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As we know, March is Women’s History Month, and during it sports organizations across America observe and highlight the accomplishments of female athletes of all kinds. And it would be silly for us at Frontstretch to not have a writing segment dedicated to women who have done the same to leave their own marks on NASCAR history.
We all know of the storied careers of notable female drivers such as Danica Patrick, Shawna Robinson, Janet Guthrie and Patty Moise. And, of course, we also tip our hats to the female drivers who are still pushing on with their present-day NASCAR careers, like Hailie Deegan, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Natalie Decker.
But this week’s installment of Frontstretch 5 will highlight five female pioneers who took the honors of being the first to compete in each of NASCAR’s top three series and fully recognize the importance of their landmark quests for speed.
1. Sara Christian (Cup)
We don’t have to look far to find NASCAR’s first ever female driver, because the very first race in June 1949 at Charlotte Speedway in North Carolina happened to have one in it. Atlanta-based driver Sara Christian qualified her husband-owned No. 71 Ford in 13th and finished 14th with assistance from polesitter Bob Flock, who took over her car after his engine expired.
At Langhorne Speedway for her fourth race, Christian earned her first top-10 finish by finishing sixth. Then, three races later at Heidelburg Speedway in Pittsburgh, Pa., she bested that result by finishing fifth, the first and only ever top-five finish scored by a female Cup Series driver. Only Guthrie and Patrick came close to pulling off the same feat, with each having career-best finishes of sixth.
Christian competed in six of the eight total races in 1949, placing 13th in the final standings. She made one more start in 1950, finishing 14th at Hamburg Speedway in western New York before deciding to retire. She passed away on March 7, 1980, at the age of 61.
Other accolades Christian received included the 1949 United States Drivers Association Woman Driver of the Year award, as well as being inducted into the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in 2004.
2. Louise Smith (Cup)
Louise Smith’s journey into racing came in a rather bizarre fashion. In 1947, she went down to Daytona Beach, Fla., as a spectator to the races on the beach course, but couldn’t stand the idea of not being out there to race, so she entered her husband’s new Ford coupe in the event. She totaled the car in a rollover crash, taking a bus back home to South Carolina. By the time she got home, her husband was at the front door with a photo of the wrecked car on the front page of the Greenville newspaper.
Smith’s Cup Series career spanned 11 races between 1949-52, with a best finish of 16th at Langhorne Speedway in Pennsylvania. After retiring from competitive driving, she stayed in the NASCAR world through car ownership and serving as Darlington Raceway’s grand patron for the Miss Southern 500 pageantry program. And, as an homage to her accomplishments, she also became the first woman to be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999. She passed away on April 15, 2006, at the age of 89.
3. Ethel Flock Mobley (Cup)
Being the sister of the famed Flock brothers — Bob, Fonty and two-time champion Tim — it would be fitting that Ethel Flock Mobley would also get to have her own brief taste of NASCAR competition herself.
Her career consisted of only two races in 1949, finishing a respectable 11th in her first start at Daytona Beach and retiring out of the race at Langhorne, finishing 44th. But, by making these two starts, she joined Christian and Smith as the first trio of female drivers to compete in the same Cup Series race together. This didn’t happen again until the 1977 Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway, which featured Janet Guthrie, Lella Lombardi and Christine Beckers. Not only that, but Ethel being in these two races alongside her three brothers also made them the first quartet of siblings to compete in the same race together.
Mobley passed away on June 26, 1984, at the age of 70. But her two-race career in the Cup Series was a landmark one and added onto her family’s brilliant legacy in the sport.
4. Diane Teel (Xfinity)
Diane Teel was going through her weekly motions driving school buses in her Virginia hometown, as well as being an auto parts courier for her husband’s mechanic business. But after managing to win a school bus rodeo at her home track of Langley Speedway, her husband and the track promoter formulated a plan for her to competitively race in the track’s Limited Sportsman division starting in 1977. This decision paid off: in 1978, she won two races and clinched the division championship, becoming the first woman to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race of any kind.
After continuing to cut her teeth in the Limited Sportsman ranks at Langley, Teel got the opportunity to enter herself into what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 1982. It was during the fourth race of the season at Martinsville Speedway where she set her landmark debut, becoming the first woman to make a Xfinity Series start. She qualified her No. 19 Pontiac 33rd and finished 26th in the race. In just her third start, she scored a historic eighth-place finish at Langley. She doubled down on this feat by scoring another top-10 at Martinsville Speedway in 1983, finishing 10th.
Teel made a total of 11 Xfinity Series starts, spanning tracks in Virginia, and she made her final start at Langley in 1986, where she finished 21st. After the 1986 season, she retired from motorsports altogether, deciding to spend more time with her family and continuing her career as a school bus driver in Virginia. Her granddaughter, Macy Causey, is presently pursuing speed in super late model competition, having won at tracks such as Langley and South Boston Speedway.
5. Tammy Jo Kirk (Trucks)
After her original career in motorcycle racing fell through due to various issues, Tammy Jo Kirk shifted her focus over to super late model racing in 1989. She went on to compete in the former NASCAR All-Pro Series, where she made 109 starts from 1991-96, scoring three ninth-place points finishes and earning two runner-up finishes.
But the biggest crown she won during these days was winning the 1994 Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., becoming the first female driver to win the prestigious super late model event. The feat was equaled by Johanna Robbins (then Johanna Long) in 2010.
In 1997, Kirk finally made the move up to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, driving for Geoff Bodine. In the season opening race at Walt Disney World Speedway in Florida, she qualified ninth, setting a record which she still holds to this day for being the highest qualifying female driver in a Truck Series debut. However, she was involved in two early crashes, ending up with a 24th-place result. In her 19-race schedule, she scored a career-high 11th-place finish at Topeka, Kansas’ Heartland Park and finished 20th in points. She fielded her own truck for the 1998 season but could not post better numbers in the 13 races that she ran, scoring a season-best finish of 13th at Bristol Motor Speedway.
After a four-year break from NASCAR racing, she returned to make 15 starts in the Xfinity Series in 2003 driving for Jay Robinson, earning a best finish of 21st in her second start at Pikes Peak International Raceway in Colorado.
Kirk has not competed in any professional racing series since 2003. But her distinction as the first female Truck Series driver will never be taken away. She, too, is a member of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.