There have been women in motorsports as long as there have been races. The first known account of a woman taking part in a motor race occurred in 1899, when Madame Labrousse came third in the Paris to Spa three-seater class. It’s not known whether she took a stint behind the wheel or was the first “back-seat driver.” Of course, the first use of a woman’s name in automobile nomenclature came when Emil Jellinek’s daughter Mercedes’ name was used after Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler passed away and Jellinek was brought into the Daimler-Benz firm.
Women have raced in every facet of the sport and been active everywhere from driving to mechanics to engineering, tire preparation, public relations, race sanction and media, to name just a few. There was a time, during its heyday, that the CART open-wheel championship had a pace car team made up solely of women. One of those women, Gail Truess, still drives Safety 1’s medical car in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES; many of her cohorts are involved – as is Gail – in manufacturer new-car introductions, taking media for road trips they might never otherwise experience.
The first woman allowed to work media at a NASCAR race was Norma “Dusty” Brandel, whose professional work in motorsports journalism spanned decades from 1955 through that initial 1972 entry into a man’s club at Ontario Motor Speedway. The Burbank, Californian’s pioneering career continued through to her death at 87 in 2022. In addition to her work in journalism, she helped keep the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association effective and relevant in helping journalists gain traction in the sport, and was its president for much of her later days.
Brandel is a member of the 2009 NASCAR Hall of Fame class and was honored by NASCAR with the 2018 Squier-Hall Award for excellence in journalism. Rather than using her own name in a byline, she used the moniker “Dusty” as it was gender neutral and avoided all the roadblocks that existed for female journalists. She served as president of the Los Angeles Press Club and was a board member of the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame. Her selection of hats, worn over her always-perfected red bouffant were her calling card as she attended racing, media events far and wide.
How many women would be in the garages, paddocks and media centers of Formula One, NASCAR, INDYCAR, USAC, IMSA and other forms of racing without the efforts of Dusty Brandel? Safe to say, not very many.
Judy Stropus was bon in Lithuania and navigated her way to the United States at an early age – asking Judy’s age is a non-starter – learning the English language as she made her way into the Northeast corridor and settling in Ridgefield, Connecticut, not far from Lime Rock Park. She’s been a proficient racer, a timer and scorer, a professional public relations expert and author. She’s knocked down the “glass ceiling” in racing on so many levels that it’s difficult to find a place to start.
Let’s start with this: as a driver, Stropus participated in one of the notorious Cannonball Baker Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash races that went from a Manhattan garage in New York City to a garage in Redondo Beach, California, the objective being to get there first without getting put in jail! She was the timer and scorer of record for numerous over-achieving teams in racing and was known for never leaving her perch during the 24 Hours of Daytona – until it was over and the last car had entered the pits.
She started her career in 1967 with the legendary Bud Moore, who had a Trans Am team running a five-hour race. “Obviously I had an ability with scoring and I happened to meet the right people at the right time,” Stropus said. When she met Roger Penske in California later that year, Moore lost Stropus’ talents to The Captain, working inTrans Am and Can Am, INDYCAR or whatever his teams were racing.
Once computers came in and were viable, Stropus turned her immense talents to public relations, where the clients of JVS Enterprises have included Chevrolet, BMW, Dunlop, Brumos Racing, Pirelli, Dunlop – even Don Schumacher Racing, where she was charged with assisting in the Funny Car career of then-newcomer Matt Hagan, now a three-time class champion and driver for Tony Stewart Racing.
Stropus’ induction into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America’s (MSHOF) 2021 class, her membership in the truly exclusive Road Racing Drivers Club (RRDC) and her continuing work promoting concours d’elegance, car shows, racing events, authors’ racing-related books and artwork helps her stand above the fray. When she received the 2021 honor she said, “It’s wonderful to me that so many of us old-time worker bees in a sport are now being recognized and honored for what we had as a passion, but really it was our jobs. And I’m totally gobsmacked about even being nominated. I am absolutely delighted and honored,” she said.
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