by: Cody Dinsmore
With all the media hype over Danica Patrick this past week, I figure I would talk about something relating to that. I will admit that she did impress me. I did not watch the 500, so I cannot say how she ran throughout the race, but I can say that I am impressed with her top 10 finish. I know she will get a better finish as time comes, and probably even a win, but as of today, another woman holds the distinction of being the highest finishing female in a top series race….and that is 2004 Georgia Racing Hall of Fame Inductee, Sara Christian.
Sara also had a husband, Frank, who was quite the promoter. Not only did he promote the first organized stock car race in the state of Georgia in 1938, but he was the owner of the first Chevrolet to win a NASCAR race in the Grand National Series – 1955 at Columbia with Fonty Flock driving. Frank tried his hand at driving, but he decided to leave the driving side of things to his wife. Her first venture into the sport of auto racing came in 1948, when she along with Louise Smith, and Ethyl Flock Mobley were invited to participate in a special race just for women, called the “Powder Puff Races” at New Atlanta Speedway. New Atlanta was build and operated by Bob Flock in Morrow, Georgia. It was successful for its time, but the oldest of the “Fabulous Flocks” wanted out of the track ownership after just a few years. When he held this race in 1948, he thought that if he advertised that he was going to hold a 10-lap race for women, he might draw a large crowd…and he did. So large that his small track was sold out. In fact, it was so successful that the next year, Bill France latched onto the idea and promoted a “Powder-Puff” race under the NASCAR bill the very next year. Sara Christian won that race at Bob Flock’s track in ’48.
In June of 1949, Frank entered his wife into NASCAR’s first ‘Strictly Stock’ race at the Charlotte Fairgrounds track. Out of 33 participants, she qualified 13th, and finished 14th – and she was racing against men in this race. Just weeks later, both Sara and Frank participated in the Summer Daytona Beach race. The first record they set was the first husband and wife couple to compete in ANY NASCAR sponsored event. They also finished in the top 20 – Frank 6th, and Sara finished 18th. And you must remember, back in the days of the beach course, 75 or more cars would start the race. I’m not sure on the most in a NASCAR event on the beach, but I do know that there has been well over 100 at a time.
That September, at the large dirt track in Langhorne Pennsylvania, she placed 6th in the Strictly Stock race. A very young Curtis Turner won, and invited Sara to the makeshift victory lane to congratulate her on her top 10 finish, still the highest finishing female in NASCAR’s top division. (Editor’s note: In reality, Sara Christian’s 6th place finish at Langhorne is not the highest finish recorded by a female in NASCAR’s premiere series. On October 2 of that same year, 1949, at a half-mile dirt track in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, a 5th place finish was recorded by… the same Sara Christian. Lee Petty took the checkers that day, 5 laps up on the field. 45 cars ran in the Langhorne race and 23 at Pittsburgh. In both races, Sara finished 10 laps down to the winner.)
After all of her NASCAR accomplishments for the year, she was voted and awarded the United States Driver’s Association as “1949 Woman Driver of the Year”. The inaugural Strictly Stock schedule only consisted of 8 races. For 1950, the schedule expanded to more races at more racetracks across much more territory. While Sara did attempt some, she didn’t have the success she’d had before. She stuck to local races back in Georgia. She did make a comeback in the spotlight again in 1953, however. She tried her hand at the measured mile in a Olds Rocket 88. While very few drivers could reach speeds over 100 mph, she made her run at just over 101 mph.
As for the Christian’s personal life, Frank passed away in 1969, and Sara joined him, 11 years later in 1980. In 2004, she became the first of two (currently) females that are inducted into the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame. As part of her own display case inside the Hall, we have both Frank’s and her driving uniforms, two of Sara’s driving trophies, family pictures, NASCAR membership pins and some of Frank Christian’s trophies as an owner, featuring drivers such as Fonty Flock, and Hershel McGriff.
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(Editor’s note: Cody Dinsmore is a member of the regular cast of the Tuesday evening racing show ” Racing Through History”, presented on Zeus Radio Network by RacersReunion®. Archives can be found by following the link. Live broadcasts can be heard from 7:00-9:00 PM every Tuesday. Please feel free to join us in the RacersReunion® Chat Room for the show.)