Vicki Wood was a NASCAR driver who broke gender barriers in the sport during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1960 she set a speed record of 150.375 mph on a one-way drive down the sand at Daytona Beach. She also set speed records for women at the Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta International Speedway. During her career she claimed to have collected 48 racing trophies. She competed with male drivers until 1963 when some men made it clear they would rather strike than face teasing when they lost to a woman. She retired rather than return to racing exclusively against other women drivers.
- Died: June 6, 2020 (Who else died on June 6?)
- Details of death: Died at a hospital in Troy, Mich. of heart-related illness at the age of 101.
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“Vicki Wood is not a woman. She’s a driver, and she’s allowed in the pits.”
Wood’s racing career began in 1953. Cars had been a family interest and she had grown up tinkering with them alongside her brothers. However, she hadn’t thought about competing herself until she attended a race in her hometown of Detroit with her husband when she was in her mid-30s. She was disappointed watching the women-only race and felt she could do better. Her husband called her bluff and entered her in following week’s race. She came in 9th, but won the next race, and the one after that. Soon she was dominating her female competition.
In 1959 Bill France, who founded NASCAR and built Daytona speedway, invited her to race at his track. When gatekeepers attempted to bar her entry to the pits he angrily responded, “Vicki Wood is not a woman. She’s a driver, and she’s allowed in the pits.”
“I was a better driver than half of the men they had,” Wood said, describing her male competition at the Detroit-area short tracks during the 1950s in a 2019 Autoweek interview.
What people said about her:
Full obituary: The New York Times