On International Women’s Day we look back at the first woman to ever win a ‘formula’ car race; Jennifer Nadin.
A British racer in the 1960s, Nadin competed in sportscars, was a rally navigator for driver Pat Moss (sister of Sterling Moss) and later drove in international rallies such as the the 1966 RAC Rally in 1966, and the 1967 Monte Carlo Rally. Through rallying, Jennifer Nadin met Nick Brittan who was a racer, journalist and event organizer of the time. Brittan became Nadin’s manager, and in 1967, he persuaded her to enter the British Formula Vee championship, making its UK debut that year.
Formula Ford had just launched in the UK, having its first race only two weeks before the inaugural Formula Vee race at Silverstone. This created a competitive scenario of Ford vs Volkswagen. Many believe that the first Formula Vee race in the UK was manipulated by Nick Brittan, who used the opportunity of having a woman racing to get the media attention.
Nadin surprised everyone by putting her car on pole position, with incredible straight line speed during qualifying. During the race, Brittan promptly overtook Nadin at the starting line, and lead every lap of the race. However, Brittan’s spin late in the race put Nadin ahead, crossing the finish line as the winner.
There were accusations at the time that the Volkswagen team had orchestrated Nadin’s win for publicity, as Formula Vee’s first win in the UK by a female driver was a valuable talking point.
Some claimed that Nick Brittan had planned to pull over and let Jenny Nadin through. Others claimed that both of the official Volkswagen cars had illegally-tuned engines. Nadin herself claims that she knew nothing at the time, but does describe herself as “naïve” and accepts that some manipulation occurred. Still, she finished second overall in the 1967 Formula Vee Championship in her first season of racing.
It is important to remember how women were often used as gimmicks and marketing ploys in the early days of motor racing (though one could argue this is still happening today). Hopefully, in future generations, women in motorsports will be treated as equals.