Tuesday 23 January 2018

Where are they now?

Rosemary Smith
Rosemary Smith

ROSEMARY SMITH (Former rally driver)

It was a chance encounter that led Rosemary Smith into the world of rallying. She had never dreamed of such a career but when the opportunity came her way she seized it.

Growing up, Smith had a limited interest in cars. Her father and brother raced Chryslers on circuits all over Ireland and, although she often watched them, she never got involved. In 1959, she was working as a dress designer when amateur rally driver Delphine Biggar visited her shop. She told Smith all about rallying and one weekend when she was without a navigator she invited her along.

However, it didn't go very well. Smith was a hopeless navigator and still is to this day, so a frustrated Biggar told her to drive while she navigated. A mile from the end of the course they swapped seats again. They kept up this charade for a while before being found out after stopping to help some of their competitors who'd been in a crash. After that Smith became a driver in her own right and a few years later she was scouted and asked to join Rootes, a rally team based in England.

After that Smith's career took off. She regularly raced internationally and racked up numerous wins along the way including 12 Coupe des Dames, the Circuit of Ireland and the Tulip Rally.

"It was a tough world but I enjoyed it," says Smith. "There was always a few men who would make remarks, the one that always got me was 'aren't you lucky you won that race, you must have a good car'. They were slow to recognise the achievement. But that was only a small few; men like my dad and brother were always very encouraging."

Yet despite all her competitive success Smith's standout memory from her racing days was breaking the land speed record.

"We gathered in Cork at 7.0am. It was a beautiful sunny morning. There were seagulls on the road so we had to get motorbikes to go ahead of us to clear them in case they hit the windscreens. We were going almost 200 miles per hour."

In her rallying days Smith mostly drove a Hillman Imp and a few years ago, through the internet, her original car was found and restored. Nowadays she often attends events in it. "It's beautiful, the same colour and it actually drives better than it did before."

Smith runs a driving school at Goffs in Kildare. She provides driving education for transition year students around the country.

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