The Fascination of Motor Racing By Ivy Cummings

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[The well-known lady race driver gives he impressions of competition motoring for women, and records some interesting reminiscences of her outstanding successes]

In my estimation motor racing is at once the most fascinating, exhilarating, and absorbingly interesting sport in the whole world. Beside motor racing all other sports—even flying, I think—pale into insignificance. In flying, one misses the sensation of speed. Once one is up, the subsequent monotony is intensified by one’s feeling of remoteness from the rest of humanity; whereas in motor racing there is never a dull moment, and the human element is always present, with the result that one is conscious all the time that one is a contestant.

Personally, I never ” took-up ” motoring. Motoring claimed me when I was stilt a child. In looking back, I think some of the happiest hours of my childhood were those spent in helping my father to tune up his racing cars. At one time, I suppose, I was the youngest lady motorist. I never learned to drive, it just happened—and it happened in this way : one day as long ago as 1912 (I was then eleven years of age) my father had taken me to Brooklands for a ride. Being interested in aeroplanes, he went to the flying-ground, leaving me in the Paddock to look after the car—a S.C.A.R.

This was my opportunity ! I managed to ,start the car and having watched many times the method of starting off and gear changing, I took the car on to the track. Being so young I saw no danger, and soon had the car doing double the legal limit. On entering the Straight, I found the steering getting rather stiff, so I got into the Paddock, bumping to a sudden standstill by applying the brakes.

Then it started raining ; but I did not dare to try and drive the car under one of the narrow shelters there, in case I should have an accident. On looking at the front wheels I noticcd a flat tyre. As my father had not yet returned (I had got back in time !) I thought I would try and put on the Stepney.

The first thing to do was to endeavour to jack up the Wheel; and eventually I succeeded—damaging my hand In .doing so. I think this damaged hand saved me from “eing punished, as my father seemed very much concerned about it.

The fact that I had driven at speed got me going; and determined that eventually I would be a real racer. But it was a very long time before my chance came.

Meanwhile I spent innumerable happy days helping my father and George (our indispensable mechanic) to supertune many stunt and standard engines.

In default of being able to race, I searched for some other kind of motoring with a thrill in it. During the war, I found a more or less exciting substitute, as I used to drive the Police around on Air Raid nights to give the ” Take Cover” and ” All Clear” signals.

After the war, things began to get tame again, until at last my father gave me a car of my own. This was one of the three-litre Vauxhalls (a 1912 Coupe de l’Auto), and it was with this car that I entered for, and incidentally won, my first race—at the Westcliff Speed Trials in 1910. The Vauxhall was superseded a little later by an 11.9 h.p. Gregoire racing car which, in 1914, had been specially built for the well-known Brooklands racer, Captain Malcolm Campbell.

The next car was a three-litre Sunbeam, and with this I was fortunate enough to capture first place in the Duke of York’s bang race at the Brooklands Royal Meeting, on May 20th, 1922, at an average speed of 83.5 m.p.h. The same car also won, amongst other distinctions, the sixth category for racing cars at Gaillon Hill in France, in October, 1922.

Next I had a little Bugatti; this was in early 1923. The Bugatti was successful in its class in each hill-climb or speed-trial for which it was entered. Encouraged by the consistent dependability of this car, I next purchased a 20 h.p. Bugatti which I named “Black Bess,” and which now also has a useful record to its credit. The acceleration on this car was extraordinary, and this enabled her to make quite a name for herself for “fastest time of the day” performances at hill-climbs and in sprints.

The only other car I have owned, and infinitely my favourite up to now, is my 1923 Frazer Nash. This sturdy little car was possessed of a very useful turn of speed and quite exceptional ‘acceleration—wherefore we immediately set about supertuning her. It was found that she was particularly successful at speed trials and short distance sprints up to one mile ; and we therefore began to think of the possibility of breaking records with her. Since all the records were held by men up to that time, it will be appreciated that it was necessary for a woman to be the possessor of a very super ” little car to be inspired to any such ambition !

At Brooklands, on November 8th, 1923, the little Frazer Nash broke the following records in Class K from a standing start :—
0.5 mile …. at 60.80 m.p.h.
1 Kilometre …. at 61.79 m.p.h.
1 mile …. at 68.58 m.p.h.

From the foregoing it will be seen that whatever success has attended me in motor-racing has just ” happened ” and therefore the last thing I should like to do would be to discourse formally upon motor racing for women.

However, I do think that, given the right temperament and a pedigree machine, any woman with the inclination so to do, may excel in motor competitions Just as easily as in any other of the strenuous things which women now so readily undertake.

It is an absolute fact that I am never so completely happy as when I am seated at the wheel of my car, watching for the starter’s flag to drop. To me there is something indefinitely glamorous in that moment, something which cannot be defined, or even conveyed on paper.

If ever I am feeling at all out of sorts, a hillclimb or a speed trial invariably puts me right. I know this appears farfetched, but it is a positive fact, that I have often been ill when I have started out to race; but I have always returned in great spirits and as fit as a fiddle.

I believe there is nothing more stimulating than the excitement of a road race. I love the uncertainty of it, and the feeling that it is all ” up to oneself,” and that for a time at least, one’s destiny is very nearly one’s own.

Then there is the fascination and the test of skill in fast cornering. I have been asked once or twice to describe the way in which I estimate my skids. Frankly, I cannot explain ; but it is my belief that the best way of pulling out of a skid, provided the surface is not too greasy, is to turn into it and at the same time to press one’s foot hard down on the accelerator.

I love Brooklands, but I think I like hill-climbs and speed trials even more, the reason for this is that it is so pleasant to get away for the week-end, and these trials are generally held at the seaside or in the country, where they may be followed by a “holiday week-end with the family.

The time is coming, I feel sure, when there will be a large number of women motor racers in this country; and I am equally certain that they will surprise and disarm those who are a little critical and sceptical of women racers at the moment..

One thing which is badly needed and which would surely tend to bring out the women motor-racers, is a Woman Motor-Enthusiasts’ Club. I, for one, would welcome such an institution which, I am convinced, would thrive.

There is one factor which, to my mind, suggests that women ought to be able well to hold their own against men in motor-racing—namely : Intuition. Intuition plays a superlatively important part in good driving, and it is universally acknowledged that woman possesses this faculty in a far more highly-developed degree than does imaginative man.

We are informed that Mr. Eldridge is building two ultra-streamlined two-seater racers for the J.C.C.’s 200 mile race at Brooklands. They are said to be exceptionally low, being underslung, and much is expected of them. One he intends to drive himself, the other he will probably sell, to be driven in the races. This looks like an exceptional opportunity for some keen sportsman!