24/12/1961 - 15/7/1997
The tragic tale of America's first professional black female racing driver. After enjoying tremendous success on the short ovals or the Northwest and with aspirations of running in the Indy 500, her career faulted and her private life fell apart culminating in falling to her death from the Aurora Bridge in Washington. Cheryl Glass died 25 years ago, she was 36 , She would have been 61.
Born in Mountain View, California, the first of two daughters of Marvin and Shirley Glass.
She moved with her family to Seattle in the Pacific Northwest in 1963. Her parents were executives in the telecommunications and aerospace industries, her father a vice president of Pacific Northwest Bell and her mother an engineer with Boeing.
She attended Nathan Hale High School, graduating with honours at 16 and studied electrical engineering at Seattle University. However she was not just an exceptional and talented student with an IQ of 151, she was also very creative and an enterprising entrepreneur who, at the age of 9 had started making high-end ceramic dolls and selling them to local businesses for between $150-$300 each.
At this time after reading a newspaper article about children driving quarter-midget race cars she became interested in getting involved herself. With the money she earned through the dolls she bought a quarter-midget and, with her father's support, began racing on the midget circuit. Quick out of the blocks she was the first girl ever to be named Rookie of the Year and for five consecutive years she won the state and regional championships, making her one of the top ten young drivers nationally. She moved up to half-midgets until she was 18 when she dropped out of college and started racing professionally.
She bought her first sprint car and started racing at Skagit Speedway in Mount Vernon, Washington, where she was the first female sprint car driver and a serious short-oval competitor. That year the Northwest Sprint Car Association named her Rookie of the Year. And, after winning the season's championship race at Skagit Speedway, she went on to compete in more than 100 professional races, making her the first African-American female professional race car driver. Nicknamed 'The Lady', her ambition was to race in the Indy 500 and to complete in Formula One.
Between 1980 and 1983, she continued to race sprintcars. A series of accidents did not put her off. The worst of which happened in 1980 in the main event of Western World Championships at Manzanita, Phoenix. While attempting an outside pass on the half-mile oval, the back end got loose and pitched Glass into a series of 13 barrel rolls at 120mph before dropping back onto the race track and going end-over-end a further three or four times. She sustained injuries to her face, head, neck, back, shoulders and knees.
The 1982 Hulman Hundred marked her USAC debut driving for Charlie Patterson, she was the first African American female to compete in the series. According to Patterson, once the Hoosier Hundred got under way, Glass made a few passes before pulling in and retiring nine laps into the 60-lap feature race due to severe handling problems.
After the Hoosier Hundred the reality of being a backmarker where on the short ovals she had been so dominant was was a wake up call.
In 1984, she set her sights on road circuits and entered the Dallas round of the Can-Am Series, driving a VW-powered Van Diemen. She had to retire after six laps while running in eighth. Lack of funds meant that was her only outing in the series.
In 1985, she tried truck racing, in a Toyota pickup, but she crashed during testing at the Los Angeles Coliseum and never actually raced.
Still with dreams of the Indy 500, her father acquired a 1978 Penske PC-6 Indycar, which she tested at Seattle International Raceway. Talking to the Los Angeles Times, she stated that her aim was the 1987 Indianapolis 500, after at least a part-season in CART in 1986. Nothing further happened to bring her closer to racing at the Brickyard.
She reappeared in 1990, and entered the penultimate round of the CART American Racing Series (Indy Lights) at Nazareth. Qualifying ninth in the 11-car field, Glass came home nine laps down to Groff in the 75-lap contest, but was classified seventh.
Although she entered the final Laguna Seca event, but after lapping Laguna Seca’s demanding road course more than 10 seconds off the pace, she didn't start the race.
Carrying a vibrant new paint scheme, the No. 18 Cheryl Glass Racing March-Buick would return for the 1991 Indy Lights season opener. Starting last on the street course at Long Beach, Glass would complete 14 of the 45 laps and finish 17th out of 18 entries. Electrical problems were listed as the reason for the failure to finish.
Moving to the one-mile Phoenix oval the following weekend, Glass was back in her comfort zone, yet only qualified 14th in the 15-car field. In what would prove to be her final race, Glass crashed 30 laps into the 75-lap contest and finished 14th.
In her private life she married Richard Lindwall in February 1983, designing her own silk and lace gown for the ceremony. Soon afterwards she opened a custom design studio, Cheryl Glass Designs, where she worked for 12 years designing wedding and formal evening wear.
In August of 1991, her home was burglarised by three men while she was sleeping. A swastika and Nazi propaganda was drawn on the wall using lipstick taken from her purse.
After the initial robbery was reported, Glass returned to the police department to state she’d been raped by two of the burglars during the home invasion. Authorities dismissed her rape report, claiming there was not enough evidence to bring charges.
It seems that her life had started to fall apart and there followed a number of incidents with the police between 1992-1996, including allegations of police brutality, fights with her neighbours, arrests, restraining orders, a curious car fire and a lawsuit against the police.
On July 15, 1997, she committed suicide by jumping from the Aurora Bridge in Washington. Although some mystery surrounded her death, her mother for one is convinced that she didn't jump but was thrown off the bridge, she is still remembered as a pioneer in the sport.