"One of the great characters of the Speedway" who broke a racing barrier has passed away


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Rolla Vollstedt, who made history when he entered the first woman in the Indianapolis 500, has died at his home in Portland, Ore. He was 99.

Vollstedt has a long career as an engineer, team owner, mechanic and long-time entrant to the Indy 500. He never won the race, but made history in 1976.

That's the year he entered Janet Guthrie, the first woman to enter the Indy 500. The car was plagued by mechanical issues and she never made the race. But she came back next year, qualified 18th, and made 27 laps before her car broke down.

"I wanted to satisfy my own aspiration of being the first to enter a woman at Indy," Vollstedt told People Magazine in 1976, and as reported by the IndyStar. "I asked around for the top female driver and everyone answered Janet Guthrie."

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Vollstedt also worked with some of racing's royalty, including Cale Yarborough. According to Motorsport.com,  Vollstedt brought one of the first American-built rear-engine cars to "house a normally aspirated Offenhauser engine."

However, because he operated on a shoestring budget, he never won an IndyCar race.

The Indianapolis Motorspeedy issued a statement, in which is said was "one of the great characters of the Speedway and a mentor to countless mechanics and engineers over the years, including Grant King, Hal Sperb and numerous others. He also came across as a pure enthusiast who, even when he wasn't an official entrant, always seemed to be aligned with a team in some sort of advisory capacity, official or unofficial."