Jul 19, 2022
Lisa Weinberger’s 1972 Toyota Celica was driven by Janet Guthrie, the first woman to compete at the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500
By A.J. Baime
June 25, 2022 10:00 am ET
Lisa Weinberger, 64, of Austin, Texas, and
Naperville, Ill., who is president of the
Footprints Foundation, which helps students
pursue careers in the automotive industry
through its Driven to Care program, on her 1972
Toyota Celica race car, as told to A.J. Baime.
In 1989, I was driving through Chicago when I
noticed this guy in a white Acura Legend. I
thought, “I know that guy.” We pulled up to a
tollbooth side by side and I saw him throw up
his hands. I rolled down my window and asked
what was wrong. He said, “I went into an
unmanned exact-change booth and I don’t have
exact change. I was looking at you wondering
why you were looking at me, and I got
distracted.” That man was John Weinberger
and, seven years later, he and I were married at
that same tollbooth.
John’s life was all about cars. He was a highschool
dropout who started out working as a
mechanic. Then he got into the gas-station
business. Then he built one of the largest cardealership
groups in Illinois. When I met him, I
didn’t even know how to drive a stick shift. But
John raced cars and he wanted me to learn. So
he bought me this 1972 Toyota Celica race car,
and that is how it all started.
This specific Celica was originally built out as a
race car by Janet Guthrie, who raced it mostly in
the northeast at tracks like Watkins Glen
International and Lime Rock Park. She later
went on to become the first woman to compete
in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.
My husband bought it from a friend of his and, I
believe, we became the third owners. The car is
not street legal.
The first time I took it out, we were at Road
America [a well-known racetrack in Wisconsin].
By that time, I had had some training in
racetrack driving, but still, after a few laps, I
came in crying. The seat in this car was way too
big. The brakes were squishy. I was all over the
place. Instead of the compassion I was
expecting, my husband said, “Get back out
there.” Which, it turned out, was pretty good
We later replaced the seat with a go-kart seat
because I am small. I was instantly able to cut a
lot off my lap times. I put the number 40 on the
car, because that is how old I was when I first
drove it. Since then, I have competed in this car
in vintage races around the country, at the
Circuit of the Americas in Texas, Autobahn
[Country Club] in Illinois, the Indianapolis
Motor Speedway, and other racetracks.
I have blown the engine twice. My husband
made trophies for me using components of
these blown engines.
Over the 24 years of owning this car, I have had
the pleasure of knowing Janet Guthrie. She is an
amazing woman, and she built out this Celica
race car when Toyota was relatively new on the
scene in the U.S. I once asked her how she
handled the chauvinism in motor racing. She
said, “I was a racer. I never thought of myself as
a woman racer.” That is how I feel.
Once, at an event at Road America celebrating
the launch of her book, “Janet Guthrie: A Life At
Full Throttle,” some years ago, I was able to
reunite her with her old Toyota race car. She
and I got to drive the track together, in this car.
My husband, John, passed away during the
pandemic. I was able to hold a celebration of life
for him at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin,
On that racetrack, I got to drive a hot lap
[a lap at high speed] in the hearse with John’s
casket in back. I hope that there is an afterlife so
he could see how much I loved him and how
much everyone else loved him.
He always said that he measured success in
smiles, not dollars. Janet Guthrie is of that
camp, and that is what this Toyota race car
means to me.
Appeared in the June 29, 2022, print edition as 'Her
Toyota Was Built for a Racing Legend'.
Write to A.J. Baime at firstname.lastname@example.org.