At the Second Brains Trust most of the assembled brains thought that women should either not race at all or should do so on their own. In this outspoken article a girl enthusiast, who has spectated frequently at British and Continental races, and who wants to see more women competing after the war, defends her sex. – Ed.
There was so much nonsense talked on the subject of women in motor-racing at the Second Brains Trust at the Rembrandt Hotel, last March, that it really seems time a girl showed these learned gentlemen where they were wrong. According to the Trust, women should be allowed to race, but not in the same events as men. As the reasons put forward to support this view were so terribly lame it will not take long to deal with them.
Raymond Mays holds the view that women are a queer species of humanity, and he said they are “a race apart, and so should be left to race apart.” As women form over half the population of the world, I think one can safely say that the converse of this statement is true; anyhow, I’d jolly well like to see how he could get on without us! Another Truster seemed to think that motor racing was a man’s job alone. Obviously, women have amply demonstrated in this war that they can successfully do jobs that have hitherto been confined to men, and men, it is well known, excel at the “woman’s job” of cooking. Personally, I think all this bunkum about what should and what should not be a woman’s job is a sheer waste of time. If a person wants to do a certain job, and is capable of doing it, then obviously it is both futile and silly to tell him or her that he or she cannot do so because it is a job for the other sex.
Then – “Chivalry”!! No better excuse existed for the treatment of women as fragile objects. Perhaps the Brains Trust had something like this in mind: A man driver tearing along is just finishing the seventh lap. There is a woman behind slowly but steadily gaining on him. At the end of the tenth lap she has caught up to him and for a time they roar along abreast. Suddenly the man looks round and, seeing his fair competitor, is streaked with beetroot purple at not having remembered the first thing his mother taught him at her knee. He turns towards her and, gracefully doffing his crash-hat, says in a vibrant, gooey, but obsequious tone, “Pray step in front, madam. Ladies first, you know!” Speaking seriously for a moment, the thing which is really surprising when one looks back upon prewar racing is not how few girl drivers there were in racing, but the lamentably poor standard of driving amongst the men. As a spectator at many races at Brooklands and Donington – and such events as Le Mans, I was in despair at the number of young men whose only qualification for holding a competition licence was a fat pass-book. The result was a crowd of rich young, nincompoops with fast cars, over revving, running out of road, and spinning round on corners, whom I personally would not allow to drive my car from London to Donington – much less race it when (and if) it got there.
It was a great shame that money was such an important factor in racing. Lack of it kept many keen and skilful girl drivers from racing, just as it kept good men from doing so. Bearing this in mind, and the inevitable fact that racing is not every girl’s cup of tea, the surprise is not how few and how bad girl drivers were, but what a good show they put up.
There can be only one sound reason for wanting to exclude women from racing, and that would be if they were not capable of handling a car as well as the men. I notice that not one of the Brains Trust suggested this to be true, in fact, Mr. Pomeroy mentioned several really first-class women drivers, for example, Mme. Junek, who led the most difficult race of all – the Targa Florio – from men such as Fagioli, Divo and Connelli, and was the equal of any man on any road. What is more, she ran her husband’s pit right up to when he was killed in a Bugatti. It is a thousand pities that this tragedy made her give up racing, although she still kept in the game as an organiser at the Masaryk circuit.
In track events women did more than hold their own. Besides taking many International records in the 2-litre class, Gwenda Stewart held the out-and-out lap record at Montlhèry for many years with the Derby-Miller at 147.79 m.p.h., only losing it to Raymond Sommer just before the war, and she also holds the Brooklands Ladies’ Lap record with this car at 135.95 m.p.h., a Class E record. At Brooklands, too, Mrs. W. B. Scott (formerly Jill Thomas) did terrific work with Sunbeams and other very fast Machines. “Bill” Wisdom handled the Leyland Eight like nobody’s business, and she and Joan Richmond won the J.C.C. British 1,000 Miles Race in 1932 against all comers in their Riley Nine at 84.41 m.p.h. Joan Richmond, incidentally, not only drove an excellent race on that occasion, but did a great deal of first-class but inconspicuous driving in rather slow cars on other occasions. It was a great shame that war broke out just as she was finding her form at the Crystal Palace in faster machines. And it will be realised that she was quicker up Shelsley Walsh than Waddy, driving his incredibly unorthodox and difficult four-wheel-drive Fuzzi. She also did great work in trials and rallies, including the Monte Carlo Rally, and it should not be forgotten that she drove to this country from her native Australia in a Riley Nine!
On road circuits, too, the few women who were really keen (and had the funds) did remarkably well – witness Mesdames Mareuse, Siko and Itier at Le Mans and elsewhere, who still kept on when their men rivals had crashed or stopped. Eileen Ellison, too, could handle a car, and her racing tours of the Continent with Cholmondeley-Tapper were some of the best bits of motoring by an English girl of recent times.
Doreen, of that racing family of Evanses, was far faster and better than either of her brothers in the same cars, and her racing career was only stopped when she married and went to live in America. Consider how many men develop their skill as quickly as did Doreen.
It is worth noticing, too, that although these women were undoubtedly “tough” they still retained their femininity, even if they found overalls convenient when driving. Dorothy Stanley-Turner, holder of the Ladies’ Record at Shelsley Walsh with an Alta, is certainly no “tough.” Margaret Allen (now Mrs. Christopher Jennings), with her Lagondas and Bentley, has every bit as good a Brooklands record as any man with comparable motor-cars. Then there is Mrs. Kay Petre’s round the Mountain lappery with the White Riley. Mays took 55.4 secs. (76.03 m.p.h.) in 1934, whilst when Mrs. Petre had the same car the following year, she lapped at 77.87 m.p.h. – i.e. she clipped 0.38 of a second off Mays’s time. And she actually lapped the Brooklands Outer Circuit faster (at 134.75 m.p.h.) than either John Cobb or Oliver Bertram in the V12 Delage – moreover, 135 m.p.h. odd has only been beaten by some half-a-dozen men – Cobb, Birkin, Don, Bertram, Marker, Staniland and Straight, if I remember rightly – and it was done by Kay Petre when all the others thought that the old Delage was finished!
No, gentlemen, before you say you hate racing with women, because you don’t like to get tough – or because they drive so well – or because of “ladies first” – or because you “don’t like to think of girls getting hurt” – or because it interferes with what your idea of a lady should be – or because you just can’t keep your mind on the job when they’re around – just count up how many men you’d choose to race with!
A good many girls have raced without success, but a higher proportion of girls have made good than men. If few women have driven in Grands Prix, just think how few Englishmen have done any good in that sphere.
Probably girls are kept out of the game because (a) most of the family money is inherited by men under present conditions, and (b) a girl’s racing career, if she wants to get married and have children, is liable to be short, so that she gives up just as she is getting good.
If the men object that there has never been a female Nuvolari or Caracciola, I reply thus. In considering the “First XV” of front rank men drivers who formed the series in The Motor in 1941-2, it has to be admitted that literally thousands of throw-outs have failed to make the grade, and that many reputations have been made only by buying good cars and driving them badly and by drinking with the right journalists. It takes hundreds of men to produce a single Nazzaro or Caracciola, but out of the very few women that have ever raced the names Petre, Stewart and Junek readily spring to mind as drivers of really top order. – P.D.B.
[If the mere male wishes to protest, our columns are open. –Ed.]