Among my auto racing associates in the Pacific Northwest, one stands at the top of the ladder. His name was Rolla Vollstedt, a decorated World War II veteran who returned home and became thoroughly involved with the sport of auto racing in the late 1940s. Rolla passed away in 2017 at age 99.
Over the next three decades, this innovative Champ Car (today’s Indycar) builder and car owner made numerous contributions to motorsports. Vollstedt was the first to create an Offenhauser-powered, rear-engine race car for the Indianapolis 500 in 1964—a project he literally built in his basement.
He is best remembered for bringing Janet Guthrie to Indy in 1976, as the first female to attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Just a few years earlier, women weren’t even allowed in the pits!
In her first year, mechanical failure kept Guthrie from qualifying. She returned to qualify a Vollstedt car for the 1977 field, and history was made. In the years since, eight other ladies have competed in the 500.
Robson Ranch resident Jane Minish has no aspirations to become a professional racer, but has been getting a taste of what it’s like to compete against “the boys” since the beginning of this year, when she became a member of the Robson Ranch Radio Control Club.
“I grew up in Port Townsend, Wash., and the first car I owned was a Volkswagen Beetle,” Jane says. “When I got married, I gave it to my sister, and I bought myself a Mercury Comet.
“I now have a 2016 Shelby Mustang GT350. People told me I should race it, but that would be much too expensive. It had belonged to my husband Al, and I didn’t want it wrecked.
“I came out to the RC field several times to watch, and I thought, ‘Oh, I can race a car and I don’t have to be in my Shelby.’ We never went to races, but we were always showing Mustangs in the Pacific Northwest. We moved down here and immediately joined the Desert Sky Mustang Club in Casa Grande, going to shows and other events in which they participated.
“I purchased a two-wheel drive RC truck, and now I’m out here and enjoying myself,” Jane says. “If Al were alive today, he would be so happy that I’m out here racing—he’d be here all day.”
And what would Jane say to other ladies to encourage them to follow in her footsteps?
“I would tell them they are outside in the fabulous winter weather we have, with a bunch of people who enjoy racing their trucks. In a way you’re competing against yourself—it’s a timed lap so you just work on your own. And then there’s the camaraderie. Everyone in the club has been so great in supporting me.
“We just need more women to come out and enjoy it with me. I have a blast when I’m there!”