'Flying Fay' - The Offaly woman who conquered the racing world

The woman who rallied against the male-dominated world of motorsport

Justin Kelly & Jake Farrell

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'Flying Fay' - The Offaly woman who conquered the racing world

Fay Taylour, also known as 'Flying Fay', was a pioneering motorsport champion whose roots were sown in the picturesque heritage town of Birr.

The daughter of a British Army officer, Fay was born and grew up in the stunning property at 11 Oxmantown Mall in the town, which is currently for sale for €1.29 million.

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Fay was born in 1904 and was educated in Dublin. She was able to drive a car by the age of travel, and once she had finished her studies at Alexandria College, she took to racing on motorcycles.  

Taylour was encouraged to race her motorcycles in England after she became a fanatic. She was encouraged by a local mechanic to enter the Camberley Club’s ‘Southern Scott Scramble’ of 1927 but before that, she tackled her first race in London, during which she burned out her clutch. 

However, with a little training from Carlton Harmon, the repair shop owner who had encouraged her to enter, she amazed spectators as she won the Novice Cup and Venus Trophy at the Southern Scott Scramble event. A star was born as the Offaly-born speedster's face made numerous London newspapers the next day. 

She continued and won numerous events in the months that followed, and eventually in 1928, the world of dirt racing, or the popular 'speedway' racing came calling. Speedway was governed by the Auto-Cycle union at the time and barred women from competing in professional league events.

However, women were permitted to partake in non-league events, and it was there, the name of Fay Taylour came to worldwide attention. Having been turned away by numerous UK speedway promoters, Fay took part in her first race at Crystal Palace in the summer of 1928.

She was racing the formidable Australian Ron Johnson, and became the first woman to compete in speedway in the process. She was leading until the final turn when she crashed, allowing Johnson through for victory. However, the seeds of an incredible career had been sown against the grain of the male-dominated sport. 

Fay had become a star, and was handed a major boost when she beat the renowned A.R Frogley in August of the same year. The paper's christened her the 'Queen of the dirt track' and she went on to speedway fame and success across the world, including Australia.

Taylour took Australia by storm, and announced herself in serious style by beating the local star, Frank Brown. Her success in both Australia and Britain, where women weren't commonly seen on the racecourse, is seen as a source of inspiration to other women to follow her footsteps to the track. 

Soon after, Fay was taking on the West Australian champion and perceived speedway supremo Sig Schlam in his own back yard. The race was billed as impossible to win for Fay, but the so-called 'feminine wizard' worked her magic again and not only did she win, but she equalled the track's record lap time. It was a triumph that would define her marvellous record and status as a racing legend. 

Fay returned to Ireland and Britain and continued her racing success, all the while becoming an expert in self-promotion. Already a novelty as a woman in speedway racing, she spoke freely and openly on radio wherever she went, and spoke on political issues and challenged the male-dominated arena of motorsport. 

In the 1930s, she switched her attention to four wheels and began racing cars. She began to drive in borrowed cars in India and soon was racing in the UK again. She won the Brooklands Automobile Racing Club (BARC) Ladies Handicap in 1931. She again tackled many forms of racing, including rallying and fought against the still inherent resistance to women in motorsport.

In 1934, she took part in the first running of the ‘Skerries Race’ back on Irish soil, competing for the Leinster Trophy. It was only the second time a woman had raced in the event, and she won, beating off competition from 28 other male drivers.

At around the same time Taylour became politically active and was later interned in Britain between 1940 and 1943 for her fascist views. She did return to racing after her spell in prison but her appearances became less frequent.

In 1949, she moved to Hollywood where she sold British cars. In the US, she also got involved in the sport of midget car racing on dirt tracks. During the 1950s, she was still racing and taking on future icons of motorsport, including Stirling Moss and Peter Collins.

After retirement in the late 1950s, she returned to Britain and lived out her days in Dorset. She died from a stroke in 1983.

The information from this article was garnered from a study by Stephen M. Cullen at Warwick Univeristy. You can read his full works, ' Fanatical Fay Taylour : her sporting and political life at speed, 1904-1983' by clicking here