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Indy 500’s ‘Quilt Lady’ Who Gave Blankets to Race Winners for 47 Years Passes Away

Starting with her first quilt for McLaren's Johnny Rutherford in 1976, Jeanetta Holder became part of Indy 500 lore.
Jerry Perez

The traditions of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing are fueled largely by the fans, and Jeanetta Holder was no exception. Known locally and throughout the industry as the “Quilt Lady,” Holder has been a fixture at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, presenting her handcrafted quilts to Indy 500 winners for decades. Sadly, Holder passed away at the age of 91 last week, and the tributes have been pouring in.

Holder presented her first quilt to Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford in 1976, waiting patiently for him to finish his victory lap before approaching him in his garage. Festooned in red, white, and blue, the quilt was her first foray into what would become a legacy; the fan became part of the story.  

During what was surely a sign from the gods of racing, Holder was born on Indy 500 race day in 1932. Fred Frame won that day, 20 years into the annual Spectacle.

A racecar driver herself during the 1950s, when the idea of female drivers was almost inconceivable, Holder was reportedly a daredevil, said the IndyStar. She raced stock cars and claimed to be the first woman to flip one. Once her racing days were over, she wanted to do something to show her appreciation for the sport. It seemed that she loved racing and quilts in equal measure, so she decided to start stitching, using her own supplies and without ever asking for a penny.

“The drivers do so much to make us happy,” Holder told the Indianapolis News in 1988. “So, this is my gift to them.”

Over the years, Holder collected drivers’ autographs on swatches of white fabric so she could hand-stitch the letters. Even Indy 500 drivers have idols, and Holder said they would be happy to see the signatures of others they admire on the quilts.

In a touching show of respect for Holder’s work, Rutherford’s wife Betty told the Indianapolis News in 1988 that she’s had many offers to buy the two quilts Holder made for her husband.

“They’re not for sale at any price,” she said.

Robby Unser (Bobby Unser’s son) remembers Holder babysitting him at races when he was a kid. Today, one of her quilts (the one she made for Bobby Unser in 1981) is housed at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit.

“She was an incredible woman, who lived an extraordinary life, and she will be greatly missed,” he said on his Facebook page.

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