The first motorized tricycle race for women that we know of took place as early as 1897. Comparing these pioneering ladies to modern day racers shows one major similarity, courage. The Sports Techie community blog readers and followers represents thousands of women across the planet as equals to men. Yet, to this day motorsports are associated with dudes and are usually seen as a type of sport showing masculinity at its finest.
This discipline is one of the very few where men and women can compete against each other in big competitions, as well as there being ‘female’ clubs and associations to inspire, promote and protect sportswomen. For this reason, in hope to motivate, we are presenting you with a brief history of women in motorsports.
The truth is: Women do have a place in motorsports.
As stated before, the first motorised tricycle race for women happened in 1897. Regardless of that success, throughout the next 20 or so years, races for women were rare. Luckily, women could not be stopped by the lack of opportunities and great individuals continued to get involved in motorsports, joining “male” races. Camille du Gast, one of three female motorsports celebrities in France during La Belle Epoque alongside Baroness Hélène van Zuylen and Anne de Rochechouart de Mortemart – Duchess of Uzès, raced internationally for five years.
Similarly, Dorothy Levitt from England brought strong female presence into the world of motor-boat racing. She also competed internationally and was the holder of the first water speed record in the world.
Both of these incredible women – together with the amazing Elizabeth Junek who came to fame as a racer in the early 1920s to later become the first woman in history to win a Grand Prix (1926 German GP at the Nürburgring) – challenged men as their opponents in world-famous races and their legacy continues to this day as gender does not impede participation in motorsports competitions.
SECOND HALF OF TWENTIETH CENTURY
Due to World War II, there wasn’t a lot of racing in the 1940s across Europe, but American racing was born. Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) was founded in 1944. American racing was less open to women who were seen as helpers to their favorite male driver. The highest recognition was ‘Ladies Navigator Trophy’, far from any opportunity to drive.
It was the 1950s when women were given a beacon of hope with female races in America, until Denise McCluggage started racing in 1956 and got accepted in the top (male) racing events in the US and wider. In 1963, Donna Mae Mimms showed what women are capable of by winning the SCCA national driving competition.
The two women were not only drivers but also journalists who managed to reach a wider audience through their writing on motorsports. In Europe, one of the most successful female driver of 50s and 60s was the British rally driver Pat Moss, whose brother sir Stirling Moss was a Formula One superstar.
She has three international wins accompanied with seven international podium finishes to show her standing in motorsports history. On the other hand, Italy’s Maria Teresa de Filippis entered the books in 1958 as the first woman to ever drive in the Formula One World Championship.
From 70s onwards the situation for women improved both in Europe and the USA. After De Filippis, four other great women drove, amongst other competitions, in F1 championship: Lella Lombardi (1974,1976), Divina Galica (1976, 1978), Desiré Wilson (1980), Giovanna Amati (1992).
And although she never drove in F1, another important name that cannot be forgotten is Michèle Mouton – a runner up at World Rally Championship 1982 and a winner of four international rallies throughout her career as a driver. Afterwards, she stayed in the motorsports world as a manger and as the president for FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission. Mouton is to this day the last woman to take part in top-level rallying competitions.
21ST CENTURY – WHAT ABOUT NOW
There are women successfully participating in professional motorsports in 21st century, such as Danica Patrick, Keiko Ihara, Carmen Jordá and Simona de Silvestro. However, the number is still very small, especially looking at the past.
We could have gone much further after the 70s boom. Women in Motorsport Commission met for the first time in February 2018, with the aim of encouraging women to take part in the professional world of motorsports. The world of professional racing is still not welcoming women with open arms, sexism definitely exists even if the big events are open to men and women competing side by side.
However, that is another fight to win, and in this case, there is a true ‘need for speed’.
Sports Techie, with the advent of video gaming, girls and women alike can learn the nuances of motorsports getting them ready for the chance to shine on real race tracks when the opportunity comes knocking. Call it – sim training.
Sooner than later, the cream of the female racers will rise to the top and show their abilities with wins in major races such as the Daytona 500, Indy 500 or the race as the local track on Saturday night. This will help mainstream women racers as equal to male counterparts.
Encourage girls and women that want to learn more about being a race car driver to dream big and make it so.
See ya later sportstechie in Seattle, Atlanta and around the world!
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