Being fair to Kay Petre



In many papers recently warm praise was bestowed on attractive Jenny Nadin for having beaten the men in her first motor race, when she won the Formula Vee event at the B.A.R.C. Silverstone Meeting on June 18th. This caused “A.R.M.” of Motoring News to say of Miss Nadin that “At last Britain has found an answer to Kay Petre.”

Now to compare different eras of motor racing is usually futile, so vastly have the cars, tyres, road surfaces, and the whole technique of racing changed down the years. Questions like: Was Nuvolari the greatest driver of all time? Were the pre-war Mercedes-Benz W125s more difficult to drive than the present 3-litre G.P. cars? and could Clark and Brabham cope with a 38/250 Mercedes on rain-soaked Ulster roads with the prowess of Caracciola? are good fodder for historians, but are better unspoken.

However, “A.R.M.’s ” comment about Mrs. Kay Petre is quite unfair to this very brave and talented lady racing driver, who was put out of the Sport by a very nasty accident which was absolutely no fault of hers. Indeed, we do not know what he means by Britain’s answer to Kay Petre. Kay was born in Canada; we always regarded her as a British driver.

And, well-deserved though the congratulations to Miss Nadin are, does Motoring News really think that winning an 8-lap race round the Silverstone Club circuit at under 75 m.p.h. in a 55-b.h.p. car is quite in the same category as lapping Brooklands at better than 134 m.p.h. in the aged and venerable 10 1/2-litre V12 Delage, having-a-go in a long-distance race at the wheel of a supercharged E.R.A., or finishing 11th in the Le Mans 24-hour race with a Riley, as Kay Petre did in 1934, partnered by Dorothy Champney? Apparently they do! I think they should withdraw the statement, in fairness to Mrs. Petre, who has returned to Canada and is so modest and so self-effacing that she never mentions her racing exploits.

Mrs. Petre was, do not forget, a works-driver for Austin, as Jenny Nadin is for VW. Kay drove the very fast single-seater blown Seven, with which she set the Ladies’ Record at Shelsley Walsh to 43.8 sec. As a works-driver she finished fifth in the 100-mile Coronation race at the Crystal Palace, was in the winning team in an L.C.C. Relay Race at Brooklands (average speed, 105.63 m.p.h.), and fifth in the 12-hour Donington race. She was placed 11th with a works Riley in the 1936 S. African G.P. and did a few practice laps in an Auto-Union. And she drove in the Austin works team at Le Mans, with male co-drivers. Yet Miss Nadin’s publicity agent claims that “She has become the first woman to drive a fully works single-seater racing car”! — I don’t know what is meant by a fully-works” car but the Austin 7 Kay Petre drove was very definitely a single-seater and, with this driver, could be said to be fully of good works. Long before that Kay had taken her 120-m.p.h. badge at Brooklands in a Bugatti and had been in the Wakefield Cup-winning team in one of the wettest Relay Races on record, in a Singer. She also raced Wolseley Hornet, Fraser-Nash-B.M.W., Invicta, Alfa Romeo and M.G. cars, besides a variety of Bugattis, and at Brooklands her successes numbered four wins (including a Mountain race at 74.95 m.p.h.), three seconds and three thirds; she drove in races from a few laps’ duration to 500 miles. Kay held for a time, before the war, the Class F Mountain lap-record with a primitive Riley, at 78.3 m.p.h. (Jenny’s best 1967 Silverstone lap; 78.02 m.p.h.). She, too, did plenty of rally driving, to set against Nadin’s coupes des dames shared with Pat Moss in Fords.

On the whole I think Miss Nadin has quite a long way to go before she deserves to be called the answer to Kay Petre — but Kay will hate me for saying this! — W. B.