Henny as a champion, in 1987
Henny Hemmes raced saloon cars in Europe from the 1970s to the 1990s. She entered the Spa 24 Hours fourteen times, and had a best finish of sixth.
Like many other Speedqueens, Henny got into motor racing through her husband, Peter, but initially, she was not a competitor. Roelof Wunderink was a friend of Peter’s, and he and Henny acted as pit crew for him during his rise through the racing ranks.
Henny had always been sporty and competitive, and wanted to have a go herself. In 1975, encouraged by Peter and Roelof, she entered a racing talent contest organised by André Pilette, based around Formula Vee. She was the winner, out of eighty entrants.
After proving that she had the basic talent needed, she jumped straight into the Dutch Touring Car Championship, wasting no time at all. Her car was a Toyota Celica GT which she had bought herself, run by the Eumig Film Racing Team. She was a steady finisher in all of her races, and featured well in the 1600cc class, with a best finish of third, in the final race of the season at Zandvoort. She was fourth in class at the end of the year.
In her second year of racing, she entered her first Spa 24 Hours. As well as her first major endurance race of many, it was the start of a racing partnership with members of the Vermeulen family, who would be her regular Spa team-mates in the future. Henny and Loek Vermeulen shared her Toyota in 1976, driving for the Dutch National Team. They were 21st overall, second in class. Henny, as the leading female driver, was awarded a diamond ring.
Driving solo, she competed in some rounds of the DTCC (NTK), in the Toyota, but was not able to put together a strong challenge.
For the next two seasons, she continued to be sponsored by Eumig Film, but swapped the Celica for a Chevrolet Camaro. She used this car in the 1977 NTK, for some rounds, finishing fourth overall, and in the Spa 24 Hours. In 1977, she was sixth in the Francorchamps enduro, from pole, with Loek and Huub Vermeulen. She set a new closed-wheel lap record in the process. The following year, she did not finish. Her co-drivers were Loek Vemeulen and Hans Deen. Elsewhere, she raced the Camaro in the Belgian rounds of the Benelux and German touring car championships, finishing sixth in one German round at Zandvoort. She scored her first big win at Zandvoort, in the 2-Hour race.
In 1979, she continued in the Camaro, now sponsored by ADP and the newspaper for which she wrote. She had “Journal Tintin” on her car, a reference to the Belgian boy reporter. It was an eventful year in the Dutch championship, with a couple of crashes and subsequent accusations by rivals, but Henny also put in some good performances, the best of these being two second places. She and Loek Vermeulen were 18th in the Spa 24 Hours.
1980 panned out in a similar way. Henny drove the Camaro in the NTK, and was involved in some rather robust driving which ruffled a few feathers. Her best finish was second, in the season finale at Zandvoort. She was behind last year’s team-mate, Loek Vermeulen, who had tangled with her earlier in the season. The Spa 24 Hours was rather disappointing, as Henny did not finish. As a consolation, she won her third non-championship Diners Trophy race at Zandvoort.
In 1981, she was fourth in her class in the NTK, in the Camaro. She mostly steered clear of accidents, and was a consistent top-five finisher, with some class pole positions as well. Her final championship position was third, after two second places, one from pole. Another season in the Camaro gave her the NTK win she had been waiting for, in the Trophy of the Dunes, and she was second in the ADAC Nordsee Cup, both at Zandvoort. Due to her not completing the whole season, she was second in the championship. After two non-finishes, she managed to get to the end of another Spa 24 Hours in 1983, driving a Mazda RX-7 rather than the Camaro. She was 17th overall, with Hans van der Beek and Fred Frankenhout.
After her race win in 1983, she got her championship in 1984, winning the over 2500cc class of the NTK in the Camaro. It was a dominant performance, with four wins from eight races, including an outright victory against faster cars in the season finale. Driving a BMW in the Spa 24 Hours, she was eleventh, with Břetislav Enge.
1985 began well, with a second place, but for much of the season, Henny struggled or was absent from the NTK. She also sat out the Spa 24 Hours for the first time in several years. The following year, she did not appear in the NTK, although she had been due to drive a BMW. Instead, she raced trucks for DAF and Liaz. She returned to touring cars for the Spa 24 Hours, driving a Toyota Corolla as part of an all-female team, with Anny-Charlotte Verney and Chantal Grimard. They were 25th.
A return to the NTK in 1987 was very successful. Henny had moved on from the ageing Camaro, and raced a Ford Sierra Cosworth, sponsored by Blaupunkt. She was the Division One champion, with one win and two second places.
She was second in Division One in 1988, although it was a fighting performance in the Sierra, with three wins. Only Ger van Krimpen’s second-place tally put him ahead. She drove a Toyota Corolla in the Spa 24 Hours, but did not finish.
A new three-door Sierra arrived for her in 1989, and she proved herself still a force to be reckoned with at the Colmar Berg round of the NTK, in Luxembourg. She won both Production heats, and the final. At the Clubraces in April, she was a hard-fighting second. These results gave her fourth in the championship.
After a year’s gap, Henny returned to the Spa 24 Hours in 1990. She was driving a Honda Civic for Team Seikel, and won her class. She and her team-mates, Peter Seikel and Stanislao de Angelis, were 19th overall. Her other activities this year included the European Community Challenge, a road rally through twelve EC states, in a Ford Sierra. Her second run in the Challenge, with a team of fellow woman journalists in 1991, brought a sixth place, and a record for the best female result, and the best result for a media team. A second Spa 24 Hours for Team Seikel ended in another class win, after Henny, Dagmar Suster and Lothar Schörg were 21st.
1992 saw her last participation in the Spa 24 Hours. It was a third outing in the Seikel Honda Civic, and she was 23rd, with another class win. Her co-drivers were Astrid Hild and Thomas Müller.
Her full-time professional racing career ends here, although she continued to be active for a while longer. She was named as a third driver for the Seikel team in the ADAC GT Championship in Germany, in a Honda NSX, but was a reserve only. In 1994, she was sixth in the Neon Challenge support race for the Detroit Grand Prix.
After that, she stopped racing wheel-to-wheel, but continued testing cars, as part of her job as a motoring journalist, and broke some speed records. In 1996, she drove a Saab 900 at Talladega Speedway, and set a new one-hour world record. In 2007, she drove a Saleen in a speed shootout in California. She won a “Hot Shoe Award” for her speed.
Henny continues to write about motoring and test cars for a number of publications, including AutoWeek. She has been a motoring writer since 1979. She is also a member of the FIA's Women in Motorsport Commission.
(Image copyright Gerrie Hoekstra)