By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item
SELINSGROVE — In a sport dominated by men, Sunday was all about one woman.
Danica Patrick made NASCAR history during the Daytona 500 qualifying event, becoming the first female driver to win a pole at NASCAR’s top level — the Sprint Cup Series.
The previous highest start for a woman was made by Janet Guthrie, who started ninth twice in 1977.
“That was earth-shattering at the time,” she said Monday in a telephone interview.
Guthrie was the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis and Daytona 500 races and remembers the media attention surrounding her feats during her professional career. Patrick will have to block all of that out to be successful Sunday during the race, Guthrie said.
“This week is going to be a tremendous week for her,” she said. “You have to be able to put that out of your mind.”
But Guthrie said it has been neat to see her record performances brought up 36 years later.
“It’s a little bit of fun to see your name come up after all this time,” she said.
Patrick’s pole start is inspiring to women at all levels of racing, said Nicole Bower, 22, a Camp Hill-based 410 Sprint car driver, whose website lists her favorite track as the Selinsgrove Speedway.
“It means you don’t have to be intimidated just because you’re a woman,” she said. “Being a woman doesn’t mean you can’t (win).”
Bower was the first female to set the “fast time” in a qualifying lap in the 358 and 410 Sprint car races at Selinsgrove Speedway, she said. At first, being the only female on the track was intimidating, but now it doesn’t bother her.
“When I first began racing Sprint cars, it was in the back of my mind that I was the only female out there with 23 men,” she said. “But once I got out there, it didn’t seem to be an issue.”
The key to succeeding at the professional racing level is good equipment, Guthrie said, who noted that Patrick has been able to garner the attention and the sponsorships to use top-quality products.
“It’s about 75 percent equipment and 25 percent driver,” she said.
Patrick will have to “race hard and race clean” to pull off the victory, Bower said.
Both women said they are excited to see Patrick race in Sunday’s final.
“I send her my congratulations, and I wish her the best,” Guthrie said.
“I’ll be rooting for her, as the female out there,” Bower said. “Carl Edwards is my personal favorite, so I’ll be pulling for both of them.”