Article: Her Toyota Was Built for a Racing Legend

Lisa Weinberger

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

advice.


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,

Texas.


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 myride@wsj.com.