Women Enjoy Drag Racing As Much As Men

By Charlotte Wyndham

Hands deep in dishwashing suds, children scampering at the heels, but a mind filled with visions and excitement of a night of racing engines, speed and records broken on the asphalt.

These are thoughts that are occupying more and more women’s minds today. There are record numbers of women who are finding real vicarious thrills in automobile racing.

Perhaps, the most popular form of racing for women is drag racing, either as participants, workers, or avid watchers.

FOR THE INEXPERIENCED, the National Hot Rod Association defines drag racing as: “an acceleration contest between two cars racing from a standing start over a straight-line, precisely measured quarter-mile course. The main object for each competitor is to reach the finish line 1,320 feet down-strip ahead of his opponent.”

Drag racing shows a total of 524,123 contestant entries in 1969, with the spectator attendance totaled at 5,395,933. . . . Ooutstripping many other spectator sporting events, according to NHRA statistics.

Why are increasing numbers of females invading the masculine world of burning rubber, exhaust fumes, and ear breaking motors? The psychology is deep, varied and individual, but they all have in common a passion for cars.

One of drag-strip racing’s most avid fans is Sandra Smith of Columbia, part owner of a drag strip. Actually, this strip is two-thirds owned by women. Sandra, her mother-in-law, Hazel Smith, and her husband, Ed, own and operate the Blaney Drag Strip, near Elgin.

A FORMER MODEL, who still keeps an enviable figure, Sandra is a composite of the average housewife and successful businesswoman. With energy that would awe most, she takes the reigns and exudes the enthusiasm that has helped to make Blaney Drag Stip one of the most popular tracks in the area.

Racing is now part of Sandra’s blood. A life filled with paradoxes, she feels she has now reached her fulfillment. Born in Camden, living in the world of her father’s furniture and antique business, Sandra developed a love for archeology. But as frequently happens she was advised to follow a different curriculum, so she majored in physics at Columbia College and USC.

Marriage soon threw her into a new career. Her husband Ed was a road contractor and a race car driver. The Smith trio built the original Blnaey Stip in 1962 and rebuilt it on its present site in 1967, according to the latest engineering standards for drag strips.

Her main responsibilities are promotion and stage directing. Her days are filled with booking star racing attractions for the strip, public relations, which involves traveling around the state putting out posters, giving spot interviews with local radio and TV stations, and sending out information to over 500 drivers across the country. She writes her own commercials and spot news releases for advertisement.

Not only does she attend to all these chores without help, but she recently contracted th building of the family home and watched over its construction. In between she deftly managed her busy household of husband and two active children.

RUNNING FEVERISHLY from April to October (the racing season), the Smiths don’t find much respite during the off-season. There are not only the maintenance of the track and other business interest, but Sandra begins booking talent in January for the coming season. In the meanwhile, she and Ed travel about the country observing other tracks and drivers.

With a showman’s instinct, Sanda is a picture of motion on the night of a racing event. Fashionably dressed in slacks, she flies from the ticket booth to the observation tower to the track and back over the circuit, making sure the show runs smoothly.

If you can catch her she will gladly give her opinion about drag racing and women’s participation in it: “Drag racing is a family sport. There isn’t another sport around where a man would want to bring his wife and children.

“here at our strip we have clean rest rooms, a concession stand, sand piles from the children and guarded grounds . . . everything for the family to enjoy.”

“I believe women are just as competitive as men in racing, and it is a sport they can enjoy just as much as men. We get a lot of women who come out for the spring time races and drive their husband’s cars.”

Projecting to the future, she added, “I want to promote a ‘Powder Puff Derby’ to increase women’s participation in racing.

“Some of our star attractions are women drivers, such as Jean Howard of North Carolina, Della Wood, a former Power’s Model who drives a record-breaking funny car, and Paula Murphy who has exceeded 200 mph in the quarter-mile run.”

RUNNING A SUCCESSFUL drag strip involves a lot of active, avid employees . . . and a good many of them at Blaney are females.

Holding up the family tradition is Sandra’s and Ed’s 13-year-old daughter, Sharon, who is not only a racing fan, but runs interference for her mother at the track. The racing fever is in her blood as well, but she’s not sure she wants to drive. Her mother said she wouldn’t mind at all if Sharon raced. “It’s one of the safest sports around today,” she remarked.

On the time clocks . . . a very exacting and absorbing job . . . are three young ladies.

Lucy Boykin, Sandra’s younger sister and a math major at Columbia College, started working at the old strip when she was 14 years old. “I’ve always been a racing fan and would like to drive a car someday,” the slim, blonde co-ed said. But in the meanwhile she has a summer job helping out in the family business.

Gail Trounco has been a clock reader for seven years, and is part of a successful husband and wife team at the track. Her husband Eddie is the colorful announcer who keeps everybody posted on results and laughing at his quips.

Gail, during the day, is a housewife with a small son to look after. But racing is a big part of her life, too, and she surmised that working at the track, “makes it that much more interesting.”

CHRIS GROOKETT is just 17 years old. Working the clocks at the strip is a summer job for the Columbia High School bus driver. She’s been bitten by the racing bug, but would rather work behind the scene than drive. “I don’t think I have the strength to hold a car on the track,” she explained. But she added, “I think women can do as well as men on the track.”

Sandy Nesbit, a pre-vocational teacher at Ermo Middle School, and her husband, Ben, a principal af Hanberry Jr. High in Columbia, have the technical job of inspecting and classifying each entry car. As Ben goes under the hood and the chassis, Sandy records all his findings.

When Sandy started dating Ben in 1965, he has been racing a car for two direction. Not only did they marry, but Sandy fell to cleaning spark plugs and learning the business end of a car. “I learned by asking a million questions.”

SANDY FEELS her knowledge of race cars has helped her in many other ways. “I can better communicate with the 13 and 14-year-old boys I teach, when they discover I work with cars. I always take the opportunity to tell them what a good, clean sport drag racing is.”

Emily and Chuck Neely represent another family racing team. She, her husband, and son usually appear at the track dressed alike and sponsor their own racer, “Ma’s Monster.”

Emily has been interested in racing for the last two and a half years. “Even though it’s awfully noisy,” she shouted over the gunning motors, “I’m intrigued with everything about cars.”

A housewife and mother of three, Emily reflected, “Someday I may settle down to bridge playing, but this sport keeps me excited for now.”

Top Left- School teacher Sandy Nesbit, left, works at the track with her husband in the very technical job of inspecting and classifying each entry car. Sandy learned her job by “asking a million questions” and listening to her husband, who owned a race car when she met him.
Top Right- Blaney Drag Strip co-owner, Sandra Smith, right, checks over driver Bill Tanner’s Dodge before he puts it on the starting line. This is only one of Sandra’s many jobs at the track. She is usually a picture of perpetual motion on nights of racing events.
Bottom Left– Women are not only fans of drag strip racing, but more and more of them are getting into the working end of it. One of the most important jobs in the tower is recording time and speed. Shown here are (left to right) Chris Grookett, Gail Troundco, and Sandra Smith carefully clocking and marking elapsed time for the starting drivers.
Bottom Right- At left, Emily Neely is checking the gap of a spark plug on the Dodge Daytona owned by her and her husband. Although Emily raced their car, “Ma’s Monster” last year, she is content to watch her husband set records this year.

August 23, 1970  State (published as The State) 
 Columbia, South Carolina
Page 68

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