Friday, 31 December 2010

Smokey Drolet


Smokey in the Maserati "Birdcage"

Sierra Drolet, better-known as Smokey, was an American endurance specialist, who raced from 1957 to the mid-1970s. She is most associated with Chevrolet cars, although she drove a variety of American and European models during her time at the wheel.

Her career seems to have begun in SCCA Regional events in 1957. She drove a variety of cars, including Lotus and Lola Formula Juniors, a Triumph TR2, which was her first racing car, a TR3 and a Frazer Nash, between then and 1960. She also made some appearances in the SCCA Nationals, in her home state of Florida.

1959 saw her earliest attempt at the big American sportscar races. She drove a Turner 750 Sports Climax with Fred Lieb in the Sebring 12 Hours, and was 43rd, fourth in the one-litre class. This was the first of several appearances at Sebring, although the rest would not transpire for quite some time. Sebring was, at the time, her local big circuit; her motorsport activities were always focused around Florida.

For the next couple of seasons, she returned to SCCA competition. As before, she was supported by J. Frank Harrison and his team, and usually drove his cars, including the Frazer-Nash. Mainly, she seems to have raced in Formula Junior. Occasionally, she drove saloons, such as the Renault Dauphine she used in a three-hour endurance race at Sebring, in 1963. As well as this, she made trips over to the Bahamas for Nassau Speed Week. In 1960, she won the Nassau Ladies’ race, driving a Daimler SP250 belonging to Michael Rothschild. She had been scheduled to compete in Harrison’s Maserati Tipo 61, but it was damaged in a crash in an earlier race. In 1962, she drove Charlie Kolb’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta SZ at Nassau, and won another Ladies’ race. During this time, she also took part in some hillclimbs.

She reappears on the entry lists for major races in 1966. That year, she took part in her first Daytona 24 Hours, driving a Sunbeam Alpine for Autosport, with Rosemary Smith. They were 30th. Autosport were running an all-female Alpine team at the time, and the sister car of Janet Guthrie, Suzy Dietrich and Donna Mae Mims (running as the "Ring Free Motor Maids") was a couple of places behind. She did not drive in the Sebring 12 Hours, but a ride in a Mini Cooper for the supporting four-hour race gave her a fifteenth spot, alongside J. Peter Marinelli.

In 1967, she was part of another all-female sportscar team, this time the Ring Free Oil Motor Maids themselves. Partnered by Anita Taylor and Janet Guthrie, she was 20th in the Daytona 24 Hours, in a Ford Mustang. The car was little more than a showroom model, and quite old. Although she was not included in the Ring Free squad for the Sebring 12 Hours, she still contested it. Partnered by Anita Taylor once more, she drove a Baker Alpine-Renault A110 to 35th place.  

Later, she won her class at Daytona in 1969, driving a Corvette. Her co-drivers were John Tremblay, Vince Gimondo and John Belperche, and they were sixteenth overall. Smokey was equally at home driving alongside men, or as part of all-female teams. Her other achievements that year include a second in class in the Sebring 12 Hours, partnering Rosemary Smith in a BMW 2002. They were 26th overall. Early in the season, she petitioned to be allowed to try out for the Indianapolis 500, but this wish was not fulfilled.

The following year, she drove another Chevrolet at Daytona: this time, it was Norberto Mastandrea’s Camaro. Driving with Mastandrea and Rajah Rodgers, she was 25th. A scheduled Alfa Romeo drive for the Sebring 12 Hours, in Del Taylor’s 1750 GTV, did not happen.

In 1971, she shared another American car for the Daytona enduro, co-driving a Dodge Dart with Fred Lieb and Mitch Daroff. They did not finish. This was Smokey’s last appearance in a major race.

During her time as a competitor, she was respected by her peers, perhaps more so than some of her female contemporaries, for her abilities and her no-nonsense attitude. That she frequently got to the finish of long races, in ageing and underpowered machinery with no hope of winning, is testament to this.

After retiring from the track, Smokey went in to the automotive parts and service business, where she remained active until quite recently. She died in June 2015, not long after her husband, Walt Sizemore.

(Image copyright Willem Osthoek Collection)

3 comments:

  1. Just found this blog thanks to TNF, great stories keep them coming :-)

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  2. I found this through a Google search after a recent re-acquaintance with an old pal named Suzy Dietrich. This is a great idea and I hope to catch up reading soon.

    Have questions and information but can't find a way to contact you privately - does this site prohibit this or am I just missing something?

    Thanks for these great archives!

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  3. Hi Art and Tom, glad you're enjoying Speedqueens.
    I have just enabled email on my profile, so you can contact me through there.

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