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Old 30 Jul 2001, 20:24 (Ref:123982)   #1
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Louise Smith

Tuesday, July 31, 2001, is Louise Smith' birthday. She is 85 years old.

photo by Living Legends of Auto Racing.

Louise Smith was NASCAR's first female driver. She was born in 1916 in Barnsville, Georgia, but her family moved to a farm near Greenville, South Carolina when she was four. She competed in stock car racing during its decidedly 'Good ol' boy' years. Therefore, she was known as 'Good ol' gal.'

Smith raced various Modified, Sportsman, and Grand National series events between 1946 and 1956. Her fearless attitude made her a novelty at a time when most women were homemakers.
'I enjoyed every minute,' she says, 'I traveled all over North America, racing everywhere I could, and I had fun with it. I didn't make a whole lot of money, but if I could do it again today, I'd do it and I think I'd make it.'

In the earliest years of NASCAR, Bill France, NASCAR’s founder, president, and chief promoter, used Smith to attract spectators. Smith got her start when NASCAR held a race near her hometown at the Greenville-Pickens Speedway, and a local suggested Smith on the grounds that she could 'outrun every highway patrol and lawman in Greenville.' France agreed to give her a shot.

In her first race, Smith explains, 'They told me to stop if I saw a red. They didn't say anything about the checkered flag. I wondered where all the cars were and then as I was all alone on the track, I noticed them in the pits. They finally threw the red flag and I pulled in. I had finished third.'

Louise Smith raced for the love of her sport. 'Money was nothing back then,' she says. 'Sometimes it seemed like the more you drove the less money you had. I remember one time Buck Baker and Lee Petty and I had to put our money together just to split a hot dog and a Coke. I won a lot, crashed a lot, and broke just about every bone in my body, but I gave it everything I had.'

Louise was known for her hard-charging style and her breathtaking crashes. At Hillsborough she became airborne coming out of the second turn, and it took 36 minutes to free her with an acetylene torch. At Mobile she tangled with Fonty Flock and ended up sitting on top of her car in the middle of a lake. Before another race, Buddy Shuman said, 'Lou, you see that empty house up there on the bank? Be careful. Don't go up that bank and through that house.' Louise wishes he had not said that!

In her ten-year career, she captured thirty-eight victories, much to the chagrin of Lee Petty, Buck Baker, Curtis Turner, Fonty Flock, Red Byron, and Roy Hall.
In the mid-1970s, she became involved with the sport agains, sponsoring drivers Ronnie Thomas, Bobby Wawak, and Larry Pearson.

Louise Smith still lives in Greenville and is the first woman to be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladaga.
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Old 30 Jul 2001, 20:41 (Ref:123998)   #2
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What a great story! Happy birthday, Louise!
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