Ladies who broke made dominance

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Girls in F1 again? One day, perhaps! Girls at Brooldands — yes, lots of them. To escape some confusion, the first ladies’ races were in 1908, a decorous age, so their skirts were tied round their ankles as they sped along on exposed chassis. The BARC then said, no more, although girls raced at some of the smaller club events.

By 1928 the parent club relented, staging a ladies’ two-lap Sweepstake at a Thursday evening meeting. It was won by Miss Maconochie’s supercharged Salmson.

The late Dame Barbara Cartland took a bunch of debutantes in M-type MGs to the Track in 1932 to show that women drove better than men, and claimed that as the first female ‘race’, but it was so dangerous that it was quickly stopped.

Although the Hon Mrs Chetwynd had shared a Lea-Francis in the 1929 BARC Six-Hour Race, the ladies were still banned from competing with the men in lesser events, though they now wore skirts above the knee, bobbed or Eton-cropped hair, and were flying, sailing, and beating the men at tennis, and other sports.

Elsie Wisdom and Joan Richmond, in a Riley, won the JCC two-day 1000-mile Race in 1932, and at last the BARC lifted the ban on mixed races. Mrs S Tolhurst was the first to beat the chaps, in a Riley, lapping at 90.88mph, and before the Track closed in 1939, Kay Petre’s Bugatti had lapped at 125.45mph to win a mixed race in 1935. In 1933 they even agreed to a girls’ handicap over the two-corner Mountain circuit, watching with fingers well crossed. Rita Don, in daddy’s Riley, was first. It was said that as she slowed for the Fork Hairpin, Freddie Dixon, who was passengering, banged open the hand throttle!

The Ladies’ Mountain Handicap became an annual fixture, won in 1934 by Doreen Evans in a Bellevue R-type MG, and in 1935 by Mrs Oxenden in a long-skirted tweed two-piece, collar and tie, white helmet and a stripped sports Alta, at 66.86mph.

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