Last week Betty Skelton Erde, an 82-year-old retired stunt pilot and auto racer who was once the fastest woman in the world, got inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in suburban Detroit. She is only the fifth female inductee. Erde attended the ceremony and was among several other racing legends inducted, including Champ Car driver Michael Andretti.
Erde has said she had a teenage obsession with aviation that led her to take flight lessons before she reached 16. She flew and performed aerial tricks for air shows all over the country, and her popularity and skill set led her in 1956 to meet Bill France, NASCAR co-founders, who invited her to Daytona where she discovered that a car was just as good if not better than a plane.
The following quote from France seems to underscore why Erde is such a big deal in the conventionally masculine arena that is NASCAR:
Is that history? When pretty women get behind the wheel and put metal to the pedal? Looks like Danica Patrick doesn’t have to worry about setting new records — as long as her hair and make-up are perfect then her place in history is as good as gold. Erde was obviously inducted for her talent behind the wheel, not for “femininty” — at least we hope that’s the case.