Founded in 1939, the Automotive Hall of Fame — today located in Dearborn, Michigan — is dedicated to honoring those who have made a significant and lasting contribution to automotive history. To date, more than 275 men and women have been immortalized with admission into its ranks, and in 2019 the list grows to include racer Janet Guthrie, former FCA chairman Sergio Marchionne, American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. (AAM) co-founder Richard E. “Dick” Dauch, and insurance and finance innovator Patrick Ryan.
Before Janet Guthrie became the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, she was a championship-winning SCCA racer who became the first woman to qualify for — and race in — a NASCAR Cup Series event on a superspeedway, specifically the 1976 World 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Charlotte race took place on May 30, 1976, and had things gone bit differently at Indy in early May, Guthrie would have established herself as the first woman to compete in the Indy 500 one year earlier.
Though Guthrie had no trouble passing her Indy 500 Rookie Test in a car built by veteran constructor Rolla Vollstedt, mechanical problems kept her from qualifying for the 1976 race. Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony Hulman “suggested” to A.J. Foyt that he let Guthrie drive his own Coyote chassis, a car he’d already qualified in fifth for the Indy 500 with a speed of 185.261 mph. Foyt gave Guthrie the requested test laps, and soon she was lapping in the 181-mph range, nearly good enough to make the show.
Had Foyt offered his backup Coyote to Guthrie for qualifying, she almost certainly could have found the other few miles per hour to make the field, but that’s not what happened. Instead, Guthrie raced in Charlotte, finishing a respectable 15th in her superspeedway debut, and began her 1977 season by racing in NASCAR’s Daytona 500. There, she finished 12th, and competed in four more NASCAR Cup Series events before making her Indianapolis 500 debut. In 1977, Guthrie qualified a Vollstedt car 25th in the field, but a broken timing gear ended her day on lap 28.
She returned to Indy in 1978, this time qualifying 15th and finishing ninth. For the 1979 race, Guthrie qualified 14th, but a burned piston ended her day after just three laps. The 1979 Indy Car season did have a few highlights for Guthrie, who qualified fourth at the Pocono 500 in June and finished fifth in the Tony Bettenhausen 200 at Milwaukee in August.
Guthrie returned to the Brickyard in 1980, but again struggled to find the speed needed to put a car in the field. Her bigger struggle — and one she endured throughout much of her career — was finding sponsors willing to gamble on a woman racing at the sport’s highest levels, then a novelty. Her courage and perseverance opened the door for others, and in many ways helped establish a new era of racing in America.
Sergio Marchionne in 2010. Photo courtesy FCA.
With a background in business, accounting, and law, Sergio Marchionne was already known for his ability to turn around failing companies when he joined Fiat’s board of directors in 2003. A year later, he was the company’s CEO, and in short order transformed a company that was losing €6 billion per year into one that was earning €2 billion. In June 2009, Fiat was awarded a 20-percent stake in bankrupt automaker Chrysler, and, under Marchionne’s guidance, the struggling automaker achieved a turnaround once thought impossible under former owners Cerberus Capital Management.
Fiat purchased controlling shares of Chrysler from the U.S. Treasury and Canadian governments in July 2011, and two months later Marchionne became chairman of the company. Three years later, in August 2014, Fiat and Chrysler merged, becoming FCA and, ultimately, a rare success story in today’s uncertain automotive landscape.
Known as a notorious micromanager, Marchionne had his hands in nearly everything, from product planning at various divisions to the running of Ferrari’s Formula 1 team. A leader who respected only results and not effort, Marchionne wasn’t afraid to make big changes in the name of maximizing profits. Years before killing off compact and midsize sedans became fashionable, he led the charge to nix the under-performing Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200, yet wasn’t afraid to spend R&D dollars on developing halo sports cars, like the fifth-generation Dodge Viper, the Challenger Hellcat, and the Challenger Demon.
Marchionne died on July 25, 2018, following complications from shoulder surgery.
Dick Dauch at AAM. Remaining photos courtesy Automotive Hall of Fame.
Dick Dauch, co-founded AAM in 1993 with the purchase of five former GM manufacturing plants in Michigan and New York. A year later, the company was a Tier One supplier to the automotive industry, and today is a publicly traded, multi-billion-dollar company with 35 locations across the globe.
Dauch’s role as an industry leader really began decades earlier. Following his graduation from Purdue University in 1964, he joined GM as a trainee and was assigned to Chevrolet’s car and truck assembly plant in Flint, Michigan. In 1973, at the age of 30, he became the youngest plant manager in Chevrolet’s history, later serving as an assistant sales manager in the Detroit Zone to round out his experience. Next, Dauch was put in charge of the Chevrolet Gear and Axle Plant, one of the five he’d later acquire to found AAM.
Volkswagen Manufacturing of America lured him away from Chevrolet in 1976, and as Vice President of Manufacturing he was tasked with establishing the company’s Westmoreland Assembly plant, the first high-volume foreign auto plant on U.S. soil. In 1980, Dauch went to Chrysler as Vice President of Diversified Operations, and soon instituted a revamping of the company’s established practices, implementing things like just-in-time inventory management and three-shift manufacturing.
Dauch retired from Chrysler in 1991, two years before founding AAM with a small investment team. He died of cancer in August 2013.
Patrick Ryan forever changed the auto dealership sales experience in 1962, when he founded the first Finance and Insurance (F & I) department at Dick Fencl Chevrolet in Illinois, laying the groundwork for what would become an essential component of the car-buying process (and an additional profit center for the dealership).
Following his graduation from Northwestern University’s School of Business in 1959, Ryan went to work as a life insurance agent with Penn Mutual, but within three years set the foundation for the modern automotive finance department while at Continental Casualty Company.
Two years after, in 1964, Ryan founded Pat Ryan & Associates, a brokerage and underwriting agency that soon began training and licensing agents to work in automotive dealerships. By 1968, his company was writing $15 million in premiums annually, and in 1971 — after expanding nationally — Ryan took the company public, allowing him to expand from a single product to multiples lines of insurance.
Several acquisitions and mergers later, the firm became Aon Corporation in 1987. After serving as the company’s CEO for more than four decades, Ryan retired in 2008, but founded a new company, Ryan Specialty Group, in 2010.
The 2019 Automotive Hall of Fame induction ceremony and awards gala will take place on Thursday, July 18, 2019, at the MGM Grand Detroit. For additional details, visit AutomotiveHallOfFame.org.