When you think of women in racing, you probably think of today’s big names like Danica Patrick or Courtney Force. March was International Women’s month, but it’s always a good time to honor some of the women who paved the way in motorsports, as well as the female drivers out there winning races today.
You might think that women are only now breaking into the boys’ club of racing, but there have been women on the rack nearly as long as there’s been racing. Case in point: Helle Nice who was dubbed “the Queen of Speed” after winning the Grand Prix Féminin in 1929.
Nice had been a dancer until she injured her knee skiing. She did the natural thing and switched to auto-racing. Nice was the subject of a 2004 biography titled Bugatti Queen.
Kay Petre drove in many races in the 1930s, including finishing the 1934 24 Hours of Le Mans with teammate Dorothy Champney. As ESPN points out, Petre stood 4’10”, but that didn’t stop her from racing a 10.5 Liter V12 (you can see pictures over at Silodrome). She just had to attach wooden blocks to the pedals so she could reach. She briefly held a Ladies Land Speed record with that car at over 134 miles per hour. Petre retired from racing after suffering serious injuries in a crash. That didn’t keep her away from the automotive world, though. She went on to design fabric patterns for the original Mini.