31/7/1916 - 15/4/2006
Louise Smith was one of the true pioneers of early stock car racing, running Modifieds from 1946 thru 1956 and actually competing in the first stock car race she ever saw. Louise Smith died 15 years ago, she was 90
Born in Barnsville, Georgia, she moved with her family to a farm near Greenville, South Carolina when she was four.
In 1946 when NASCAR was having a race at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, her local track, someone suggested that woman driver would help bring in the crowds. Louise was suggested as she'd "outrun every highway patrol and lawman in Greenville."
"They told me if I saw a red flag to stop," remembers Smith. "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 all in the pits. They finally threw the red flag and I pulled in." She finished third in her 1939 Modified Ford.
Smith was married to the late Noah Smith, a junkyard owner who didn't approve of her job. The more so after she went to watch her first NASCAR race at the Daytona Beach Road Course in 1947 in her his brand new Ford coupe. She couldn't stand watching so she entered the race, and crashed out. The Greenville paper had carried a picture of her crash before she even got home. When she did, Noah asked her where the car was. She told him that it broke down on the way back, however he showed her the newspaper with the photo of the crash on the front.
In 1949 Louise wanted to race at Daytona. She headed off to Florida in July with a special engine hidden in the trunk. She was assigned race number 13. As she went through the North Turn, seven cars were piled up in front of her. She hit the back of one of them, flew into the air ending up on the roof. Local police officers helped turn the car back over and she finished 20th.
The race was the first race to feature three female drivers (Ethel Mobley and Sara Christian). The trio also competed later in the year at Langley Speedway.
She raced again in August at Occoneechee Speedway, Hillsboro, NC and was joined by Ethel Mobley and Sara Christian again at Langhorne Speedway in September.
She continued to help 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 went.
Louise was a crowd favorite wherever she went. Known for her hard-charging style and her breathtaking crashes, she raced from 1949 to 1956 winning 38 races in numerous classes including late models, modifieds (28 victories), midgets and sportsman.
She quit racing in 1956, but returned in 1971 to sponsor cars for numerous drivers including Ronnie Thomas (Rookie of the Year 1978), Bobby Wawak and Larry Pearson.
Her father and brothers were mechanics. She never had children.