"First lady of racing" dies
Louise Smith died April 15, 2006 at the age of 89.
"It was hard for me," she told the Associated
Press in an interview in 1998. "Them men were not
liking it to start with, and they wouldn't give you
an inch." Smith, who died Saturday, was buried in
Greenville, where she had lived for most of her
life. A native of Barnesville, GA, she had battled
cancer and been in hospice care.
Ben Parsons, a longtime NASCAR star, former
series champion and now a TV analyst, said Smith's
death was like losing a piece of history. Parsons
said it's been hard for racing to find female
drivers, noting the hype Danica Patrick brought to
open wheel racing last year when she became the
first woman to lead a lap at Indianapolis and was
the race rookie of the year.
"If we could find a Louise Smith here in 2006 to
get in there and finish fourth in the Daytona 500,
imagine what that would do for NASCAR Nextel
Cup racing," Parsons said.
Smith was married to the late Noah Smith, a
junkyard owner who didn't approve of her job. Her
father and brothers were mechanics. She never had
children of her own.
Smith was a barnstormer who ran for $100 to $150
in first prices and some extra appearance money.
She mixed with Curtis Turner, Ralph Earnhardt, Bill
Snowden, Bubby Shuman and Buck Baker.
"We traveled in a gang. If one of us had a hot
dog, we'd all get a bite as long as it held out,"
she told AP.
(Editor: Note another piece of the Daytona
story below with her husbands new car.) Parsons
called it "the greatest story of all."
"Her husband said, 'Where's the car, Louise?'
And she said, 'That ol' trap broke down in Augusta
(GA),'" Parsons said. "He showed her the newspaper.
The wrecked car was on the front page."
Smith quit racing in 1956 but stayed close to
the track, working with Darlington Raceway's
pageant before she resigned as grand patron in
November, 1989 after serving more than a
"It's still hard for me to leave a racetrack,"
she said. "I could stay forever."
Source: USA Today,
April 18, 2006
Louise Smith Inducted in 1999
Louise Smith was one of the true pioneers of early
stock car racing, running Modifieds from 1946
through 1956, and actually competing in the first
stock car race she ever saw.
The Greenville, South Carolina resident helped
Bill France, Sr. promote early NASCAR races from
Daytona to Canada. She was a novelty as a female
driver, but her hard-charging, fearless style of
driving made her a crowd favorite wherever she
When France brought his show to Greenville in
1946, he was looking for a woman to race with the
men, and he found just what he was looking for in
Louise, who allegedly had outrun every lawman in
the Greenville area. Although she had never even
seen a race, much less been in a race car, she
agreed to do it. She finished third in a 1939
Modified Ford coupe, and was hooked forever.
And she certainly wasn't there just for show.
Smith won 38 Modified races during those 11 years,
at tracks from New York to South Carolina to
Alabama. During those years, she held her own
against the top drivers in the sport, legends such
as Buck Baker, Curtis Turner, Fonty Flock, Red
Byron and Roy Hall.
In 1947, she took off for Daytona in her
husband's brand new Ford coupe to watch the races
on the beach, but when she got there, she couldn't
stand it. She entered the shiny new family car in
the beach race and proceded in wrecking it. The
Greenville paper carried a picture of her wreck and
the news was all over Greenville before she ever
Smith is perhaps remembered as much for some of
her spectacular crashes as she was for her
aggressive driving, breaking almost every bone in
her body at some point during her career. One race
at Hillsborough almost took her life, leaving her
with 48 stitches and four pins in her left
She quit racing in 1956, but returned in 1971 to
sponsor cars for numerous drivers on the way up.
Among others, she backed Ronnie Thomas' Rookie of
the Year effect in 1978. She was inducted into the
International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999.
* * *
©1996-2019 by Gordon