile Racing Hall of Fame
2. Louise Smith
Louise Smith tied with Ethel Mobley to become one of the second female NASCAR drivers. Fans nicknamed her the “first lady of racing.”
Her first race started with her being a spectator. It was 1949 at the Daytona Beach Road Course. As she sat in the stands, she knew she needed to be a part of the action. That’s when she entered her family’s Ford coupe in the race and ended up rolling it.
She started racing that year in 1949 and continued through 1956. In total, she won 38 races throughout her career. Then, in 1971, she returned as a car owner for several drivers. In fact, she was the sponsor behind Ronnie Thomas’s Rookie of the Year competition in 1978.
Louise Smith is also the first woman who was inducted in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. That occurred in 1999.
3. Janet Guthrie
Janet Guthrie was the first Female NASCAR driver to qualify and compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500. Before that, she was an aerospace engineer, but by 1972, she raced full-time.
In 1976, she came in 15th during the NASCAR Winston Cup race. She also completed four more runs that season. The following season, she raced the Daytona 500 and took 12th place after her engine blew with just ten laps to go. Even still, she was awarded the Top Rookie honor. Over four seasons, she raced 33 times. Her best finish occurred in 1977 at Bristol. This still holds the record of best female finish during a top-tier race, but she is tied with Danica Patrick.
Guthrie’s race suit and helmet are on display at the Smithsonian Institute. She was also one of the first females to be elected into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. In 2006, she also earned her induction in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Aside from her racing career, Janet Guthrie also received critical praise for her autobiography, “Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle.” She goes down in history as one of the best female NASCAR drivers of all time. She’s set a benchmark for other women to compete with.
4. Patty Moise
Considering Patty Moise had 133 Xfinity Series starts between the years of 1986 and 1998, she earned her spot as one of the best female NASCAR drivers of all time. You may also know her as the wife of former NASCAR driver Elton Sawyer.
Patty began racing when she was just sixteen years old. Then, she made her Busch Series debut at Road Atlanta in 1986. She qualified third in that race, but only finished in 30th because of some engine trouble.
In 1987, she led her team to two top-ten starts out of twelve. She continued placing at decent rates for the next few years. Then, in 1990, Moise sold her team and earned the most starts in her career. She never made it to the top ten, but she did end the season with the 22nd spot in points, which was her career high.
Her final year, her team was sold to Michael Waltrip Racing, but she signed to drive. Even though she completed a top-ten finish in Bristol, she wasn’t able to attend the races. That caused her to finish 37th in points and she hasn’t raced for NASCAR since.
5. Shawna Robinson
In 1988, Robinson became the first female to win a NASCAR Touring Series event. This earned her “Most Popular Driver” and “Rookie of the Year.” The following year, she became the first women to obtain a pole position in a NASCAR Touring Series race. Later she went on to be the first woman driver that had pole positions in a major series.
Her career started with racing semi-tractors. With 30 victories under her belt, she moved onto the GATR Truck Series and became the 1984 championship rookie. Four years after that, history was made when she began racing in top-level NASCAR races.
In 1991, she moved onto the Busch Series but didn’t do so well. She did achieve one pole position in 1994, but she left a year later to pursue a family. Since racing was a part of who she was, she couldn’t stay away for long. In fact, she came back to the ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series in 1999 and then NASCAR in 2001. There wasn’t much success for her after that, and she retired for good in 2005.
6. Tammy Jo Kirk
Kirk is one of the best female NASCAR drivers of all time because she scored 37 top-ten finishes and two pole positions in the All-Pro Series. Then, she went on to become one of the first women in the Camping World Truck Series.
Tammy Jo Kirk starting racing when she was just nine, but it wasn’t with cars. She drove motorcycles and worked her way up through the ranks as a teenager. That’s pretty bad-ass if you ask us. Then, she went on to earn a spot in the Knoxville Half Mile event in 1983. Three years later, she won the Class C flat track race in Tennessee.
Kirk started to get frustrated about the companies that refused to work with her because she was female, so she retired from racing motorcycles. In 1991, she joined up with the NASCAR Winston All-American Challenge Series, making her the first female to compete.
By 1994, she earned the title, “Most Popular Driver,” and finished in seventh place for series points just two years after that. She was also the second female to win a NASCAR Touring Series event (Robinson was first).
In 1997, she took another bold step and moved to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Her best race of the year landed her 11th. In 1998, she chose to start her own team, but only made thirteen starts because she couldn’t get sponsors. A year later, her team shut down.
That didn’t stop her, however. She returned to the Busch Series in 2003. Out of 15 races, her best finish was 21st. She is now retired and owns a motorcycle dealership.
7. Danica Patrick
You didn’t really think you would get through a list of the best female NASCAR drivers without seeing Danica, did you? She’s the most popular female NASCAR driver of all time, but she’s pretty good at it as well.
She’s held her title for most successful female in open-wheel racing, thanks to her victory during the 2008 Indy Japan 300. That’s not too shabby considering she never completed high school to pursue her career.
In 2002, Danica raced in five Barber Dodge Pro Series races and later in the Toyota Atlantic Series. In 2004, the best she did was third in the standings for the championship. That led her to become the first female to win a pole position for the series.
In 2005, she began driving in the IndyCar Series and achieved three pole positions. This led her to earn, “Rookie of the Year” for the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500. In 2008, she finished third during the Indianapolis 500, which was a career high. She left IndyCar after 2011 for a move to stock car racing.
In 2010, she entered the NASCAR Nationwide Series and landed a fourth-place finish in Las Vegas. She became the second woman to land a pole position in the Nationwide Series since Robinson did in 1994. Then, Patrick became the first female to win a Cup Series pole position with the fastest qualifying lap in the 2013 Daytona 500.
What is special about Danica Patrick is that she beat Guthrie’s record of the most top-ten finishes for a female in the 2015 Sprint Cup Series. Even though she said she was retiring in 2017, Patrick drove the 2018 Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 before she finally retired.
8. Kelly Sutton
We’ve chosen Kelly Sutton for the best female NASCAR drivers list not because of all her amazing achievements, but more because of what she accomplished. Kelly started racing karts when she was ten, but by the age of sixteen, she started fighting multiple sclerosis. Because of this, her dreams were put on hold.
Then, in 1992, she returned by entering the Old Dominion Speedway race. In her first year, she won the Sportsmanship and Hard Charger awards. During her three years of racing, she earned the “Most Popular Driver” title and won seven feature races. You have to give her credit for doing all this while dealing with MS. She deserves everyone’s respect.
Sadly for Kelly, in 2013 she was involved in a motorcycle accident that left her severely injured and the driver dead.
9. Jennifer Jo Cobb
Cobb isn’t just one of the best female NASCAR drivers, but she’s also a team owner. She competes in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Cobb started racing back in 1991 with her father, Joe Cobb. Since 2002, she started nine times in the ARCA Racing Series and had three top-tens in 2004.
Her NASCAR debut occurred in 2004. Then, in 2006, she started a new line of clothing for fans called Driver Boutique. In 2008, she began in 35th place during the Camping World Truck Series event and ended up in 26th.
What’s special about Cobb is that she has the highest female points in the history of any major NASCAR series. She also became the highest finishing female in the Truck Series with a sixth-place finish in 2011. That was the same year she started her own Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing team in conjunction with the U.S. Army Family.
The downside is that Cobb has faced numerous penalties throughout the years. One was for aggressively approaching another driver when she was spun out. Another was for having a cell phone in her truck during practice. We don’t think that constitutes her losing her spot on the best female NASCAR drivers, so we included her anyway.
10. Johanna Robbins
Robbins began racing in 2009. She won the pole position at the Snowball Derby. Her husband, Hunter Robbins works as a track driver and motorsports engineer. During 38 events in 2012, she attained 27 top-ten finishes, along with 17 top-five finishes and five wins.
Since then, she has had some success, but funding put her career on hold for the time being. In addition, she is now spending some time focusing on her family. We have no doubts that this top choice as the best female NASCAR drivers will be back on the track in no time.
Final Words Regarding the Best Female NASCAR Drivers
It’s impossible to narrow down the list to just ten winners. These are just a sampling of the magnificent and qualified female NASCAR drivers the world has seen. As more women become involved in motorsports, it will be interesting to see who the next big star turns out to be. There’s already some speculation about the new women entering into the races. Time will tell.
As we move forward into modern times, women are taking their place alongside men in fields that were once strictly male-dominated. It’s adding a new light to various industries and creating more of a competition. We look forward to seeing what the future of NASCAR driving has in store for the female driver and how this encourages more women to pursue their dreams.
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