Stevi Cedarstrom and Women in Racing
As noted in my colleague Ruby’s recent story about Janet Guthrie, Guthrie herself acknowledges that women have a long and significant history in auto racing, dating back well over 100 years. Yet racing was, and to a great extent remains, a man’s world. It was only in the 1970s that racing organizations lifted prohibitions against women so much as entering the pit area. Today racers such as Danica Patrick may have a high profile but they remain part of a very small percentage of racers who are female.
But while women in racing today may still be few in number they are widespread. Go to any short track or drag strip or road course across the country and chances are you’ll find at least one female competitor. And it is for this reason that Guthrie is recognized as a pioneer. Guthrie made it more than “acceptable” for women to race – she made it normal.
Normal, too, has become what women accomplish in racing. Bev Griffis won a televised USAC race in 1986 and gender was a big part of the story. But by the time that Allison Cumens won a season-long racing series championship in 2009, gender was little more than a footnote.
Normal also is the potential for women to suffer the same tragic results as men. Kara Hendrick was fatally injured in a 1991 racing crash, a sober reminder that for women in racing the rewards are accompanied by the familiar risks. Hendrick’s death was notable not only because it was one of the first to claim a woman racer, but also because she was a successful racer – she had set a new track record earlier that same day.
Today women racers are very much an accepted part of the scene at the grassroots level, and at the top levels of the sport they face the same challenges as their male counterparts: The need to secure sponsorship and to possess marketing and p.r. skills on top of the ability to race.
Guthrie had the ability to race and she recognized early the need for sponsorship and the need to market herself and represent the sponsors. But she is not the person that this writer thinks of first when the subject of pioneering women comes up. That’s because Guthrie’s rise to racing prominence was preceded in our experience by the accomplishments of a young woman from California – Stevi Cedarstrom.
In the early 1970s a woman racer was still very much an anomaly, but Stevi Cedarstrom rose above the novelty factor by doing something very basic: Winning. In southern California short-track racing Cedarstrom proved quickly that a woman could race toe-to-toe with the men, and the men realized that if they were to win she was going to be one of the competitors to beat.
We first got to see her race on the tiny Trojan Speedway in the LA suburb of South Gate, a track where countless motorcycle racers learned whether or not they were going to be the next Kenny Roberts or Bubba Stewart but where Cedarstrom raced in the open-wheel TQ Midgets. We next saw her race in Daytona Memorial Stadium in Florida, another small venue for both bikes and TQs. On both coasts Cedarstrom proved skillful, and so a New Jersey promoter brought her east to race indoors in Atlantic City’s Convention Hall. There, among of field of more than 50 entries, she finished second overall, trailing only the four-time champion of the American Racing Drivers Club.
Stevi Cedarstrom did not go on to widespread fame and retreated from public view. A Google search turned up very little about her. But when we think of pioneering women in racing, while we certainly remember Janet Guthrie, the first name that comes to mind is that of Stevi Cedarstrom.