The First Lady of Dirt

The Triumphs and Tragedy of Racing Pioneer Cheryl Glass

by Bill Poehler



Possessed of great ambitions, matched by her fearlessness, self-confidence, energy and intelligence, Cheryl Linn Glass showed promise from an early age.

The eldest, by a decade, of two daughters born to parents Marvin and Shirley Glass, Cheryl placed early in the gifted and advanced classes and was earning money by age seven as a model. Interested and curious, she also tried making and selling ceramics, selling her custom-decorated cookies, and participating in various sports. Then, age nine in 1970, she read about quarter midgets and wanted to give them a try. 

The model-pretty face of Cheryl Glass posing for this mid-1980 photo.

Mom and dad each had engineering degrees and, both having been hired by Boeing, were earning sufficient monies they could indulge their daughter and support her interests. Over the rest of the decade, Cheryl would end up decorating and filling her bedroom with the ribbons and trophies she earned winning races as she moved up to midgets, winged sprint cars, on her way to becoming The First Lady of Dirt of this book’s title.

Cheryl’s successes were notable. So too was her ambition. She quickly considered herself a professional race car driver yet her racing experiences were more limited than she realized. She only wanted to race in series and events that paid prize money and were well attended so her name would become more widely known. Her approach was self-limiting.

Cheryl’s only real experiences competing were driving those winged dirt track cars. She did enroll and complete a road-race driving school. But because her focus was solely on being seen by the most people, the first event she entered was on a street course and a first time one at that, in steaming hot Dallas. To describe the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix as a race is a stretch. The heat disintegrated the track and “races” became ones of attrition. That included Cheryl, blessedly in qualifying—the “race” itself was that bad. It was her one and only Can-Am ride.

Glass in her dirt track sprinter is circulating around her home track, Skagit Speedway in Washington state, where she learned to drive quickly.

With her drive, self-confidence, energy, and fearlessness not always tempered by good judgment or practicality, there were other “dramas.” In her personal life, there was the choice of a marriage partner. The two had enjoyed one another’s company during the short time they dated and “between his good guy personality and his ability to support Cheryl’s racing as a mechanic, he gained the acceptance of her family.” They were wed mere months after meeting. But once the “I do’s” were uttered in February 1983, things deteriorated and divorce was final by November of the following year. 

Her wedding dress she’d designed. It truly did show her creative side. So elaborate was the dress she and her mother had sewn that she gained a wider reputation so started a side business designing and making wedding dresses as well as adding wedding planning to her services. On the downside, she ultimately gained a reputation for having a hard time meeting deadlines which then hurt her business, “a fault that stuck with her for years.”

Glass dreamt of driving in the Indy 500. She tried on one of the scaled-down Indy Cars of American Racing Series (ARS) in 1990. She’s on the inside running practice laps at Laguna Seca.

Glass’ final years are indeed troubled which some readers will find troubling to read. But following telling her story with its great highs and great lows, the conclusions that author Bill Poehler shares are indeed welcome. Just as he excelled at telling her life’s story, he further displays his skills as an able, seasoned and experienced writer—honed, in part, by his 25 years, and still counting, covering all manner of events and telling stories as a staff journalist of the Salem (Oregon) Statesman Journal—with his assessments. 

Today, Cheryl Glass has earned a degree of notoriety for being a woman of color in a sport filled with men as the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa has recognized. Further, Poehler writes, “Black women didn’t race sprint cars before her. They still don’t. I admire Cheryl for what she did, but I also think she serves as a cautionary tale.

The book’s publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, does not appear to be set up to sell individual copies of the books it publishes. But you can purchase your copy via a link on the home page of the author’s website

The First Lady of Dirt
The Triumphs and Tragedy of Racing Pioneer Cheryl Glass
by Bill Poehler
Rowman & Littlefield, 2024
239 pages, 20 b/w images, softcover
end notes, bibliography, index 
List Price: $32 / £25
ISBN 13: 978 1 5381 8405 9 

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