Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In The Rearview Mirror: Sara Christian, a Pioneer for Women in NASCAR

Before Danica Patrick, Jennifer Jo Cobb and even Johanna Long, one woman needed to make the step of entering a predominantly man's world: Sara Christian was that woman.

Credit: North Wilkesboro Speedway
Sara Christian, born in Dahlonega, Georgia, in 1918, was the first woman to compete in NASCAR. NASCAR's first race, held at Charlotte Speedway on June 19, 1949, featured drivers such as Lee Petty, Buck Baker and the Flock Brothers. Christian, driving a 1947 Ford prepared and owned by her husband Frank, started the race by qualifying in 13th. Christian then turned the car over to Bob Flock after his engine had let go early in the race. He drove until the car overheated and finished 14th. Although Flock was driving at the end, Christian is credited with the finish of the race.

The next race came on July 10, 1949, and was at the Daytona Beach Road Course. Christian was not the only woman competing in this event; she was joined by Louise Smith and Ethel Mobley. (Mobley was the sister of Bob, Tim and Fonty Flock.) Christian's husband Frank also drove in this race, making them the first and only husband/wife duo to ever race in NASCAR. Frank finished 6th and Sara 18th. Also of note, Sara drove a car owned by Ruby Flock, who was the wife of Bob, a fellow racer.

The fourth race of the inaugural NASCAR season, Sara became the first woman to earn a top-10 finish.  Competing at Langhorne Speedway, the race was won by Curtis Turner. Turner invited Sara to victory lane to celebrate with him. That race was the last race to have three women compete until the 1977 Firecracker 400.

The best ever finish for Sara came in the ninth race of 1949. The NASCAR circuit was competing at Heidelberg Raceway in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sara finished fifth, and this remained the only top-5 finish for a woman until her record was broken by Danica Patrick in 2011. Patrick finished fourth in the Nationwide Series Sam's Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, ending Christian's 62-year record.
Sara Christian and Hershel McGriff
Credit: Legends of NASCAR
Sara raced in six of the eight races that first season and finished 13th in points. She only competed in one race in the 1950 NASCAR season before retiring from auto racing. 

Sara was recognized by the United States Drivers Association in 1949, being named their Woman Driver of the Year. She was also inducted into the Georgia Automobile Racing Hall of Fame in 2004.

Sara Christian passed away in 1980. Although many of us may have never heard her name until Danica Patrick broke her record, we should recognize the fact that Danica and all the other women today may not have had the opportunity to drive in NASCAR if not for Sara Christian.

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