- Written by webmin
There have been pioneering women in every endeavor, and depending on the era, their achievements have either been acknowledged or forgotten. There were few women who achieved success in the early days of male-dominated auto racing, and one was France’s Hellé Nice.
Born Mariette Hélene Delangle, Ms. Nice ran more than 100 hill climbs, rallies and grand prix races, broke a female world speed record at Montlhery in 1929 and set closed course endurance records that still stand, primarily behind the wheels of Bugatti Type 35s and Alfa Romeo race cars. Her records were quickly forgotten in the drama of World War II, and she died in 1984, impoverished and largely forgotten.
Readers of the “International News” section of the February 2011 Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car will learn of how Hellé Nice came back into the spotlight, thanks to the efforts of an author and a woman who was moved by the racer’s life story.
The publication of Miranda Seymour’s 2004 book, “The Bugatti Queen, In Search of a French Racing Legend,” (Books & Literature, HS&EC #4) inspired American Sheryl Greene to create the Hellé Nice Foundation in 2008. This organization raised funds to hold a Service of Commemoration on September 4, 2010, and to place a bronze plaque at the formerly unmarked resting place of Hellé Nice in Sainte-Mesme, outside Paris.
“Upon reading Ms. Seymour’s biography of Hellé Nice, I was enthralled with her race history and perseverance, and amazed no one had publicly celebrated her life and accomplishments. I decided at that moment to start the foundation with a goal of properly honoring her,” Sheryl said.
A number of speakers paid homage to Ms. Nice, including Sheryl, author Miranda Seymour and motorsports historian and English professor Dr. Patricia Lee Yongue. Other prominent attendees included Triumph works and rally driver Annie Soisbault and surviving members of the racer’s family, and the Club Bugatti France brought three period race cars to pay tribute. Other attendees brought their classic cars in similar homage.
A display of Hellé Nice historic images and memorabilia was set up in the adjoining church.
The Hellé Nice Foundation will continue to assist young women interested in pursuing a career in racing, through grants and direct support. Visit the Foundation website to read the speeches given at the memorial service and to watch a series of videos.