INDIANAPOLIS -- Janet Guthrie, the first woman to drive in the Indianapolis "500," finished only 27 laps Sunday when her car smarted sputtering 50 miles into the race.
"I was doing exactly what I'd planned at the start," she said. "It's very, very frustrating."
The 39-year-old New York physicist was well back in the field when she left for a pit stop after 23 laps. She never really got back in the race -- although she returned to the track four times for slow laps around the speedway oval.
"If the car had started running again, I would have kept going," she said during one of the pit stops that totaled 91 minutes.
HER PIT CREW said it never determined what went wrong with the machine.
Guthrie said she'd be back next year.
"One swallow doesn't a summer make. I'll be back."
Asked if she would be returning because she had something to prove, she laughed: "I didn't think there was anything left to prove. It's a major accomplishment to make the field at Indianapolis."
Her presence in the 61st annual race brought a change in track owner Tony Hulman's traditional starting announcement. He told the drivers: "In company with the first lady ever to qualify at Indianapolis, gentlemen, start your engines."
GUTHRIE SAID after the race she was happy Hulman bad acknowledged her presence, but she had a gripe about the lack of a shower she could use in the "Gasoline Alley" garage area.
She said methanol spilled over her in the cockpit of her car when the fuel heated up and expanded during one of her lengthy pit stops.
"It went down my back, I was sitting in a pool of it and it was on my feet. It's not very comfortable. The crew poured water on it, but when I retired fron the race, I was in considerable discomfort.
"I am seriously upset there are no showers for a woman driver. My crew used a sheet of aluminum to block off a shower for me in the men's room."
GUTHRIE ANSWERED with a crisp, "You betcha," when asked if she was looking forward to returning next year.
"The Indianapolis '500' is everything everybody said it was. It's a very, very major event. There's nothing like it in the whole racing world."
She admitted she had started the race driving "conservatively," but said she bad passed one car and was moving up on a second when her engine started "popping, banging and kicking back."
Her crew thought it was an ignition problem and completely rebuilt the system during one pit stop, while Guthrie sat patiently atop two stacked tires and talked to reporters and to actor James Gamer, who stopped by to offer his condolences.
THE MECHANICS replaced something different during each of the succeeding pit stops and Guthrie agreed to keep taking the car out to see if they'd cured the ailment.
The race leaders were in their 149th lap when Guthrie finally retired, having driven only 27 laps -- 67 1/2 miles - in two and a quarter hours.
She left to a standing ovation from the crowd behind and across the track from her pit. As she walked to the garage area, she shouted "next year" to her fans.