1950 To Now: Ladies Attack The Lady In Black
It has now been 50 years since Dave Fulton and I boarded a southbound Greyhound bus on the Sunday before Labor Day and headed off to see the Southern 500 at Darlington.
“Lawdy,” as some of my kinfolk would have said, that seems like a long time ago.
Dave has written about this adventure in the past, so I won’t retrace those steps. I will say that it was an overnight bus, and I already knew I wouldn’t get any sleep, because I had taken an even longer overnighter to Orlando for the Tangerine Bowl football game when I was a cheerleader in college (please don’t laugh) and had discovered the truth of my inability to sleep in moving conveyances then. Even without that, I’d have had trouble with this one though, because there was something in the cargo area that relocated itself every time the bus took a sharp curve/turn: rumble-rumble-rumble-rumble-CRASH! It sounded like a flag pole was loose down there.
Sleep or no sleep, it was fun. We got to see Earl Balmer’s famous crash that almost took out the press-box, and we showed our parents that two 17-year-olds could pull off the trip without getting killed or anything. (Would I have let one of mine do that? I think I’ll decline to answer.)
So here we are with Darlington coming up again, and I need a topic other than my youthful exploits. OK, let’s turn the clock back all the way to 1950.
In the second season of what we now know as Sprint Cup racing, 19 races were run on 13 tracks. Martinsville and Darlington are the only survivors (and the former was still dirt then); Daytona’s race was on the beach-road course, and Charlotte’s was on a long-gone ¾-mile dirt track. Four races were in New York and three in Ohio.
Rambling through the results on Racing-Reference.info, I was struck by how many women were in the races. Nine of the 19 races had at least one female competitor; one race had three!
Most casual followers of NASCAR and its history have heard of Louise Smith, and she was at the head of the pack in terms of number of events, running in five. Unfortunately, keeping her car running wasn’t somebody’s strong suit, because her best finish was 19th, twice, and since most races didn’t pay much beyond around 15th, her total winnings for her trouble totaled $25.
“Hey, Louise, are we taking the crew out to celebrate after we load up tonight?”
drivers competing in the 1950 Grand National race at Hamburg, N.Y.
Louise Smith was an entrant in the first Southern 500 but didn’t quality. Keep in mind, though, that 1950 was before the advent of provisional starting spots (NASCAR’s welfare program); Hall of Famer Herb Thomas was another non-qualifier. A second woman entrant, Dorothy Shull, also failed to qualify.
For the record, the other women who did qualify for races in 1950 were Ann Chester (Buffalo, N.Y.), who started two races, and Ann Slaasted, Sara Christian (the first woman ever to run in a GN/Cup event), and Ann Brunselmeyer, each of whom started one.
The race to remember was on August 27, 1950, at Hamburg Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in New York. Three of the 33 starters for that 200-lapper were women. Christian finished 14th, with Chester and Smith ending up 21st and 22nd. It appears that they were involved in an accident together.
Wouldn’t it be cool if Danica Patrick put these racers’ names on her car this weekend?
that might have been driven to the track as well as on it.
(Odds-and-ends and leftovers)
When I first looked at the 1950 results I thought we had a real story about female racers when I saw that Gayle Warren ran 10 of the 19 races and even had a top-5 finish. Then I found out Gayle was a “he.” Oh, well. . . .
One of the races that had no women competing was run Memorial Day Weekend in Canfield, Ohio, and was called the “Poor Man’s 500.” Poor, indeed: It was only 200 laps on a half-mile track; that doesn’t even compute in kilometers.
Because you’re likely to find just about anything in the course of online research, I discovered that, on January 31, 1960, NASCAR ran the “Women’s National Championship Compact Car Race” utilizing both the oval and road course at Daytona. (There also was a men’s compact car race that day.) Only seven cars started, at least one of which was a Studebaker Lark. If anybody can find the results, I would love to see them. The race apparently was televised by CBS, but no record of the telecast seems to have survived.
After he won the Southern 500, Johnny Mantz didn’t drive Hubert Westmoreland’s Plymouth again, but it ran several subsequent races – winning at North Wilkesboro with Leon Sales behind the wheel – and the “sponsor” for the car after Labor Day was “Southern 500 Winner.”