I had never heard of Helle Nice until a friend, suggesting her as a worthy subject for my next biography, produced a small black and white photo: part of a treasure trove of memorabilia that he himself had briefly owned - and that, tragically, had since vanished from sight.
The photograph showed a laughing young woman in racing overalls. She was sitting, arms folded, legs crossed, up on the hood of an Alfa. The location was the race track at Comminges, in France; the year was 1934. It was a wonderful photo. this young woman looked confident, strong, sexy and at ease; a radiant image of inspiration for sportswomen across the world.
Her name, back in 2001, had been utterly forgotten.
I took up the challenge. I set off in search of her story – and spent two of the most enthralling years of my life tracking down the almost incredible history of the woman who had, back in 1929, broken the world speed record, at Montlhery, in France, while at the wheel of a Bugatti 35 given to her by the master, Etorre Bugatti, from his Alsace workshops..
Hellé Nice (born Helene Delangle) should inspire us for several reasons. She entered the world of competitive motor sport in the 1930s, as one of a handful of women who successfully competed in hill climbs, rally driving and grand prix. Unlike her peers, she was not supported by family wealth, or by a rich spouse; Helle Nice made her mark in the world of motor sport by hard work, skill and courage. There’s no doubt that she used her attractive presence and her celebrity as a former dancer to attract coverage from admiring journalists; her real achievement – she participated in 78 grand prix – derived from sheer determination and courage.
It has never been easy for women to succeed in the world of motor sport, a world which is notoriously dominated by men. Helle Nice stands ready to hand on her own bright torch to sporting women, from all over the world, today. Her example shows that it can be done; that there is a way forward.
I am proud to have written the book that helped to revive interest in Helle Nice. I hope that the Helle Nice Foundation will provide a focus for the encouragement, enthusiasm and motivation needed for success in this challenging field.
Vive La Marque!