Motor sports has been, and still largely is, dominated by men. However, top-level women’s racing has produced some incredible talent over the years, as well as smashing stereotypes and encouraging inclusiveness in the sport. Here is the story of Helle Nice; the first ever winner of the inaugural Grand Prix for Women back in 1929, and one of the most skilled drivers in the entirety of motor racing history.
How Nice’s Career Began
She may not be well known, but Nice took on and won against some of the greatest drivers of her day. She also broke the world land speed record! Nice, born Helene Delangle, was born in 1900 in the French town of Aunay-sous-Auneau, and moved to nearby Paris as a teenager. It wasn’t long before she had found a career as a nude model for Rene Carrere’s unique drawings that were used to market music show halls.
Nice was later encouraged by Carrere to start ballet lessons, and soon began to perform at the very music shows she once advertised. This is where she got her stage name, Helle Nice, which stuck with her throughout her professional racing career.
It was Nice’s best friend, racing driver Henri de Courcelles, who introduced her to Europe’s best motor circuits, just as the Grand Prix was starting to gain popularity on the continent. In 1921 she travelled to Surrey, England with the intention of entering her first race, only to be turned away and have her application rejected because she was a woman.
A Silver Lining After a Ski Injury
Enfuriated by the news, Nice raced whenever she could throughout the 20s, although she was never allowed to compete professionally. At one point, she instead turned to skiing to get in as many thrills as she could, while still pursuing her talent for dance and performance. Alas, her showgirl career ended abruptly in 1929 when she was injured by an avalanche on a ski track.
No longer able to ski or to dance, Nice decided to commit her life to her other passion; becoming a racing driver. That year, the first ever Women’s Grand Prix took place as part of the third edition of the Journee Feminine de l’Automobile (a collection of women-only races) held at France’s first purpose-built track, Montlhery. Nice was determined to win the contest outright, and drove 10 laps of the circuit twice daily to prepare. And win it she did, with the help of her Omega Six car manufactured by Jules Daubecq!
Countless Grand Prix Titles Won
The very next day, Nice received an invitation from Bugatti to be their official driver. She immediately accepted, and also secured an advertising contract with cigarette brand Lucky Strike for good measure. Overnight, she became one of the most famous women in France, and proceeded to outstrip her male competitors both on a local and international scale.
By December of 1929, she had returned to Montlhery in a Bugatti to set a new women’s land speed record of 197.7km/h, and she would later return to Europe after a US trip in 1931 to a serious Grand Prix racing career. In the first Grand Prix of the season, Nice finished fourth in a Reims Race that featured other legendary drivers like Louis Chiron, Philippe Etancelin and Rene Dreyfus. Winning the Women’s Grand Prix consecutively for many years became just one of her trademarks, along with being an unforgettable pioneer in the world of women’s racing sports – and today, her fans are still wondering whether or not she will one day inspire a mobile casino Malaysia game or two soon…