The incredible, little-known story of the first successful Black woman in the sport of auto racing in the United States.
Early in her career, Cheryl Glass looked like a lock to become the first Black woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500. From racing quarter midget cars at ten years old to Indy Lights in her twenties, Cheryl was on her way towards a winning career in auto racing.
In The First Lady of Dirt: The Triumphs and Tragedy of Racing Pioneer Cheryl Glass, Bill Poehler tells Cheryl’s full story for the first time. He recounts how Cheryl rapidly became the first successful Black woman in the sport, yet frequently encountered racist and sexist taunts from other drivers and fans throughout her career. While appearing to have it all—talent, ambition, looks—she faced many challenges on and off the track and her life soon spun out of control.
Featuring exclusive interviews with Cheryl’s mother, friends, and competitors, The First Lady of Dirt takes you behind the scenes and in the driver’s seat of Cheryl’s life. Poehler, an amateur racer himself, places the reader at the track, smelling the dirt and fumes, hearing the roaring engines and crashing metal, and feeling Cheryl’s joy and pain. It’s the inspiring story of a racing pioneer and a tragic tale of the pressures that are often hidden from public view until it’s too late.
Bill Poehler is an award-winning journalist who has spent his career as a reporter at the Salem Statesman Journal, part of the USA Today network in Salem, Oregon. His work has appeared in such newspapers as USA Today, Washington Times, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit Free Press, Des Moines Register, The Tennessean, Cincinnati Enquirer and Reno Gazette-Journal as well as on Yahoo.com, MSNBC, Oregon Public Broadcasting, KGW TV, and KOIN TV. Poehler has won awards from the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, the Best of Gannett, and from the Oregon Athletic Coaches Association for his writing and contributions as a journalist. He is the author of The Brown Bullet: Rajo Jack’s Drive to Integrate Auto Racing.
In this biography of Cheryl Glass, the first professional Black woman race car driver, journalist Poehler empathetically tells the story of a remarkable but tragic life. The daughter of two high-achieving engineers, Glass graduated early from high school, started her own business, worked as a model, and started racing young and winning. Poehler interviewed many people who knew Glass, including her mother (who lovingly sewed her daughter’s driver’s uniforms), race-car drivers like Al Unser Jr., and classmates. One recalls that Glass drove to school in a convertible Mercedes. She lived large. But crashes and concussions are an inevitable aspect of racing, and Poehler believes that Glass suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. She showed the classic signs, including erratic behavior and substance abuse. She also shouldered a heavy load, handling racism and sexism at the track while representing Black people and women as a pioneering competitor. In 1997, at 35, she fell to her death from a Seattle bridge. Poehler celebrates Glass' accomplishments even as he sees her story as a thought-provoking and sad cautionary tale.
I just finished reading Bill Poehler’s book, The First Lady of Dirt, and had no idea that Cheryl Glass’s life took such an unexpected turn. I raced several times with Cheryl and admired her guts to take on dirt racing in the wildest beast of a car she could possibly have chosen. I lost track of Cheryl after her one-race deal with Speedway, so when I started reading what happened next it was a shocker and well told by Poehler. This is a must-read for all racers and fans.
This is an amazing story about a young lady race car driver with great financial and emotional support from her family who became a successful sprint car driver. It was heartbreaking to read how it all went so wrong. It’s a very well written story and I could not put the book down.
The true story of Cheryl Glass is the proverbial rollercoaster. Just when you thought she was making the next step, something goes wrong. But what makes her story so fascinating is the way Bill Poehler dives into the mindset of this complicated woman, and of the supporters around her. A fantastic read!
A truly captivating account of Cheryl’s life! I had no idea of her struggles on and off the track.
Includes photos from Cheryl’s family collection