The “Motorinas” of early racing…

Kay Petre at Brooklands in 1937. Getty Images

Kay Petre at Brooklands in 1937. Getty Images

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.  

Ms. Paddy pushing her car onto the track at Brooklands 1933

Ms. Paddy pushing her car onto the track at Brooklands 1933

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.

Doreen Evans takes the sash during the Relay Race at Brooklands in 1931. Evans first raced at the circuit aged only 17 and went on to drive for the MG Works team

Doreen Evans takes the sash during the Relay Race at Brooklands in 1931. Evans first raced at the circuit aged only 17 and went on to drive for the MG Works team, photo courtesy Brooklands

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.”

Margaret Allan at speed driving a 6.5 Litered Bentley engined special

Margaret Allan at speed driving a 6.5 Litered Bentley engined special, photo courtesy Brooklands Museum

“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.

Gwenda Stewart-Hawkes poses with her Derby racing car at Brooklands in 1935. The circuit's fastest female driver, she took the Brooklands Ladies Outer Circuit lap record at 135.95mph

Gwenda Stewart-Hawkes poses with her Derby racing car at Brooklands in 1935. The circuit’s fastest female driver, she took the Brooklands Ladies Outer Circuit lap record at 135.95mph, photo courtesy Goodwood.

I got the interesting back stories from Goodwood and Silodrome, and for a more in-depth read, check the links provided.

 

 

 

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About the Author: Dave Miller

Dave Miller With Lotus GT
Dave Miller drives the fastest, coolest, sexiest cars on the planet. He travels the world uncovering the hidden gems in luxury transportation, meeting the owners, and connecting with extraordinary car enthusiasts. Dave is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and writes for various publications. In addition to DriveWithDave.com, you can follow Dave's adventures via Drive With Dave Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and tune into the Drive with Dave Podcast via iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud.

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