This week, ESPN debuted its latest 30 for 30 documentary, Qualified. While the series has covered several sports over the years, this particular film dove into a world I somehow knew even less about than usual: auto racing. More specifically, the film plunks you into the late 1970s (long before the days of Danica Patrick) to share the story of driver Janet Gutherie.

Qualified takes its name from the fact that Gutherie was the first woman to qualify for the famed Indianapolis 500. With

the help of narration from a current day Gutherie, a handful of other new interviews, and a ton of archival footage, the film chronicles the challenges that came in the few years immediately before and after that historic event. Speaking of digging into the archives, director Jenna Ricker must have gone to great lengths to retrieve all of this footage and it pays off in spades, bringing both context and excitement to the finished product.

One thing about Qualified that did feel off to me was how abruptly it ended. Maybe I’m just not used to watching 30 for 30s on linear TV but I was taken aback when the final line — spoken by an announcer in an old clip — led not to a commercial break but into the rebroadcast of the film from the beginning. I suppose this must have been a filmmaking decision, perhaps meant to represent how Gutherie wasn’t able to properly complete the career she deserved, but it was a bit jarring nonetheless. (UPDATE: apparently the ending I’m referring to wasn’t intended at all and was the result of a glitch during the premiere airing as confirmed by director Jenna Ricker on Twitter. Oops.)

What precedes that closing is a gripping ride, complete with turns, accelerations, and maybe even a crash or two. In that way, the film is both exciting and slightly heartbreaking. Still, to hear Gutherie herself tell the tale today, she seems to reflect on the entire experience with reverence and pride more than disappointment. I’d have to say I felt pretty much the same way about the film, which introduced me to yet another fascinating story I wouldn’t have known otherwise. For that reason, I’d say it’s definitely worth strapping in for a viewing of 30 for 30’s Qualified.

Enjoy Qualified and other great titles in the 30 for 30 Documentary library with a subscription to ESPN+.


Kyle is a writer living in Springfield, MO. His deep love of Disney and other pop culture finds its way into his stories, scripts, and tweets. His first book “The E-Ticket Life: Stories, Essays, and Lessons Learned from My Decidedly Disney Travels” is available in paperback and for Kindle.



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