Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Donna Mae Mims

"Think Pink"

Donna Mae Mims made history when she won the US National H-Production Championship in 1963, driving an Austin-Healey Sprite.

Her racing career began in 1960, with a few outings in SCCA Regional races, in a Chevrolet Corvette. That year, she was third in a Ladies’ race at Dunkirk. The car belonged to her husband, Helledger, who was involved in motorsport, although not a driver himself. She worked for the Yenko Chevrolet company, first as a secretary, then in the racing department, giving her considerable access to the automotive world. Later, she would race Yenko-modified cars.

The following season, Donna took to the tracks again in her own Corvette. She won her first race, a Ladies’ event at Cumberland, and also took part in her first SCCA National races. She was sixth in the Glen Trophy, at Watkins Glen.

She drove BMC cars for the next couple of seasons. 1962 was her first season in the Sprite, although it was rather an unremarkable year, with several DNFs. However, by 1963, she had got the car running to her liking, and was very competitive, with one win at Meadowdale, and three second places in SCCA National races. This was enough to earn her the H-Production Championship, the first time a full SCCA championship had been won by a woman. Her image on-track had always been very feminine: pink car, pink racing overalls and helmet, “Think Pink” emblazoned on her car, wig in her kit bag in case she needed to accept any trophies with “helmet hair”. After her win, she was seen less as a novelty act and taken more seriously.

With her championship win under her belt, she did her first major sportscar race, at the start of the 1964 season. Sharing a works Sprite with Al Pease, she entered the Sebring 12 Hours, but did not finish, due to a rear axle failure. The rest of the year was spent racing an MGB, which seems to have been a somewhat troublesome car. Donna managed one second place in an SCCA Regional race at Mid-America.

Donna preferred British cars during the early part of her career. True to form, she spent most of 1965 racing a Triumph TR3. In this car, she won another SCCA Regional race, at Nelson Ledges.

In 1966, she moved away from small British sportscars, and her racing career took a big step forward. She started the year with her first Daytona 24 Hours, driving a Sunbeam Alpine for an all-female Autosport team, comprising Donna, Janet Guthrie and Suzy Dietrich. They got the end, in 32nd place. For the Sebring 12 Hours, she drove a Yenko Stinger for the Ring-Free Oil team, with John Luke. They did not finish. Later in the year, driving solo, Donna raced an unmodified Chevrolet Corvair. She did not qualify for the Mid-America Trans-Am race, but finished the Marlboro 12 Hours in 26th, with Spurgeon May.

Donna and Suzy Dietrich teamed up again for the big early-season sportscar races in 1967. They drove an ASA 411, initially for the Baker Racing team, finishing the Daytona 24 Hours, but missing classification.  For Sebring, they were running under the banner of the “Ring-Free Motor Maids”, driving the 411 to 25th place, just behind their team-mates, Janet Guthrie and Liane Engeman. For the rest of the season, Donna raced a Yenko Stinger in SCCA competition, at National level.

1968 was a quieter year. She was not part of the “Motor Maids” roster this time, and raced a familiar Stinger at Daytona, with Michael Summers. They were not classified.
For the 1969 Sebring race, she was back in the Ring-Free team. Sharing a Sprite with Janet Guthrie and Liane Engeman, she was 23rd, sixth in class.

The Ring-Free women’s team was shelved in 1970. Donna joined up with Flem-Cor Enterprises, alongside Jim Corwin. They drove a Chevrolet Camaro at Daytona, assisted by Fred Pipen, but did not finish. Racing as a duo, Donna and Jim were 21st at Sebring.

After that, she raced only occasionally, in the bigger sportscar races, and always in a Chevrolet. Her last attempt at the Daytona 24 Hours came in 1971, driving a Chevrolet Vega for the Yenko team. She and her team-mates did not qualify. In 1973 and 1974, she shared a Camaro with Jim Corwin in some IMSA GT races, before retiring from the track.

Away from circuit racing, she also participated in the 1972 Cannonball Run, driving a Cadillac with timekeeping ace, Judy Stropus, and Peggy Niemcek. They were sponsored by “The Right Bra”, and promoted their sponsor’s product by wearing tight outfits, in an attempt to charm any irate traffic cops. They did not finish, after the car was destroyed while stationary.

The “Pink Lady” remained involved in motorsport as an official, and was regularly sighted at meetings, in her familiar pink outfits. She died in 2009, after suffering from a stroke, at the age of 82.

(Image from

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