Who was the first British woman racing driver?

DOROTHY LEVITT 1882 – 1922

Born into an affluent family, the twenty year old Dorothy Levitt took advantage of an introduction to motorboat racer Mr S.E Edge to escape from the boredom of her parent’s country home. She re-located secretly to Paris where she undertook a six months apprenticeship in all things motoring.

Starting as a cleaner she progressed to becoming a chauffeur before returning to London. Here she became accustomed to the city traffic and set herself up as a driving instructor to the many wealthy ladies fascinated by the liberation offered by the motor car.

Dorothy took up motorboat racing and achieved some success at Cowes and was presented to the new king, Edward VII on the royal yacht.

Encouraged by the publicity and the prize money she received for her motorboat racing success she turned to motorcar racing as even more exciting and lucrative.

Among her many successes Dorothy set the first Ladies Speed Trials record of over 70mph at the Brighton Speed Trials of 1905.

She was a reckless and courageous motor driver once describing her feelings while motor racing as like riding a horse at a full gallop.

Her love of speed frequently found her in trouble with the law.

During the Glasgow to London motor trials of 1903 Dorothy was arrested by two police officers in Skipton, Yorkshire for speeding through the town at 21mph and initially refusing to stop when challenged. She was fined £2 in the magistrates’ court plus costs.

Dorothy was accompanied wherever she went by Dodo her Pomeranian dog.

The dog was with her so often in motorcar races that on one occasion her fellow (male) drivers all attached toy dogs to the bonnets of their vehicles.

This caused them great amusement but back at their hotel at the end of the day, the drivers were amusing themselves with a concert in the smoking room when a parcel was delivered for the gentlemen drivers. When opened it was found to contain several pounds of dog biscuits labelled “For the puppies” and sent by Dorothy.

Dorothy was also a successful aviator.

She wrote newspaper columns and even a book about driving: “The Woman and the Car. A Chatty Little Handbook for Women who Motor or want to Motor”.

After 1910 however, her career seems to have come to an abrupt end and she died alone in 1922 while recovering from illness.

Image credit: Dorothy Levitt / Autodidactyl at en.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons