Monday, 11 August 2014

Female Drivers in North American Circuit Racing, 1910-1950

Female drivers were banned from competition by the USA’s main motorsport authority, in 1909, but between then and the 1950s, a number of women found ways to race. Many of them competed in speed trials, which were still allowed, and these were often part of fairground “daredevil” exhibitions. The International Motor Competition Association (IMCA) presided over many of these fairground meets, usually run on dirt tracks, and they allowed men and women to race together, as well as putting on women’s races, particularly match races between female drivers. IMCA also promoted motorsport in Canada. Below are profiles of some of these racers. See also The Speederettes for details of an early group of dirt-track racers.

Elfrieda Mais (also spelt Maas and Mazy) - raced in the USA between 1912 and 1934. As women were prohibited from driving in sanctioned events, she mostly did speed trials and demonstration runs, although one source describes her racing a Hudson, against male drivers, at a dirt track in Lima in 1918. Here, she was credited as “Miss Mazy”. At around this time, she set a series of speed records, but as she was not part of the motorsport establishment, these were not official. Increasingly, she turned to stunt driving at fairground dirt tracks, to earn money and satisfy her taste for danger. She was killed in 1934, when one of these went wrong. Having survived driving through a burning wall, her car overturned on a bank.

Marion Martins - French driver who raced in the 1920s in Canada, usually in IMCA events and driving a Frontenac Ford. In 1925, she competed in Edmonton, Calgary and Regina, on the half-mile dirt oval tracks there. At the Edmonton Exhibition, she won a match race against a driver called Al Cotey. At Regina, shortly before, she defeated Elfrieda Mais in a ladies’ match race. As well as various races, usually of very short distance, she took part in speed trials. For at least one of these, at Ottawa, she used a Bugatti. After 1925, she seems to disappear. Marriage records suggest that she and Joan LaCosta could have been the same person, racing under different names. However, they will remain as separate entries until this is more certain.

Zenita Neville – raced in the USA and Canada in the 1920s. In 1920, she won her first race, at Combination Park, in a Hudson. The Hudson was her regular car between 1920 and 1922, during which time she won at least nine races, usually “exhibition” races, to get round the AAA’s ban on women drivers in their sanctioned events. In 1922, she also raced a Peerless and an Essex. Photographs show her with a Peugeot at Daytona, but I have been unable to find any results for her in this car. Her normal racing venues were fairground tracks, and she often competed against a driver called Bill Endicott. She was described as the “Champion Woman Driver of the World”. After 1922, she disappears from the entry lists.

Helen Temme (Pyott) - raced in Chicago and Indiana in the 1910s and 1920s, usually under the name “Mrs. Oliver Temme”. She raced on fairground dirt tracks in a single-seater, and may well have raced in mixed events at least once. A press clipping from 1923 describes a meeting at the North Shore track, where the winner of the ladies’ race would take on the men. She may also have raced at North Shore in 1924. She may have begun racing as a teenager, in 1916, although details of this race have been lost.

(Image from Originally from the Danville, Virginia newspaper, The Bee.)

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