Automobile racing is a very male-dominated sport. In 1929, Maude Yagle became the first and still only woman to own the winning car in the Indy 500.  However, she watched from the stands because she was prohibited by track officials from visiting the pit areas and the race program prefaced her surname with her initials. In the 105-year history of the Indy 500, only nine women drivers have competed in the race, which is appropriately billed as “the greatest spectacle in racing.”

Very recently, American auto racing has made a concerted effort, backed by the most powerful individual in the sport, to attract more women and minority owners, drivers, and crew members…and has made manifest progress in doing so, as evidenced in the 2021 Indy 500.

In the summer of 2020, Indy Car launched its “Racing for Equality and Change Initiative.”  Roger Penske, owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where the Indy 500 is run and by far the most accomplished car owner in American racing history, put his immense clout and prestige behind this initiative by offering to have his Team Penske provide technical support to women or minority racing teams…and the results were almost immediate.

In early 2021, Beth Paretta, a former Aston-Martin executive and a friend of Penske, formed a racing team, Paretta Autosport, that was the first ever to be woman-owned and majority-staffed by women.  Seventy-percent of the team are women, including veteran 32-year-old Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro, whose fan nicknames are “Swiss Miss” and “the Iron Maiden.” 

Beth Paretta

Paretta Autosport’s car was the final qualifier for the 2021 Indy 500, which positioned it in the start grid on the outside of the eleventh row.  At one point during the race, de Silvestro moved up to twenty-first in the 33-car field but her car’s brakes locked approaching a pit stop 31 laps from the finish…and she was done for the day…finishing in thirty-first place. Nonetheless, the Paretta team created plenty of media buzz for the Indy 500 and established a record for others to aspire to and surpass.

Simona de Silvestro

Unlike auto racing, horse racing has a long and illustrious history of female owners and numerous women work as exercise riders and grooms. However, women trainers and jockeys comprise only a small percentage of all trainers and jockeys.  In order to increase this percentage especially, the Roger Penske’s of the horse racing world could strongly back an equivalent of Indy Car’s “Racing for Equality and Change Initiative.” It would take such proactive and influential support to be successful, otherwise the initiative would just be PR banter.

A majority female team (at least two of three from owner, trainer, jockey) qualifying a horse for a spot in horse racing’s version of the Indy 500–the Kentucky Derby—would be a huge first step forward.

(The highly successful StarlightLadies racing partnership is unique in that it accepts only women owners. Add a woman trainer or jockey to any of its partnerships, and a majority female team is in place.)


Horse racing and auto racing are extremely dangerous sports.  For example, in the 105-year history of the Indy 500, 58 people have died practicing, qualifying, or racing in it, including 42 drivers.  Similarly, numerous jockeys have been killed over the years.  This level of risk, in and of itself, is an obstacle to expanding the number of participants. 

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business