On Monday the 33-car entry list for the Indianapolis 500 was released, and for the first time since 1999 it did not include a single woman. The list includes five rookies and ten former Indy 500 winners, but erstwhile competitor Pippa Mann couldn’t put together the program in time for qualification. Since Janet Guthrie’s first time qualifying for the race in 1977, a total of nine women have made the field. Seven of those nine have been in the last twenty years.
For more than half of my life the Indy 500 field has been a place where women competed. Lyn St. James started the race seven times from 1992-97, and again in 2000. Sarah Fisher had nine starts. Danica Patrick had eight. Katherine Legge, Simona de Silvestro, Ana Beatriz, and Milka Duno all made the field. Pippa Mann is the last holdout after all the others have essentially given up on the great race, starting seven times, including last year. She didn’t make the field in 2018, but Danica did in her lone comeback career-ending send off.
A decade ago the race saw a record high of four women in the 33-car field as Patrick, Fisher, Beatriz, and de Silvestro all made it in on Bump Day. Ten years later the field is packed with sausage. You’ll have to come up with your own reasons why Max Chilton or Spencer Pigot or Santino Ferrucci are considered more marketable than Pippa Mann. I can think of a few, but none of them paint the racing community in very good light.
The field of racers is much smaller this year than it was last year with just 33 cars even attempting an entry. There won’t be any cars bumped on Bump Day this year (which means Fernando Alonso and McLaren don’t have to suffer that indignity again). Coronavirus is killing budgets, especially for race budgets that hinge on fan-interactive plans, like the ones Mann typically works. There aren’t any fans at the track this year, and thus nobody to interact with.
There are plenty of Indy hopefuls that didn’t get their sponsorship dollars together in time for the postponed race, and Pippa is just one of them, but it’s possible that her exclusion is the one that hurts the most. She’s a proper talent behind the wheel, and despite traditionally low qualifying spots, she almost always proves herself in the heat of the race. Take last year, for instance. She qualified 30th on the grid, the second to last row, but ultimately finished 16th at the checkers with a team that hasn’t entered an IndyCar event before or since.
It’s possible that this is just a blip. Maybe we’ll see a record number of women again in the near future. Maybe this is just a coronavirus-related relaxation of competitor funding causing this contraction of entries. I have hoped for years that these women would spark a serious change in racing that would see an increased acceptance of racers of all genders, and that increased visibility of female racers would inspire a new generation of young women to race. Has that happened and Indy is missing out on this change? I truly hope so.