The “Motorinas” of early racing…
From 1907 to 1939, Brooklands Motor Circuit, near Weybridge in Surrey, was a dazzling mixture of competitive motor sports and people. Built by Hugh and Ethel Locke King as the first true racing circuit in the world, the private track was racing mixed with society, propelling both men and women into spirited competition behind the wheel.
Lost in modern day racing is the roles women played in early motor sports, not as timers, assistants and administrators, but as drivers. That the gas pedal has no knowledge of the gender applying pressure somehow became lost as car racing became the province of men. More’s this pity.
But today’s Danica Patrick, Janet Guterie, and Katherine Legge were all greatly preceded by “scorchers” or “motorinas”, the British vernacular for women who, in those early days, embraced speed, and no arena displayed women as skilled, capable competitors, not just capable of competing, but of winning.
In the stuffy era of 1908, women weren’t allowed to compete with the men but had their own league, and it wasn’t until 1932 that men and women were allowed to go head to head in actual competition. Adorned with colorful scarves, they drove against each other, handing off the scarves when they came into the pits as a sort of relay event.
From GOODWOOD: Fast Women
“One sports scholar has identified 80 women who raced at Brooklands at least once in their careers, while a number of others are known to have worked on cars as mechanics. That number pales in comparison with the 1,000 male racers at Brooklands, but it still resonates when one considers that this was on a track where cars raced for only 32 years and competition ended in 1939. Some of the women of Brooklands may have raced as a “lark”, as part of the high-profile, social elite scene of the day – a playful race, a dressy lunch, then a long chit-chat with friends while the men did the same or continued racing.”
“While most may not have raced for money, they clearly did not drive dangerously fast, putting their lives on the line, just to impress the men or to have something to do before lunch. A mere handful of the many names in the fabulous Brooklands group who earned respect from men and women alike for their speed and car control include Kay Petre, Gwenda Stewart-Hawkes, Margaret Allan, Elsie “Bill” Wisdom, Jill Scott and Doreen Evans…”
Just like the men, speed was in the hearts and minds of many of these women, who also competed regularly in hill-climbs, rallies, and even high speed boat racing.
I got the interesting back stories from Goodwood and Silodrome, and for a more in-depth read, check the links provided.