Fay Taylor was the most famous female motorcyclist in the late 1920s and a champion speedway rider. She switched to racing cars in 1931 and continued racing in the UK and America until she retired in the late 1950s.
Taylour was born in Birr, Co Offaly, in 1904. Her family was well off by the standards of the time - her father was a district inspector in the RIC and they lived at Oxmanton Mall in the centre of Birr.
She was educated at Miss Fletcher's boarding school in Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, and in 1919 went to Alexandra College, then in Earlsfort Terrace, where the Conrad Hotel now stands.
She had learned to drive a car at the age of 12 and while she was at Alexandra College,"graduated" to motorcyles.
After leaving College, Taylour went to England and started to race motorcycles. During the 1920s, she took up motorcyle trials and grass tracking and became a major attraction. Then she changed track, going for speedway racing, which was more spectacular and paid better. She was already travelling the world, becoming a familiar speedway competitor and a big attraction for the crowds in both England and Australia.
She switched to racing cars in 1931. Competing in a womens' handicap race at Brooklands in the Autumn, driving a Talbot 105 and lapping at 107.80 mph. In a similar race at Brooklands in the autumn of the following year, she came second, lapping at 113.97 mph.
After this particular race, she was so wound up by the excitement that she did several more very fast laps of the track and ignored all entreaties to stop. In the end, one very intrepid flagman stepped out in front of her 2.6 litre Monza Alfa Romeo and she did come to a halt. She had a great reputation for smooth talking her way out of awkward situations, but couldn't bluff her way out of this one and was fined and disqualified.
In 1934, she came home to Ireland and won the Leinster Trophy road race, in a front wheel drive Adler Trumpf. She was the only woman competitor in the race, as she had beenwhen she drove a works Aston Martin in the Italian Mille Miglia.
She also took part in 1934 in the Craigantlet hill climb in Co Down. Her racing clothes were a jumper and a tweed skirt, according to a newspaper report of the event.
By now, Fay Taylour was thoroughly hooked on motor racing. One newspaper columnist said of her that she was so engrossed in motor sport that she had little time for the things that women usually enjoyed. She also said, memorably, that the day she met a man who was more difficult to handle than a racing car, she would probably give up racing.
She remained unmarried. For her, racing was her champagne. Like most racing drivers she had a certain addiction to charms against bad luck on the track. Her own lucky charm was very unusual. After one experience when her car came off the track and she was carted off to hospital and dressed in a coarse hospital gown. Ever afterwards, she placed a small suitcase with a pair of satin pyjamas beside whatever track she was racing on. When talking about charms against bad luck, she sometimes remarked "Don't eat peanuts in the pit".
Her racing career took her all over the world. In Europe, she raced in Ireland, England, Italy and Sweden. She made frequent appearances in Australia and New Zealand and, on her way out there, often stopped off in India to race there.
She also raced in the US and on one occasion in Miami, a local newspaper christened her "Lady Leadfoot".
Much more commonly, she was known as "Flying Fay from Dublin". She had a very successful racing career before the Second World War. Her last major race before that war was with a Riley in the 1938 South African Grand Prix, where she received a hero's welcome for her spirited driving, even though she was unplaced.
She became the only leading woman driver from pre-war days to resume racing after the war, when she returned to racing on circuits around the world, although her appearances became fewer. Usually, however, she was the only woman to take part.
But there was a dark side to her life. In the late 1930s,she became enamoured of the extreme right-wing political beliefs of Sir Oswald Mosley, the British fascist leader. Mosley and his second wife, Diana Mitford Guinness,were interned in Britain between 1940 and 1943, as a danger to the state, and Taylour suffered a similar fate.
Amazingly, when she resumed her racing career after the war, this unsavoury episode was airbrushed out of all her publicity. The file on her in the Alexandra College library has many cuttings about her from all over the world, but nowhere is there a mention of the trouble that her extreme right-wing political beliefs got her into.
By late 1944, Fay Taylour was back in Ireland, staying at the headquarters of the Girls' Friendly Society in Upper Merrion Street, Dublin. By 1947, she was working for a Dublin company selling farm harvest machinery.
She was also into farming herself at this stage, but in 1949, she was lured away again by speed, cars and glamour. She had an offer from a US car dealer to go and work for him in Hollywood selling Jaguars and MGs and she couldn't pass up the chance of meeting so many stars.
In the US, she discovered the popular sport of midget car racing on dirt tracks and began an enthusiastic new stage of her career which took her to tracks around the world.
In 1953, she was back in Dublin,when midget car races were being staged at the old Chapelizod Stadium.After the races were over, she gave a driving exhibition.
Taylour was still a star in her own right. A large advertisement for the long vanished Vigzol motor oil in The Irish Times that year proclaimed "Miss Fay Taylour, the internationally acclaimed Queen of the Speedways".
During the 1950s, she was still racing with a 500 cc Cooper at the big British circuits, including Brands Hatch and Silverstone. She had been so long in the business at that stage that she was starting to compete against such brilliant young drivers as Stirling Moss and Peter Collins.
Retirement came finally at the end of the 1950s. She went to live at Blandford in Dorset. In 1982, she had a stroke from which she never recovered, dying in August, 1983, at 80.
Fay Taylour had an amazing talent for racing, whether in cars or on motorcycles. She had a fearless approach to the sport, and was regarded as something of a daredevil.
To find out more or to purchase the book about her, click on the link below.