There are many names in motor racing history that are immortal, the greatest of the great, the ones who are recognised in the history books for their achievements and marks left well after the checked flags are waved. Ones such as the style and achievements of Tazio Nuvolari, “The Master” Juan Manuel Fangio, and champion Phil Hill, who dominated Formula 1 racing, or the great Sir Stirling Moss, who has been best described as “the greatest driver never to win the World Championship.” But what about the other names? The names that don’t show up in the storied histories, the names where petrol power meets girl power, the names that showed the men a lesson or two? The following six women deserve their place in line for the podium amongst the champions; they were incredibly successful on the tracks, and they reign supreme with their own legacy as history’s greatest drivers.
French Model, Dancer and Grand Prix Motor Racing Driver
Hellé Nice was known as the “Bugatti Queen,” easily recognisable in her bright-blue Bugatti Type 35C, and having raced in five major Grand Prix in France. Wowing the crowds whenever she raced, she unfortunately never won a Grand Prix. She was a legitimate competitor though, frequently finishing ahead of some of the top male drivers, and raced in hill climbs and rallies all over Europe. She participated in the famous Monte Carlo Rally, and even drove for 10 days and 10 nights at the Yacco endurance trials at the Montlhéry track in France, breaking 10 world records in the process.
American Auto Racing Driver, Journalist, Author and Photographer
Beginning her racing career at small club events in her MG TC Midget, Denise McCluggage eventually replaced the MG with a Jaguar XK140 when she began to race professionally, earning respect from many of her male counterparts. Her trademark was a white helmet with pink polka dots, which she wore as she crossed the finish line with a win in the Grand Touring category at Sebring and a class win in the Monte Carlo Rally. Denise also participated in the 100 km race at the Nürburging and eventually ended her career in the late 1960s.
Equestrian, Factory-Team Rally Drivers
Kid sister of Formula 1 star Sir Stirling Moss, Patricia Moss shared her brother’s competiveness as she carved herself a reputation as “one of the boys.” Actually, she was better than most of the boys, obtaining many victories, including 4th place in the 1958 Liège-Sofia-Liège in an Austin-Healey 100/6 – the first time a woman placed in the top 10. She also finished in the top four in tough events like the Acropolis, Liège, RAC, and the extremely snowy Monte Carlo Rally of 1965, where she finished 3rd. Pat joined the Renault Alpine in 1969 to place 10th before eventually retiring from rallying in 1974. She then returned to her original passion for horses and became a devoted mother.
Known as “the first lady of drag racing”—and professionally as “Cha Cha”—Shirley Muldowney was the first woman to receive a license from the National Hot Rod Association. Born with a need for speed, she won the NHRA Top Fuel championship in 1977, 1980, and 1982, becoming the first person to win two and three Top Fuel titles. After 40 years of racing, Shirley decided to retire from Professional Drag Racing in 2003 with the “Last Pass Tour” that ended in Pomona, California, at the World Finals.
Lyn St. James
Indianapolis Race Car Driver, Motivational Speaker and Author
Lyn St. James is a veteran of seven Indy 500s, as well as a class winner at the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. Winning the title of Indy 500 Rookie of the Year in 1992, in a sport few women have ever participated, she also became the first woman to exceed 200 mph on an oval track and set 31 international and national closed-circuit speed records. When the races finished and the trophies were done being handed out, St. James became a motivational speaker and author.
Professional Racing Driver, Model and Advertising Spokeswoman
From winning on the track to starring in Jay-Z music videos, Danica Patrick hasn’t just broken down walls, she’s driven through them. As a pioneer wading into a male-dominated industry, winning brought her a long list of milestones: the most successful woman in American open-wheel racing history, the only woman to win an IndyCar Series race, the first woman to set a pole position at the Daytona 500 and the 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, to name a few.
Adapted from an article that originally appeared in RM Sotheby’s Shift magazine.