The Red Bull Air Race World Championship in it’s second year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was historic is several ways, but the glass ceiling was the first to fall.
In 1971, women were not even allowed in the pits. That changed when journalist Denise McCluggage decided to put decades of antiquated tradition to the test.
Betty Rutherford continued to push bounds when in 1974, she scored for her husband and now 3 time Indy 500 Champion Johnny Rutherford from atop his pit box.
The bigger cracks came from Janet Guthrie in 1976 when she passed her rookie test and in ’77 became the first woman driver to qualify for the Indy 500. Others including Desiré Wilson, Lyn St. James, Sarah Fisher, and most notably, Danica Patrick in 2005.
Patrick was an instant fan hit and was regarded as a legitimate threat to win after qualifying 4th, leading 19 laps, finishing 4th, and winning Rookie of the Year. Three years later she became the first female to win an IndyCar race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. A year later, in 2009, she set another record by finishing 3rd at Indy.
No woman had ever won a major race at Indy until Sunday.
That all changed when Mélanie Astles broke through by leading the Challenger Cup field in qualifying Saturday. Because weather delays caused the cancelation of Sunday’s race, Saturday’s qualifying results became final, and Astles became the first female to kiss the bricks in 108 years of racing at IMS. It won’t be her last. She is driven.
“Happy for the first win, but disappointed because I wanted my 10 points today and next time I’ll get them.” With only half points awarded, Astles finished 5th in Challenger Cup standings.
After the race, the French pilot who once had dreams of being a fighter pilot and was discouraged, seemed to not realize the importance of her feat, but acknowledged “I’ve seen a lot of girls out there who tell me how much they dream of being race pilots.”
Maybe next year we will see many more girls and women coming out to see a female champion and dreaming of kissing the bricks themselves one day.