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Louise Smith
July 31, 1916  -  April 15, 2006

Louise Smith, First Lady of Racing, Dies at 89
Louise Smith
, the first woman inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999, has died. She was 89. Smith, remembered as "the first lady of racing," was on the NASCAR circuit from 1945-56. Known for her fearless style, she won 38 modified events.

"It was hard on me," she told The Associated Press in an interview in 1998. "Them men were not liking it to start with and they wouldn't give you an inch."

Smith died Saturday, and the family was to receive friends and hold funeral services Monday, according to the Westville Funeral Home in Greenville. Smith had battled cancer and been in hospice care, one of her nieces, Dora E. Owens, told The Greenville News.


Smith, a native of Barnesville, Ga., lived in Greenville, SC. for most of her life.

She got her start in racing when young promoter Bill France was looking for a way to get people to the track. He asked about female drivers, and someone mentioned Smith. France started NASCAR on the road to its dynasty in part by sending Smith to tracks in the Northeast and Canada.

"We didn't think this was going anywhere," Smith said. "If we went out of state, it was like we went to heaven."

Benny Parsons, a longtime NASCAR star, former series champion and now a TV analyst, said Smith's death was like losing a piece of history. Parsons said it's been hard for racing to find female drivers, noting the hype Danica Patrick brought to open-wheel racing last year when she became the first woman to lead a lap at Indianapolis and was the race rookie of the year.

"If we could find a Louise Smith here in 2006 to get in there and finish fourth in the Daytona 500, imagine what that would do for NASCAR Nextel Cup racing," Parsons said.

Smith was married to the late Noah Smith, a junkyard owner who didn't approve of her job. Her father and brothers were mechanics. She never had children of her own. Smith was a barnstormer who ran for $100 to $150 in first prizes and some extra appearance money. She mixed with Curtis Turner, Ralph Earnhardt, Bill Snowden, Buddy Shuman and Buck Baker.

"We traveled in a gang. If one of us had a hot dog, we'd all get a bite as long as it held out," she told AP. Smith was remembered for some spectacular crashes, too.

In 1947, she went to watch the beach races at Daytona in her husband's new Ford coupe, but when she arrived, she had to race. So she entered the shiny new car and you guessed it wrecked. Parsons called it "the greatest story of all."

"Her husband said, 'Where's the car, Louise?' And she said, 'That ol' trap broke down in Augusta (Ga.),'" Parsons said. "He showed her the newspaper. The wrecked car was on the front page."

Smith quit racing in 1956, but stayed close to the track, working with Darlington Raceway's pageant before she resigned as grand patron in November 1989 after serving more than a decade.

"It's still hard for me to leave a race track," she said. "I could stay forever."

NEW STORY:  Sunday June 18, 2006
"Good ol' Gal" broke racing ground for women      by JASON STEIN / Wheelbase Communications  

Racing has always been chalk-full of "good ol' boys."

But what about the "good ol' gal?"

What about the wild woman from Barnesville, Ga., who used to show her passion for driving fast by outrunning the police in her hometown? What about the woman who loved hanging it out there so much that she nearly broke every bone in her body . . . and was darn proud of it?

There are pioneers who break new ground, and then there's Louise Smith, a woman who took dynamite to conventional thinking.

"I was just born to be wild," Smith told the Baltimore Sun about a decade ago. "I tried to be a nurse, a pilot and a beautician and couldn't make it in any of them. But from the moment I hit the race track, it was exactly what I wanted."

And how.

It was the early 1940s. Racing promoter Bill France Sr., the eventual founder of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), was looking for a woman driver who might attract more women to his local track in South Carolina.

Someone knew someone else who also knew Smith, a woman who had become legendary for outrunning the law.

Even though she had never seen a race - much less driven in one - Smith finished third in a modifiedLouise Smith Commemorative T-Shirt 1939 Ford. Not realizing that the checkered flag meant the end of a race, she kept driving around the track until someone threw out a red flag, forcing her to stop.

"They told me if I saw a red flag to stop. They didn't say anything about the checkered flag," she said.

Smith was bitten by the bug.

A year later, she borrowed her husband's new maroon Ford and said she was going on vacation. Instead, she drove to Daytona Beach, Fla., entered a race and wrecked the car.

On the bus ride back home, she created a story she would tell about the car breaking down on her trip. "Where's the car, Louise?" her husband, Noah, asked when she returned.

"That ol' trap broke down in Augusta (Ga.)," she said.

Noah then showed her the front of the Greenville, S.C., newspaper that carried a picture of her wreck in Daytona.

"That's the greatest story of all," said Benny Parsons, a longtime NASCAR star and current TV analyst, in an interview after Smith's death last year.

From that point on, despite her husband's objections, Smith became a regular on France's new NASCAR circuit. Using Smith as a bit of a novelty act, France would send her to Canada and the U.S. northeast in hopes of drawing more attention.

"We didn't think (NASCAR) was going anywhere," Smith said in an interview with the Associated Press in 1998. "So if we got the chance to go out of the state, it was like we went to heaven."

In a decade of racing, Smith made a name for herself, by winning races - 38 events in all - and producing spectacular crashes with her aggressive style. In one race her car overturned, a crash that gave her 48 stitches and four pins in her left knee.

On the circuit, driving against some of NASCAR's early legends, she was dubbed the "Good Ol' Gal" by the other drivers.

"We traveled in a gang," she told the Associated Press. "If one of us had a hot dog, we'd all get a bite."

But it was hardly easy being the first woman driver.

"The men didn't like it to start with and they wouldn't give you an inch," she said.

Smith was a true barnstormer, running for $100 prizes and some extra appearance money.

After retiring in 1956, she remained active with the racing community, helping at tracks and sponsoring cars.

"I enjoyed every minute of it," she said. "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."

Smith would be remembered as "the first lady of racing," and was the first woman inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999.

She died at age 89 (ed: April 15, 2006), but not before leaving an indelible legacy.

Perhaps Parsons said it best.

"If we could find a Louise Smith here in 2006 to get in there and finish fourth in the Daytona 500, imagine what that would do for NASCAR racing."   Just imagine.

Jason Stein is a feature writer with Wheelbase Communications. He can be reached on the Web at: www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html.
Copyright 2006, Wheelbase Communications

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Racing pioneer Smith dies

     The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  --  Published on: 04/18/06

Before Danica Patrick, Erin Crocker, Shawna Robinson and Janet Guthrie, there was Louise Smith a woman race driver in a male-dominated sport.

Smith, who died Saturday at age 89 after a battle with cancer, raced in the division now known as NASCAR Nextel Cup from 1949-52. She competed in 11 races, with a best finish of 16th at Langhorne, Pa., in 1949. She also raced numerous times in the Modified division that ran during that era.

In 1999, she became the first woman inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega, Ala.

Atlanta's Frank Mundy, who raced against Smith and other female drivers, including Sara Christian and Ethel Mobley, remembered her as a friendly driver who respected her peers on tracks across the country.

"I talked to her often before races," Mundy said. "She was an ultra-friendly person. She got along with everybody, and I never heard her say anything detrimental to anybody."

Mundy said that when Smith's car wasn't as fast as the leaders, she didn't hinder them on the track.

"She didn't give me any trouble when I was lapping her," Mundy said, adding that Smith's career likely was shortened by the demands of her family business.

"She ran as many races as she could, but she and her husband had a junkyard to run."

Smith, who was born in Barnesville but spent most of her life in Greenville, S.C., indicated in an interview with The Associated Press in 1998 that other drivers sometimes weren't open to her participation.

"It was hard on me," she said. "Them men were not liking it to start with, and they wouldn't give you an inch."

Some of her crashes, and the stories behind them, have become legendary tales in NASCAR. In 1947, she drove her husband's new Ford to Daytona Beach, presumably to watch the races. Instead, she entered the car in a race and wrecked it. When her husband inquired about the car, she said it broke down on the way to Florida.

Unbeknown to her, photos of her crash appeared in newspapers across the country, including the one her husband, Noah Smith, had read.

Once her car went airborne off the track at Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsborough, N.C, destroying the car. But after track workers dragged the crumpled heap out of the woods, she climbed inside the door, helmet and goggles on her head, a big smile on her face, and posed for pictures.

That big smile was typical of Smith.

"She couldn't afford the best of equipment, but she enjoyed it," Mundy said.

 

 

Louise Smith Strictly Stock / Grand National Statistics
 
Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn Miles
1949 32 3 of 8 0 0 0 0 175 0 75 67 38.0 21.0 175.0
1950 33 5 of 19 0 0 0 0 84 0 25 109 25.0 24.4 84.0
1952 35 3 of 34 0 0 0 0 118 0 85 173 22.7 26.7 101.0
3 years 11 0 0 0 0 377 0 185   26.2 24.1 360.0
 


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