July 31, 2007

Today In Automotive History

1916 : NASCAR's "first female" is born

Louise Smith, 1950Louise Smith, NASCAR's first female act, was born on this day in 1916. Known as racing's "Good ol' Gal" she competed in stock-car racing during its decidedly "good ol' boy" years. A native of Greenville, South Carolina, Smith raced various Modified, Sportsman, and Grand National series events between 1946 and 1956. Her fearless attitude made her a novelty at a time when most women were homemakers. "I enjoyed every minute," said Smith, reflecting on her career. "I traveled all over North America, racing everywhere I could, and I had fun with it. Didn't make a whole lot of money, but if I could do it again today, I'd do it and I think I'd make it." In the earliest years of NASCAR, Bill France, NASCAR's founder, president, and chief promoter, used Smith to attract spectators. Smith got her start when NASCAR held a race near her hometown at the Greenville-Pickens Speedway, and a local suggested Smith on the grounds that she could "outrun every highway patrol and lawman in Greenville." France agreed to give her a shot. In her first race, Smith explains, "They told me if I saw a red flag to stop. They didn't say anything about the checkered flag. I wondered where all the cars were and then as I was all alone on the track, I noticed them in the pits. They finally threw the red flag and I pulled in. I had finished third." In Smith's 10-year career, she captured 38 victories. In the mid-1970s, she became involved with the sport again, sponsoring drivers Ronnie Thomas, Bobby Wawak, and Larry Pearson. Smith was inducted into the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.

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