Guthrie's path

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RICHMOND, Va. – It was 28 years ago. Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher weren't even born, and Shawna Robinson was in grade school.

Deep in the heart of Virginia, at the Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway (now known as Richmond International Raceway), Janet Guthrie was blazing a trail for other female racers to follow.

Even though she had finished 12th in the Daytona 500 a week earlier and had made a handful of starts the previous season, it was at Richmond, site of Saturday night's Chevy American Revolution 400, that Guthrie proved to male peers that she truly belonged in Cup racing.

No less an authority than legendary racer-turned-owner Ralph Moody even said so: "She's meaner 'n Cale Yarborough, beatin' on people's tails, whammin' 'em. She thought it was fun."

Even the cranky Yarborough, who passed around compliments about other drivers as often as he'd buy the next round at the local bar – which wasn't very often – begrudgingly gave Guthrie her due.

Guthrie, who finished 12th at Richmond despite driving a car that wasn't suited for a short track, was no longer a woman first; she was a race car driver who just happened to be a woman.

After banging fenders several times with Guthrie on the track at Richmond, Yarborough was asked about the incidents.

"Why are you singling her out?" Yarborough barked to a reporter. "We just went for the same spot at the same time. It happened with about 10 other drivers today, too. She drives as well as any rookie I've seen."

High praise, indeed.

Those comments are included in Guthrie's newly-released autobiography – "Janet Guthrie: A Life At Full Throttle" (SportClassic Books). It's a well-written, insightful look into Guthrie's life, chronicling her career in both stock car and open wheel racing – the successes she had, as well as the struggles and barriers she had to overcome.

"The book was really, really, really important to me," Guthrie said. "It was mine. It was not ghost-written. Every word is mine."

It took Guthrie 22 years to bring her life story to print – she slowly started writing it in longhand in 1983 – but the end result was well worth the wait. This is a book that not only will serve as inspiration to the next Danica, Sarah or Shawna, it also has plenty of action, drama and racing lore to grab and hold any true race fan's interest.

"It was just grueling, because I was trying so hard to convey to the reader the experience of what it is like to drive a car at these levels," Guthrie said. "And for that matter, at the beginning level, taking the reader step-by-step through driver's school, the early races and that kind of thing, in order to try to help someone who is not familiar with this sport get a feeling for what it's like."

Writing the book, with a forward by tennis great Billie Jean King, was cathartic for the 67-year-old Guthrie. She wanted to pass her story on to future generations of aspiring racers – both female and male.

"I feel this is what I'm leaving to the world," she said. "I hope it survives me and I hope people are reading it a long time from now. I put a lot of effort into it, trying to convey the passions and complexities of the sport and put the reader inside a driver's mind, and I hope it works."

Reviews thus far have been very positive, and Guthrie's recollection of events, incidents and quotes is nothing short of incredible. She brings the reader into the anecdotes, making them feel as if they were there to witness the events Guthrie describes.

"It was pretty methodical," Guthrie said of the actual writing process. "I've always kept journals, and I continued that while I was racing, so I always knew what the source was when I was writing the book itself."

Future and past

In an interview with Yahoo! Sports, Guthrie lamented about the state of NASCAR today, particularly the future of legendary tracks like Darlington, which may have hosted its last Cup event last weekend. Richmond also has been mentioned as possibly losing one or both of its annual races in favor of larger, more modern facilities elsewhere in the country.

"It's difficult to see [NASCAR's] grassroots vanishing," Guthrie said. "You can't help but think that's a shame. I feel that way like when they tore down the old garages at Indianapolis. It was tough to see them go, and I feel the same way about Darlington.

"My goodness, the very first superspeedway NASCAR ever had to run on, plus the legendary Southern 500, and they're doing away with it? ... I would be sorry to see Richmond go, too, because it's really knit into the fabric of Nextel Cup's origins in the South."

Guthrie's personal NASCAR history includes 33 Cup starts (she also competed in 11 Indy car races). If it hadn't been for lack of sponsorship or prejudice of team owners to hire a female driver, Guthrie feels she could have had a much longer and more successful career in NASCAR.

"I really, really enjoyed Winston Cup racing," she said. "I really had a lot of fun and there is absolutely not a doubt in my mind that if I had found sponsorship to continue, I would have won Winston Cup races. I knew where I was going – unfortunately, I couldn't get there without the money."

Now semi-retired and living in Colorado, the New York-born Guthrie will be busy in the coming weeks, making appearances and promoting her new book. She'll be in Indianapolis beginning next week for 10 days leading up to the Indianapolis 500, where she became the first woman to ever race in the annual May classic.

She'll also be at Pocono, Pa., in June to make an appearance at a memorabilia show held in conjunction with the Nextel Cup event there that weekend.

While she smiles and says "you never know" about a potential sequel, Guthrie dreams about her new tome someday making it to the silver screen, much like drag racer Shirley Muldowney's life was portrayed in the 1980s hit "Heart Like A Wheel."

"All these years, I've kept selecting actresses to play me, but they keep getting too old," Guthrie says with a laugh.