We’ll never know how far Kara Hendrick could have gone.
Kara was just 22 years old when she was killed in a crash 30 years ago (Oct. 5) this week. She was racing a three-quarter midget at El Cajon Speedway and had set the one-lap track record during qualifying earlier that evening. At that point in her career, Kara was the most successful female racer in USAC history.
I first met Kara through her twin brother Kenny. He was running in the Trans-Am Series and I was covering some of the races as part of ESPN’s Thursday Night Thunder. She had been racing most of her life and was starting to make a name for herself around the country. Kara was the full package. She was not just a great racer, but she was a sponsor’s dream. She was bright, well-spoken and attractive (let’s not kid ourselves, that mattered). The more I got to know Kara, the more I realized that she could be the one.
The initial barriers for female racers had already started to fall. Drivers such as Lyn St. James, Michele Mouton and Shirley Muldowney had proven they could compete. But we were still years away from the Sarah Fishers and Danica Patricks of the racing world arriving on the scene.
As I followed Kara’s driving exploits and got to know her, I began to imagine where it could all go. Why not Indy? Why not NASCAR? It wouldn’t be easy, but she had the tools and the drive to make it happen.
When I heard the news about her crash, I was truly crushed. Not just for the potential her racing career showed, but because she was such a joy to be around.
After Kara’s crash on the second lap, the race resumed and Page Jones (son of Parnelli) drove to victory. That triumph took ironic odd twist several years later when Jones suffered serious head injuries in a midget crash at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway in 1994.
For a brief moment, he says he went up to heaven. But Jones says when he got there, he saw Kara who told him it wasn’t his time. Once again, Kara’s light shined the way.
In the 30 years since her passing, we’ve seen plenty of great female racers who have broken plenty of barriers. But to be honest, when it comes to IndyCar and NASCAR, we still haven’t had that breakthrough female racer who is a threat to win week after week.
That’s why, 30 years later, I still wonder how far Kara could have gone.