Women's History Month: Mamie Reynolds, trailblazing car owner

Mamie Reynolds — the daughter of a former U.S. senator — drove race cars, bred horses, dogs and Pygmy goats and was a NASCAR team owner.

The story of Mamie Reynolds sounds more fiction than fact.

Reynolds — the daughter of a former U.S. senator — drove race cars, bred horses, dogs and Pygmy goats and was also the first owner of the American Basketball Association’s Kentucky Colonels. She traveled around the world seven times and was an American Kennel Club member who won prizes and owned and trained many winning breeds.

She was also, believe it or not, a Cup Series car owner at 19 and the first woman owner to win in NASCAR’s top division with Fred Lorenzen in 1962 at Augusta Speedway, adding a fifth-place finish at Birmingham International Raceway (1963) and a sixth-place finish at Martinsville Speedway (1962) with Darel Dieringer.

MORE: Full Reynolds owner stats

Reynolds, who passed away in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2014 at 72, was not only one of four children from one of controversial U.S. senator Bob Reynolds’ five marriages, she was also the granddaughter of Evalyn Walsh McLean. The matriarch is known as the last personal owner of the Hope Diamond, which has since been preserved at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Reynolds spent much of her life calling Asheville, North Carolina, home, becoming a high-profile fixture of the city’s social circles. Notably, she had a famous godfather, too, in one J. Edgar Hoover, the former FBI director.

The pioneer, just 4 years old at the time, first inherited the wealth that would later fuel her stock racing desires following her mother’s death of a sleeping pill overdose in 1946. Reynolds was later introduced to Luigi Coco Chinetti Jr. at the age of 20 when he sold her the first racing car she ever bought. They later married, bringing her into yet another famous family.

Her father-in-law? Renowned racer and American importer Luigi Chinetti, who is credited with bringing Ferrari to the United States and appointed by Enzo Ferrari, himself.

In total, her foray into NASCAR ownership lasted just 20 races over two seasons but included being a winning contributor to the Hall of Famer Lorenzen’s career as well as being an indelible — and almost too good to be true — part of the sport’s foundational years.