Louise Smith, first lady of racing dies
Louise Smith, the first woman to be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, died Saturday April 15, at the age of 89. Smith was known for her fearless style, she won 38 Modified events and gave as good as she got.
Smith's father and brothers were mechanics so the love for cars ran in her family. When she was still a young girl, Louise hopped into her father's Model T and took off. She had the "go" part of driving down but the "stop" part was a different thing. But stop she did, when she crashed into the chicken coop.
As a teenager, Smith was known as a hotshot driver who often outran the law. It was this reputation that got Smith started in racing. Bill France Sr. came to Greenville S.C. in 1946, looking to promote a race show at the local speedway. In looking for local drivers, he got the idea that perhaps a women driver would put more people in the stands. And turn out they did, to see a woman take on the "real" drivers of the day. Smith had never seen an organized race before but drove a 1939 Ford modified coupe. "They told me if I saw a red flag to stop," Smith remembers. "They didn't say anything about a checkered flag." All the racers except Smith went to their pits at the end of the race. "I'm out there just flying around the track. Finally someone remembered that they told me not to stop until I saw the red flag. So they gave me the red flag." She finished third in her first race and went on to win 28 modified races in 11 years.
In 1947, she went to watch the beach races at Daytona in her husband's new Ford coupe, but when she arrived, she couldn't just watch, she had to race. So she entered the shiny new car -- and you guessed it -- wrecked.
When Louise returned home her husband, who did not approve of her job, asked Louise where the car was and she told him that it had broken down in Augusta Ga. He then showed her the photos. News of her crash got home before she did.
Another crash at a track in Hillsborough, N.C., was nearly her last. She was learning how to broadslide a car through the dirt-track turns, but went airborne during one turn. Smith remembered taking out several trees. She needed 48 stitches and had four pins inserted in her left knee.