Janet Guthrie was born in Iowa City, Iowa, her family moved to Miami, Florida when she was three. She attended Miss Harris' Florida School for Girls for all but one of her elementary through high-school years, then graduated from the University of Michigan in 1960 with a B.Sc. in physics.
She had a diversified background. She was a pilot and flight instructor, an aerospace engineer, a technical editor, and a public representative for some of the country's major corporations. She had 13 years of experience on sports car road-racing circuits, building and maintaining her own race cars, before being invited to test a car for Indianapolis.
She joined Republic Aviation in Farmingdale, New York, as a research and development engineer, working on programs that were precursors to Project Apollo. In 1964, she applied for the first Scientist-Astronaut program, and got through the first round of eliminations. She treasures a letter from astronaut Deke Slayton, a memento of that attempt.
Meanwhile, she had purchased a Jaguar XK 120 coupe, and began competing in gymkhanas, field trials and hill climbs. This led to the purchase of a Jaguar XK 140 for competition in Sports Car Club of America races. Her career in physics slowly yielded to the allure of sports car racing, and by 1972 she was involved in racing on a full-time basis. Along the way, she posted two class victories in the 12 Hours of Sebring.
In 1976, Guthrie got her first big break in racing, being invited to drive at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for team owner Rolla Vollstedt, but failed to qualify. The same year, she was invited to compete in NASCAR as well. She competed in the 1976 World 600, finishing 15th, becoming the first woman to compete in a NASCAR Winston Cup superspeedway race. Guthrie would go on to compete in four more races that season. The following season, she competed in her first Daytona 500, finishing 12th when her car's engine blew two cylinders with ten laps to go. For the race, though, she still earned the honor of Top Rookie. Overall, Guthrie went on to compete in 33 races in NASCAR over four seasons, finishing as high as sixth.
In 1977, she became the first woman to qualify for and compete in the Indianapolis 500; she was also first woman and Top Rookie at the Daytona 500 in the same year. She finished ninth in the Indianapolis 500 in 1978. Overall, she competed in 11 IndyCar events finishing as high as fifth.
Janet Guthrie's helmet and driver's suit are in the Smithsonian Institution, and she was one of the first athletes named to the Women's Sports Hall of Fame. Her autobiography, "Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle was published in 2005.
In 2006, she was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. She is listed in "Who's Who." She does extensive platform and keynote speaking. Among her television credits are "James Michener's Sports in America" and over a dozen appearances on "Good Morning America." She married in 1989, and her husband has long supported her recently completed book about her racing experiences.