May 13th is Mother’s Day. (You can thank us for the reminder later.) So, in the spirit of mothers and automotive history, this month’s installment of Did You Know? features a few “great motoring mothers” from the last 100 years.
The title of automotive history’s first “Motoring Mama” arguably belongs to Bertha Benz. In 1871, Bertha invested in the workshop of her soon-to-be-husband Karl Benz, essentially making it possible for him to continue the long and expensive process of developing the first Benz Patent-Motorwagen. Bertha and Karl were married in 1872 and, together, had five children. On August 5, 1888—without telling her husband, who she believed had failed to properly market his new invention—Bertha decided to take promotion efforts into her own hands by packing her two sons, Richard and Eugen, in one of the newly-constructed Benz automobiles and going on a cross-country trip to see her mother. The road trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim, Germany was the first time anyone had driven an automobile any great distance. In proving the vehicle’s reliability and usefulness in everyday life, Bertha’s stunt convinced the public that the automobile truly had a future, while also making Benz a household name.
Mary Momo, wife of the legendary Cunningham racing team manager Alfred Momo, was more than just a cheery lap counter during the 16 years of the Cunningham Equipe; she was the surrogate mother to the entire team. Born in 1903 in Turin, Italy, Mary arrived in New York at age 13 and married Alfred Momo in 1925. In the 1950s, Mary ran the Momo household and Alfred worked to establish Momo Corporation and the Cunningham Jaguar’s dealership. On the weekends she accompanied her husband to the races where she maintained lap charts and records for the entire Cunningham team. But ask anyone involved in the Cunningham racing efforts during the 50s and 60s and they’ll tell you how Mary Momo was more than just a timekeeper. A silent pillar of the team, she was the one who made sure the team drivers always ate well, the one waiting in the pit with a cold drink.
An American heiress and mother of 50s era Grand Prix and sports car driver Harry Schell, Lucy O’Reilly-Schell met her husband Laury in Europe shortly after the end of WWI. Laury Schell, an American born in Geneva, had lived in France since his early youth and was an ardent racing enthusiast. After their marriage, Lucy and her new husband settled in France where they became familiar competitors in various motorsport events.
Lucy’s first major race was the Grand Prix de la Baule in 1927 where she drove a Bugatti T37A to 12th place. She returned to La Baule the following year, again in the T37A, and drove to an 8th place finish. In 1928, and again behind the wheel of the Bugatti, she finished 6th in the Grand Prix de la Marne and won the Coupe de Bourgogne voiturette. Lucy along with her husband founded the Ecurie Bleue race team—the major backer credited with helping popularize Delahaye in 1930s thanks to the winning efforts of driver René Dreyfus.
One motoring mother who created one of auto racing most popular and enduring dynasties has to be Rina Andretti. After emigrating from Italy in the 1950s, Andretti settled with her family in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where she lived until her death in 2003. Even after a serious 1959 crash that left Aldo Andretti in a coma with a fractured skull, Rina was said to have always supported the career choice of her two famous sons. Aldo retired from racing in 1969. But Mario would go on to become one of only two drivers in history to win races in Formula One, Indy Car, NASCAR, and the World Sportscar Championship.
When you consider that, until 1928 women in the United Kingdom didn’t even have the same voting rights as men, the story of Bill Wisdom has to be one of the most interesting in 1930s British motorsports. Nicknamed “Bill” for her rough, tomboyish play as a young girl, Elsie “Bill” Wisdom’s driving career took off shortly after her marriage to motorsport journalist and amateur racer Tommy Wisdom. Known best for her 1,000 mile endurance race win in 1932 at Brooklands, Wisdom also competed in other endurance races (including Le Mans), hill climbs, and rallies during the course of her 20 year racing career. Her daughter, Ann Wisdom, would go on to become the rally navigator to the great Pat Moss.