The history-making element to this year's Indy 500 win

Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

The history-making element to this year's Indy 500 win

IndyCar

The history-making element to this year's Indy 500 win

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Angela Ashmore is believed to be the first woman to win the Indianapolis 500 as a member of the winning car’s crew. If true, it would make for yet another achievement for the growing number of women racers who are setting new standards for excellence in the NTT IndyCar Series.

The Michigan native, assistant race engineer on Marcus Ericsson’s No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, stood proud on Sunday at the 106th running of America’s greatest race. In her role as the electronics and data acquisition specialist on the car, Ashmore is one of the few hands-on crew members who work directly with the No. 8 chassis in the shop and at the track.

Responsible for all of the on-board computer systems that power the car, gather and report information from an endless array of sensors, send communications to and from the vehicle, feed the driver vital data to their steering wheel-mounted digital dash, and plenty of other tasks involving an IndyCar’s central nervous system, Ashmore’s expertise is just as vital to the operation as the chief mechanic or any of her other colleagues on the No. 8 car.

And when it’s time to go racing, the graduate of Indiana’s Purdue University with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering can be found sitting on pit lane with her teammate Brad Goldberg, Ericsson’s race engineer, as they work together on the timing stand — command central — to call the plays that have led their driver to three wins over the last year, capped by the greatest of them all on Sunday.

“Brad and I were actually talking about this the other day because somebody asked me if I was the first and I thought, ‘Well, I really have no idea,’ Ashmore told RACER. “It’s just caught me by surprise. I didn’t even really think about it ahead of time. But when Brad and I were talking about it, he said, ‘How would you feel about being the first?’ And I said, ‘I think it’s pretty important to tell that story because there’s a million little girls out there, five and six and seven years old, that I would want to totally fall in love with racing and see that success and see themselves in it.’

Ashmore hopes to lead by example. “There’s a million little girls out there, five and six and seven years old, that I would want to totally fall in love with racing and see that success and see themselves in it.” Image by Marshall Pruett

“It’s an important thing for little girls to be able to aspire towards big things, and if they’re going to grow into these roles, having something to look forward and to somebody to look up to is important. If I could be that person, even for for a couple minutes, I would be honored.”

Ashmore’s achievement represents everything IndyCar has been striving for as increasing numbers of women and people of color are finding new employment opportunities in the series that held its first race in 1911.

She adds to an incredible legacy of pioneering women at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway dating back to Maude Yagle, who was the full owner of the car Ray Keech drove to victory at the Indy 500 in 1929. In the sport’s dark ages where women were not allowed to participate as drivers, crew members of team owners, the car’s entrant was officially listed as ‘M.A. Yagle’ in an effort to disguise her gender, which proved successful at the time.

Legendary mechanic and engineer Anita Millican was the first woman to receive credentials to work on a team at the Indy 500 in 1980 and also made headlines as the first woman to go over the wall to take part in pit stops. Later in the year, she was followed by another trailblazer in composites specialist Eloisa Garza, who joined Chaparral Racing after their 1980 Indy 500 win with Johnny Rutherford.

Garza would become a major figure in the construction of the second Chaparral ‘Yellow Submarine’ chassis for Jim Hall and other significant projects afterwards. In the early 2000s, and as an external service provider, Millican’s name was read aloud with distinction again as she was credited with building the Indy 500-winning shocks used by Team Penske and Helio Castroneves.

Maude Yagle owned the 1929 Indy-winning car, but the rules of the time forced her to obscure her gender by only using her first initial. Image via IMS

The history books don’t record the relevant information to allow us to declare Ashmore the first female winning crew member with 100% certainty, but a survey of people with encylopedic knowledge of the race and the people within in all draw blanks when trying to find a predecessor. That includes Cara Krystolic, Firestone’s director of race tire engineering and manufacturing, who serves as a leader to the growing number of women working in IndyCar, and is convinced that Ashmore is indeed the first woman to achieve the feat.

“Cara, I just love her to death because she is a mentor to all of us,” Ashmore said. “She was the person who made me feel so welcome when I showed up in IndyCar; made me feel like I belonged there. And she goes out of her way to make everybody feel that way. She posted the picture on social media with most of the women working on IndyCar teams, and after the race, we realized we had females working on all three of the top finishing teams. And she congratulated us publicly, which was so nice of her.”

Ashmore said the post also served as a reminder that no matter how much progress has been made for women racers, the same ancient thinking that kept Maude Yagle out of IndyCar nearly 100 years ago is still alive today.

“Some people sent (Krstolic) some really nasty messages and I was so blown back by that,” Ashmore said. “I just said to Cara that I’m so sorry that you had to get those messages, but doesn’t that prove there’s still people out there that need to see us being successful and hear this message? We’re here to stay. We’re contributing members of the team that are pushing these teams forward. That’s the proof right there. I just can’t believe there’s still people out there that are still so negative and disappointing.”

Adding to the story is Nicole Rotondo, the engine technician from Honda Performance Development, who shared the stage with Ashmore and the No. 8 team after tuning the 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 motor Ericsson used to win the race for the Japanese auto manufacturer. Like Ashmore, it was Rotondo’s first Indy 500 win and her third in the series, all with Ericsson. Two women, directly involved with the victory — one on the team side and the other with a key vendor — made for powerful optics as the TV cameras and photographers captured the moment.

Ashmore was drawn to racing as a little girl, watching NASCAR races with her father and attending local short track races in Michigan. After graduating Purdue, she went to work for the SRT side of Dodge/Chrysler, and when an opportunity emerged, she was off to North Carolina and the Roush Fenway Racing NASCAR team.

Missing the Midwest, and with the full encouragement and support of her husband Craig, Ashmore joined Ganassi’s team in 2020. The rest is Indy 500 history.

“This team brought me back to Indiana, which feels so much more like home,” she said. “It was the best move I’ve ever made.”

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