"First lady of racing" dies

Louise Smith died April 15, 2006 at the age of 89. "It was hard for 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, who died Saturday, was buried in Greenville, where she had lived for most of her life. A native of Barnesville, GA, she had battled cancer and been in hospice care.

Ben 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 prices and some extra appearance money. She mixed with Curtis Turner, Ralph Earnhardt, Bill Snowden, Bubby 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.

(Editor: Note another piece of the Daytona story below with her husbands new car.) 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 racetrack," she said. "I could stay forever."
Source: USA Today, April 18, 2006

Louise Smith Inducted in 1999

Louise Smith was one of the true pioneers of early stock car racing, running Modifieds from 1946 through 1956, and actually competing in the first stock car race she ever saw.

The Greenville, South Carolina resident helped Bill France, Sr. promote early NASCAR races from Daytona to Canada. She was a novelty as a female driver, but her hard-charging, fearless style of driving made her a crowd favorite wherever she went.

When France brought his show to Greenville in 1946, he was looking for a woman to race with the men, and he found just what he was looking for in Louise, who allegedly had outrun every lawman in the Greenville area. Although she had never even seen a race, much less been in a race car, she agreed to do it. She finished third in a 1939 Modified Ford coupe, and was hooked forever.

And she certainly wasn't there just for show. Smith won 38 Modified races during those 11 years, at tracks from New York to South Carolina to Alabama. During those years, she held her own against the top drivers in the sport, legends such as Buck Baker, Curtis Turner, Fonty Flock, Red Byron and Roy Hall.

In 1947, she took off for Daytona in her husband's brand new Ford coupe to watch the races on the beach, but when she got there, she couldn't stand it. She entered the shiny new family car in the beach race and proceded in wrecking it. The Greenville paper carried a picture of her wreck and the news was all over Greenville before she ever got home.

Smith is perhaps remembered as much for some of her spectacular crashes as she was for her aggressive driving, breaking almost every bone in her body at some point during her career. One race at Hillsborough almost took her life, leaving her with 48 stitches and four pins in her left knee.

She quit racing in 1956, but returned in 1971 to sponsor cars for numerous drivers on the way up. Among others, she backed Ronnie Thomas' Rookie of the Year effect in 1978. She was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999.
Source: www.motorsportshalloffame.com/halloffame/1999/Louise_Smith_main.htm

Related Issue: Women Racers Directory, Women in Racing, Women Racers, More Women in Racing, Race Schedules, Notable Women

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