For the last 20 years, at least one woman has competed in the Indianapolis 500. Whether it was Lyn St. James, Danica Patrick or Pippa Mann, one of the biggest motor sports events in the world always had a woman competing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But that streak ends Sunday with the 104th Indy 500 when, for the first time since the 1999 race, the field will consist entirely of men.
“The fact that it’s a story that there isn’t one is more surprising,” Patrick said Wednesday during a media teleconference previewing NBC’s race coverage. “Because the story always used to be that there is one, that there is a female in the race. I think the story is actually that there’s a story there isn’t one.”
Mann has often been the lone woman in the 33-car field, and the 37-year-old British driver has made seven Indy 500 starts in her career: 2011, 2013 to 2017 and 2019. Her best finish was last year when she came in 16th, but this time around, she wasn’t able to secure a ride.
“There was one week where it all the sudden lit up, and it was going, going, going,” Mann told IndyStar earlier this month. “For a moment there, I really thought it was going to happen – my first-ever corporate sponsor.
“I was close enough that I was starting to allow myself to hope again, which I never do, because I’ve been around this sport long enough that I know that’s the surest pathway to disappointment – to allow yourself to hope.”
Even when Mann failed to qualify for the 2018 race, Patrick – who, as an IndyCar rookie in 2005, became the first woman to lead Indy 500 laps and was close to winning it – kept the streak of women in the Indy 500 going when she returned to IndyCar for one last race before retiring from on-track competition.
In addition to Patrick, Mann and James – whose final Indy 500 start was in 2000 – the other women who have competed in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” since the turn of the century are Sarah Fisher (2000-2004, 2007-2010), Milka Duno (2007-2009), Ana Beatriz (2010-2013), Simona de Silvestro (2010-2013, 2015) and Katherine Legge (2012-2013). Janet Guthrie was the first woman to compete in the Indy 500, and she made three starts from 1977 to 1979.