Part of our Women in Motorsport series by guest writer Lara Platman
Lapping Brooklands at 134.24mph in 1935 in the ten and a half-litre V12 Delage, secured Kay Petre as one of the fastest ladies on the racing circuit. The Delage had been specially adapted for her for as her regular race car, by extending the pedals and installing a raised seat in order for to see better for her slight 4 foot, 10 inches in height. And a special car it was: the 1924 Land Speed record breaker, which did 143mph on the Arpajon road near Paris.
So, who was Kay Petre and how did she get to become the fastest woman of her time?
Kay Defries was born in 1903 into a successful family in Toronto, spending her later school days in England and studying Art in Paris. Kay Defries returned to Canada in her early twenties and got married. She became a prolific ice-skating champion, but soon after her husband passed away.
She met her second husband, the retired RAF ‘Military Cross’ officer Henry Petre of Ingatestone Hall, in Essex whilst he was on a business trip in Toronto. He brought her back to England and shocked everyone by marrying her, across the threshold of the Brooklands Flying Club in 1929. The shock being that his nickname was “Peter the Monk” from his vows of celibacy! It seems however, that this love affair was to last, and it was Petre who introduced Kay to racing cars.
So, let’s begin with some of the cars Kay raced. Always dressed in pale blue overalls, Kay started in a little Red Wolsley Hornet Daytona, after toying with Henry’s Invicta. She won the Ladies Race at Brooklands in the Hornet and progressed swiftly to a two and a half-litre supercharged Type 35C Bugatti, in which she achieved her first Brooklands lap record in 1934 at 124mph; she set another record in 1935 with the Delage at 134.24mph.