July 31, 1916 - April 15,
Louise Smith, First Lady of
Racing, Dies at 89
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.
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.
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."
Sunday June 18, 2006
"Good ol' Gal" broke racing ground for
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?
are pioneers who break new ground, and then there's
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
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
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
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
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.),"
Noah then showed her the front of the
Greenville, S.C., newspaper that carried a picture of her wreck in
"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.
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
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
"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
"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:
Copyright 2006, Wheelbase
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Nascar Nextel Cup Series Tickets
Copyright © 2003
by Roland Via. All rights reserved. Revised:
06/08/12 08:11:29 -0400.
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