The former seamstress, dress shop owner and thrill-seeker got her start in racing when one of her clients invited her to take on navigation duties in a rally car.
However, it transpired that Rosemary was the better driver. So they agreed Rosemary would navigate for the first couple of miles; they would then swap places, with Rosemary driving. Shortly before the end of the race, they would again change places. “This went on for years,” says Rosemary, “and we kept on winning.”
Rosemary was winning in the early 60's in her Hillman Imp: in Ireland, twice on the Alpine Rally; on the Canadian Shell 4000; and on the Acropolis Rally.
She won the Tulip Rally in 1965, and 50 years later, went back to race it again. She's the only woman to ever win it, since I hadn't heard of it, I looked it up. It passes through Europe's scenic and classic rally routes in Italy, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium, and finishes up in the Dutch town of Noordwijk .
Smith beat women’s team and men’s teams to become one of the best rally car drivers in the world, and even opened her own driving school.
So, when Renault Sport UK, as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations for Renault’s Formula One activity, invited Irish rally legend, Rosemary Smith to Paul Ricard Circuit to become, at 79, the oldest person to sit behind the wheel of one of their cars, a high-powered vehicle she’s never driven before, she couldn’t back down.
“The older you get, and you sort of think, well, time is sort of running out, so I’ve got to make the most of every moment,” she said.
Speaking of the experience Rosemary said: “Driving an 800bhp car is something I, like many other racers, have always dreamt of but I didn’t think I’d ever have the opportunity to do it, so when the team at Renault UK contacted me I jumped at the chance. It was definitely very different to the rally cars I’m used to but was an amazing experience. I could feel myself getting more and more comfortable with the single-seater and being able to speak to Jolyon, driver to driver, also helped when the nerves did kick in.
“After racing and facing the challenges of competing in a male-dominated sport together for many years I was so happy that my friend Pauline was able to share this latest milestone and give me that extra boost. It just goes to show that anyone can fulfil their dreams at any age if they put their mind to it and always follow their passions.”
Rosemary has a driving school in Kildare Ireland, for teens getting their full instruction before taking their license test. It's called the THINK for Transition Year and Secondary Students.
She also has a special course for nervous drivers that have anxiety about being on the road in heavy traffic, or in clamorous big citys, and a special course for older people getting back to driving after many years as a passenger.