Thursday, 26 August 2010

Open Wheel Racing in the USA

Arlene Hiss

Since the 1970s, several women have reached the highest ranks of single-seater competition in the USA, in Indycar and its descendants, the Indy Racing League and Champ Car. The best-known, including Danica Patrick, Lyn St. James, Katherine Legge and Janet Guthrie, have their own profiles.

Below are some short profiles of some of the lesser-known female faces on the US open-wheel scene.

Mishael Abbott – IRL Infiniti Pro Series driver in 2005 and 2006, after several years of Formula Mazda and a successful karting career. Her best Pro Series finish was eighth at Miami, in 2005, after qualifying fourth. After her sponsorship ran out, she turned to National-level motorsport. She raced a Formula Atlantic car in SCCA events in 2007 and 2008, with good results. Her best finish in 2008 was second, and she was rarely out of the top ten. In 2008, she also substituted for her father in some Formula Mazda races. The previous year, she also raced sportscars in the revived IMSA series. At the end of 2008, she had to pull out of motorsport, due to serious health problems.

Annette Blenkarn – drove in Indy Lights and Fran-Am in 2004 after many years in karts and Midget cars. She does not appear to have raced single-seaters after that, but has done some more karting, with success. She later ran her own graphics company in the automotive industry, and now runs a business consultancy.

Cheryl Glass - most famous for being the only African-American woman ever to try to qualify for the Indy 500, in 1986. She did not manage to pass the rookie test. Previously, she raced in midget cars from the age of nine, moving into sprintcar racing alongside the likes of Al Unser Jr in 1984. After a serious accident, she switched her attention to asphalt tracks. That year, she entered the Dallas round of the Can-Am single-seater challenge, driving a VW-powered Van Diemen. She did not finish. Although she claimed to have the funding to contest the rest of the Can-Am calendar, she did not. After attempting to break into Indycar, using a Penske PC-6 owned by her father, she disappeared from the scene, concentrating on her fashion design and ceramics businesses, modelling and educational work. She reappeared in 1990, and entered one round of the CART American Racing Series, finishing seventh at Nazareth. Although she was listed for the Laguna Seca event, she did not start. The following year, she entered the first two races of the season, but did not finish either, driving for her own Glass Racing team.
After that, things started to go wrong for Cheryl, who appears to have become the target of criminal activity, perhaps due to her educational work with black youngsters. She committed suicide in 1997, at the age of 36, although some mystery surrounded her death.

Arlene Hiss - the first woman to qualify for and complete an Indycar race in 1976, at Phoenix. Although badly off the pace, she reached the finish in fourteenth. It was her only Indycar appearance. She had raced as an amateur for 16 years previously, winning three consecutive club championships at one point. Dates and details of her previous racing career do not seem to be forthcoming.

Veronica McCann - signed up for the IRL Pro Series in 2006. Her only race result was an eleventh at Chicago. Despite testing a Champ Car and a Formula BMW, she was not able to compete any further. Since then, she has returned to Sprintcar racing in her native Australia, where she was very successful as a junior, winning a number of regional championships. She also competed as a senior between 2002 and 2005.

Sarah McCune - scored one pole position in the Infiniti Pro Series in 2005, although she retired from the race itself, at Chicagoland. She previously raced in Midgets and Sprintcars in the States, winning many regional championships as a junior and senior. After her Infiniti experience, she set her sights on a NASCAR drive and has done several tests. However, problems with funding have kept her out of the major series.

Hanna Zellers – former karter, now racing single-seaters in the USA. She began her career in cars in 2013, at the Skip Barber Racing School. After a season spent campaigning a Mazda Miata (MX-5) in SCCA races, she moved on to open-wheel competition in 2015. She raced in the SCCA Formula Enterprise series, and won two events. She was eleventh in the championship, after an accident in the end-of-season runoffs. From 2016, she is aiming to follow the Mazda “Road to Indy”, beginning with the USF2000 series.

(Image copyright Marc Sproule)

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