Race car pioneer Cheryl Linn Glass should always be around


Cheryl Linn Glass remains a strangely unknown name in motorsport. Unfortunately, throughout the history of motor racing, there have been so few female competitors that it’s easy enough to list most of them from memory, but Glass is often overlooked, despite her successes. . Maybe because his life ended tragically early. Maybe just because people don’t know her. But she has blazed a trail that motorsport at large is only catching up to, whether it’s excelling on the right path or helping black students enter STEM fields.

Here’s what you need to know about Glass: She was one of the very, very few black women to compete in professional motorsport, which sadly has changed very little since her time. As Road & Track reported a few years ago that she dreamed of racing in the Indy 500 and made brave forays into higher levels of motorsport like Indy Lights while running her own small business and mentoring young black students. But she often struggled to compete outside of oval tracks and never reached the top levels of racing.

Then in 1991, her house was broken into while she slept and Nazi symbols were drawn on the walls with her own lipstick. She accused two of the burglars of rape, but no charges were filed. His life went into something of a downward spiral after that, tragically culminating in his death by suicide in 1997 at just 35 years old.

She had retired from racing in previous years and her death is too often presented as a mystery, given that it directly involved aggressive racism on a social and structural level. She should, by all rights, still be alive – the end of her life was senseless, premature and cruel.

Jim Miller via Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum

Teen Prodigy to track frustrations

A January 1980 edition of Ebony still provides one of the most in-depth looks at Glass as a successful entrepreneur, model, and race car driver when she was still alive. She was only 18 when it was written, barely at the start of her career.

Born in the San Francisco Bay Area and raised in the Pacific Northwest, she got into short oval sprint car racing as a teenager and quickly established herself as an extremely formidable competitor. By 1980, she had been racing for nine years, having financed an entry to midget quarters (the entry level for sprint cars) with her own business income from making high-end ceramic dolls. She had won rookie of the year, the first woman to do so, and had just started racing sprint cars, sort of halfway between sports cars and formula-like vehicles. As a teenager, she had paid for her own errand with her own money and would later run her own custom wedding dress business in Seattle.

One of the important things about Glass is that she was not just a woman who ran – which would have been quite remarkable, especially since she was also black – but someone who was incredibly successful. . She won trophy after trophy as she progressed through the junior ranks and didn’t stop when she started the sprint race. First of all.

Glass managed to race around Skagit Speedway in Washington, a short oval, when she first entered the top sprint category. She continued to beat her peers (white, male) as she had done in junior competitions. However, she didn’t come from a racing background and she struggled to have a chance to progress, the all-important factor which you know was as important then as it is today. today.

His first experience racing sprint cars away from the tracks familiar to him was a disastrous appearance at the Hoosier Hundred, where Glass was racing largely unprepared for the event and hoping to pull through on his talent alone. Unfortunately, motorsport is too complex for that – any professional driver can tell you that once you’ve run out of karts, you can’t enter with the overcharged hope-knowledge differential, or you’re doomed to fail. Racers like Glass don’t like failure and her displeasure was seen by her team manager as she struggled to qualify for the race.

Glass never really had an opportunity again. She made one for herself, in the late 1980s, buying her own Indy Lights entry under the name Cheryl Glass Racing and racing a few times, only to find herself frustratingly late and eventually suffering a serious crash. She never made it to the Indy 500, the goal she set for herself as a teenager, but did compete in some CART races in 1990.

It’s strange how Glass’s story is lost or hard to find given that she was a celebrity in her own right during her racing career. Prentice-Hall published a children’s book about her called out of the race because his track record was so impressive. It’s depressingly hard to imagine the same book being published about a black female runner today, but it’s easy to imagine critics calling it unrealistic or too “woke”. But the real Glass was, and so were his accomplishments.

Race Car Museum and Hall of Fame

Too early

It’s hard not to dwell on the fact that Glass is dead. His story has two sections in most ways it’s written: success and fame on and off the track, a life lived to the limit and with great enthusiasm. When she designed her own wedding dress, aged 20 in 1982, she said: “Most of my life I wanted to go broke, put all my effort into something and have it be the best there is.”

Glass’s death was the polar opposite. She died of an apparent suicide; his body was found in Lake Union, off the Aurora Bridge in Seattle, Washington, but without any notes indicating his intention. His official cause of death was drowning.

The last six years of Glass’s life hadn’t been like the previous 29. His house was broken into in 1991 and racist slogans were scrawled on the walls. She attempted to file a rape complaint against the intruders but was turned away by the police, R&T reported. Her situation worsened, with police harassing her and more violent incidents occurring, such as the explosion of her mailbox. Glass’ life could not continue as before and after more than half a decade of enduring it, she passed away.

She shouldn’t have. There’s a bit of a serious tendency to try to rationalize it, but it just shouldn’t have, none of this should have happened in a just world.

A shining example

CherylGlass.com (via WayBack Machine)

Glass’s obituary from his funeral in 1997.

One of the reasons Glass comes back again and again, I think, is because there’s more mystery to her life than her death: why didn’t she make it? Glass had exactly the track record a driver needed to accelerate through the race ranks. She was extraordinarily marketable, she was smart and could play the PR game.

There’s this line that when someone comes up with the results of any underrepresented group in the race (i.e. someone who is not white, straight, cisgender male), then they will be immediately drawn to higher levels of wealth and of fame. It’s not true. Anyone who knows the race can see that even if you tick all those boxes and have the results and even financial support, sometimes it just doesn’t go anywhere for whatever reason. With junior careers pitting and never seeming to literally get back on track, an on-track DNF began in karting.

So maybe that was just what it was, to borrow a popular racing phrase for when things aren’t working out. But there’s something strange about the way a successful person never oversteps their territory. You could say she didn’t really have the talent (unlikely) or that switching to bigger cars was too difficult (possible, she probably needed practice), but there are details that don’t make not so simple things.

When Glass entered the Hoosier Hundred, it was her most publicized event. It was also the highest profile event on the race car calendar at the time, like deciding to make her Indy 500 debut. It’s saying too much that Glass was poised to fail, but she wasn’t. certainly not in the best position. to succeed.

John Mahoney via Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum

Inevitably, in society and in racing, Glass faced prejudice. She was asked if she had experienced gender or race bias when contesting the Silver Crown in Indianapolis and replied, “Both.”

“Women aren’t supposed to be sprint riders and most men [in prior racing] really didn’t like me,” she continued. “Their attitudes made it very difficult for me to race. But I was accepted by the professional drivers. I was raised to be very open-minded and never thought of it as “I was black and I couldn’t do it”. I’m determined to prove that I can handle it.

Glass didn’t stop at herself. She worked to actively promote and encourage black students. His obituary (above) details several gigs, including voter registration drives and direct activism. Glass not only succeeded for herself, she turned her mind to confront the structural issues she was acutely aware of – things that still arise today, even for the greatest racing driver in the world.

What we’ll never know

Cheryl Linn Glass has been dead for 25 years.

Reading Glass’s obituary, the hair stood on end on my neck. It’s partly because I just turned 35 myself, so I know there’s no age for a person’s story to end. And also that Glass’ death was so unfair that it seems to prevent her from being remembered for anything else. It’s as if her death was awkward, a drawback to the narrative that she had overcome so much prejudice with such great success only for the cruelty of racist and sexualized violence to end her life. People don’t want a narrative where the odds aren’t overcome, to be reminded that it’s just plain unfair and there’s no way to be so brilliant that you can outrun such a stacked field against you.

Being extraordinary is complicated for anyone. And if Glass can’t be here today, then the least we can do is remember who she was and honor her legacy today.

Do you remember Cheryl Linn Glass? Drop memories in the comments or email me at [email protected]

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