Palermo, Sicily — Vintage car racing is, for the most part, a good old boys club; the emphasis being on 'old' and 'boys.' But there are exceptions, and a few popped up at this weekend's Targa Florio vintage car race in Sicily.
Two of them were Loes and Annemarie van de Velde, svelte blondes driving an even more svelte 1950 Healey Silverstone to a 49th place finish.
While there were plenty of women hanging around this weekend's race (lots of wives, and more than a few younger wives of older husbands were co-drivers), there were still less than a dozen registered as primary drivers. That's less than five percent of the more than 200 drivers entered in the race.
The Targa Florio had a winner, but it was mostly for fun. Bearing that in mind Loes and Annemarie van de Velde made a pretty good team, not only because they finished in the top quarter, but also because they cut a striking figure. Don't ever let anyone tell you that handsome Nordic faces, white jackets, vintage racing helmets, and beautiful antique red sports cars don't mix, because they do, and style counts for a lot in an event like this one. It's almost the entire point of it.
It's nice to see ladies at the tiller in a hot car, rather than in the passenger's seat, like The Most Stereotypical Lamborghini Driver In The World's Concubine (I really wish that guy had showed up; even though this race had absolutely nothing to do with Lambos). But before I start spouting chauvinistic crap about how ladies are more genteel, and add balance to an aggressive sport, blah blah blah — that would be an inaccurate generalization, anyway — I should say that, from a male perspective, getting beaten by a woman is good for your ego. Plus, it's better to see women and cars as a functional team, rather than as a backdrop for someone's semi-pornographic fantasy (y'know, the grease smeared bombshell with a wrench, etc.).
The van de Veldes and their handful of feminine compatriots brought a touch of class to the Targa Florio that the horde of white-haired industrialists who usually populate expensive car events don't have (not that I have anything against white-haired industrialists — they collect really fantastic cars). They just looked right.
If the Targa Florio's organizers had inlcuded the paper plate awards I suggested they hold during the closing ceremony, the Dutch duo would have gotten an award for "Best Looking Team," lettered by hand in my own uneven scrawl (complete with stick figures). But there were a lot of white haired industrialists there who thought they were the best looking team, so management told me to take my impecunious self to a champagne and bikinis NASCAR party and leave them alone. I'm pretty sure they would have picked the two old gentlemen driving the 1927 665 Superba anyway (hell, they looked pretty good in their car, too).
Loes van de Velde has shown her pretty face at classic car races before, as her father Geert's co-driver in a Lagonda M45. This time around, Geert ditched his girls to make room for his wife in his 1953 Aston Martin DB2 Vantage. And he paid for it, coming in 71st place; squarely beaten by his progeny.
I also suggested to the Targa Florio's organizers that for next year, they should solicit two ladies to enter the race in a Lamborghini Countach, dressed in matching one piece jumpsuits, of course. This being Sicily, I was handed a newspaper-wrapped fish and told never to return.
We'll see if they change their minds next year.
Photo credit: Benjamin Preston