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The woman who made history in the FVee UK

The woman who made history in the FVee UK

Jennifer Nadin won the first ever Formula Vee race in England, 1967, 
among speculations that this was all a marketing strategy for being a woman driving.
Today she admits she was “very naive” and that women go through some humiliation in Motor Racing,
a “stremely sexist sport”.

By Fernando Santos, Formula Vee Brazil

 

53 years ago Jennifer Nadin made history. In 1967 she won the first ever Formula Vee race in England, in Silverstone. This is still considered the first women’s victory in a formula car all over the world.

The victory by a pretty, blonde lady that was always smiling, however was considered a marketing strategy to get media attention to a new racing category that had just arrived in England.

Known as Jenny Nadin, today she is 77 and lives by Northamptonshire, around 70 miles from London, where she frequently goes to the local church. She lives with her husband and dog, enjoys gardening and having a glass of white wine while reading a good book.

Jennifer and her husband, Tony Ornstien, on Christmas in 2019 in New Zealand where her husband is from, and where they are both on quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. On the right, some newspaper articles on her Formula Vee crash that she keeps in her office in England. (Images credit: Jennifer Nadin’s personal archive).  

 

Looking back half a century later, she has a different point of view from that historic moment: she admits being “naive” in what looked like a marketing strategy and believes that women go through humiliation in Motor Racing, a sport that she considers “sexist”: “Men do hate getting beaten by a mere woman” she said in a interview to Formula Vee Brazil.

Jennifer is currently in a small town in New Zealand where her husband, Tony Ornstien, is from. They went to Lake Rotorua last year to get away from the britain winter however are now on quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic, waiting to be able to come back to England.

She talked too about how she met the Brazilian driver Emerson Fittipaldi, as well as her friendship with another English woman that made it to the Formula 1. Jennifer also gave some advice for young drivers today.

 

Love for cars and horses

If it was a marketing strategy or not, Jennifer Nadin’s Formula Vee historic victory came from a whole generation that always had gasoline in the veins. Born in Leeds, she was encouraged to start driving at 12 years old, when her father (a former racing driver before the Second World War, who used to race a Bugatti) gave her a MG Midget.

Not just interested in cars, young Jenny also used to like horses what has definitely helped her make her decision to start racing. She was soon introduced to Pat Moss, former horse rider and one of the most famous Rally Drivers in English story, and whose brother was Stirling Moss, famous F1 driver who has recently passed away this year in April.

Together, Jenny and Pat started rally racing, competing in cars such as Ford and Lotus Cortina. They had some high and lows during their career, like winning the Coupe des Dames and a crash in Spa-Sofia-Liege. It was then when Eric Carlsson, Pat’s husband, suggested Jennifer to take up driving, instead of co-driving with Pat.

Jenny took his advice and bought a 1275 Mini Couper S to compete on the British Motoring News Championship, in 1964. She was the only woman to win a round and so she started getting attention from the media, as well as companies like Volkswagen, and the journalist and former driver Nick Brittan.

On the left, Jennifer Nadin (71), Nick Brittan (64) and Mike Haysey (72) during the Formula Vee race in 1967 in Silverstone. On the right Jennifer Nadin anda Haysey at the grid. (Images credit: Formula Vee UK, Facebook page).  

 

Her performance leaded Jennifer to be invited by Nick Brittan and VW to test a new car category that had just arrived in England: the Formula Vee, at Brands Hatch.

Nick spent hours teaching me racing lines etc. He was also my manager, strange that I had not thought of becoming a Racing driver until then.

 

The Controversial victory

Developed in the USA by Hubert L. Brundage by the end of the 1950s, the Formula Vee first came to Europe in 1965, having its first race in Germany. Volkswagen then started to import their own cars what made the category grow in Europe, and getting attention from many companies in England.

In the meantime, Formula Ford had also just started in England and had its first race only two weeks before Formula Vee, which obviously created a competitive scenario in England.

Jennifer Nadin ended up being a very important part, caught between this Ford vs Volkswagen scenario, and manipulated by Nick Brittan who did his best to explore the opportunity of having a woman racing to get the media’s attention. Besides being a good driver, she would also stand out by her beauty and friendly smile, which was everything the media would like to show.

This is how the first race in England is described by Formula Vee Centre (www.veecentre.com):

“The first race at Silverstone was won by Jenny Nadin although well-known journalist Nick Brittan led for all but the last lap till he spun. It is rumoured that this was orchestrated by VW because both were works drivers and more publicity would be obtained by a female winner.

Nick Brittan went on to win the championship and was often representing GB in the European Western Zone championship – VW’s way of finding a Vee World Champion.”

 

According to Formula Vee Centre, Nick Brittan used to get plane tickets and a VW motorhome at your disposal for each European race. He also represented Great Britain in the Monaco Grand Prix support race in 1967, in which he had an fantastic “flight” accident in the first corner, having his car thrown through the streets of Monaco.

Nick Brittan’s “flight” accident in Monaco in 1967 (Photo credit: The Chicane website). And on the right, Jenny Nadin (Photo credit: Facebook Motorsportsfriends).

 

Brittan however was also important for the competitive scenario between Ford and Volkswagen, being part of the team who founded Formula Ford in England as he tells the story in one of his books: “The Formula Ford Book” published in 1977. He was also known for organizing long distance rallies, like London – Sidney, and for being the French pilot Patrick Depailler’s manager on Formula1. Nick Brittan died in 2006, in Australia, for unknown circumstances at the time, without many records of the case, however some of them considering suicide.

 

The VW manipulation

There are a driver who believes in a orchestrated victory by Jenny Nadin. Mike Haysey was another driver in the VW FVee Team. He, Jennifer and Brittan was too in the turism “Team VW Great Britain” one year before the first FVee race in Silverstone.

Like he told too Formula Vee Brazil:

“The very first race at Silverstone was a surprise and unexpected result for me and other competitors. No one in the team were told before or after the race that this result was planned. My personal view is that Nick and Jenny both had engines prepared with information from top engineers in Germany because I was really surprised at there straight line speed during qualifying. Fred Matthews, the team manager, and Nick must have come to an agreement to let Jenny through to generate publicity and that worked."

Mike Haysey finished 3rd in the first FVee England championship. He also had a famous career in turism car and Formula 3, where he got attention for a unusual sponsors, like a striptease club and a man magazine. In last years, he worked with his son kart team, MHA Motorsports.

Mike Haysey with VW Team in a FVee race and driving. (Images credit: Formula Vee UK, Facebook page).

 

 

A new point of view

Was it a marketing strategy after all? This is how Nadin describes the historic victory in Silverstone when she was 24 years old:

First FV race at Silverstone was nerve racking, I put my car on pole, but never having done a racing start with another car alongside was slow off the line, then pulled myself together and got to second… saw Nick spin on last lap, could not believe I had won… stunned.

On the left, Jenny Nadin is honoured in a vintage cars race in the 1980s (Photo credit: Motorsportsfriends Facebbok page). On the right, the final championship of the 1967 Formula Vee season: Jenny Nadin (2nd place), Nick Brittan (champion, sitting on his car) and Mike Haysey (3rd Place) (Photo credit: Formula Vee Uk Facebook page).

 

50 years later, with a lot more experience in Motor Racing, Jennifer Nadin sees it all in a different way:

As for it being orchestrated by VW, I was perhaps very naive then, it never entered my head. Today on reflection, yes Manufacturers will use girls and women only for publicity purposes. Of course I do/did find this so demeaning, but it was ever thus!

Looking back, Jennifer Nadin recalls how her participation in that historic FVee event in England was discriminatory:

Yes, in my opinion Motor Racing was and still is an extremely sexist sport. Feel sure that  Nick having had my FV nose cone painted with red lips  certainly helped my passing manoeuvres in year one.

And she says more:

Men do hate getting beaten by a mere woman! Stuart Turner boss of Ford UK told me that he would prefer to put Miss World in a race at Brands Hatch, where she would go off at Paddock Hill Bend on the first lap, and get him enormous World wide newspaper coverage, than loan me an Escort for the British Touring Car Championship, where he said it did not matter even if I won a race the media coverage would be much less!

Jennifer Nadin's assessment reinforces the sexist scenario towards women in motorsport since that time. The same happened to the Italian driver Maria Teresa de Filippis, the first woman to race the Formula 1 in 1958. After competing in 3 rounds, she was stopped by Toto Roche, director of the French GP, stating that “Such a pretty woman should not wear any helmets except for the ones to dry her hair”. De Filippis stated later that was the saddest moment in her career and that she felt like punching the French director.

 

Friendship with Emerson Fittipaldi

England was always considered the centre of Motor Racing worldwide, and that was not different in the 1960s. Among her racing success and the buzz surrounding the historic victory at FVee, Jennifer Nadin met one of the greatest Brazilian Drivers:

We say in English, it is a very small world....I met Emerson Fittipaldi in 1969 and was friendly with him and Maria Helena (his first wife). I was married to Graham Birrell at that time, who raced in F2 alongside Emerson. So many drivers from that epoch came from FVee, I feel privileged to have been amongst them. It’s hard to believe how long ago it was!

Coincidentally, Fittipaldi also started his motor racing career in Formula Vee, first competed in Brazil in 1967, in which he raced with a “Fitti-Vê” car, built by his brother Wilsinho Fittipaldi. Emerson won the first national championship and then moved to Europe until he competed on Formula 1 and became the two time world champion.

ears after meeting the Fittipaldi Family, Jennifer Nadin met another Brazilian pilot: “I worked 2 years for Honda in their the Honda CRX racing series, and admired Roberto Moreno who raced the poorly prepared Celebrity car to win a race at Zandvoort (Holland) in 1988.

 

Life after the Formula Vee

Just like outside of the races, her marriage to Formula Vee was not as successful as one would predict after her victory in Silverstone. After that first race, she had a crash that she still keeps a photo in her office at her house in England, captured by an English newspaper. Even though she made history in Formula Vee, she admitted that she never intended to have a career on Formula racing , let alone making it to the Formula1.

I did not know I was the first woman to win a single seater race, so cannot comment. But for being an inspiration, who can judge. Then I had no aspirations for F1.

She also recalls being close to start a career in to what is now knows as the American Nascar:

I was offered by Bill France in 1969 to go to Daytona to spend 6 weeks testing a Stock car… a deep regret still that I refused... stupidly. I listened to advice as to how dangerous it was... in hindsight think I would have enjoyed the tactics and lack of finesse employed in those days!

After leaving the Formula Vee, Jennifer Nadin went back to Rally Racing, winning in many different categories. Her last race was in Bogota, in Colombia, 1991, together with Davina Galica, who she states to be “still a seriously underrated competitive driver”.  By the end of the 1970s, the also British driver Galica trained for Formula 1 however never managed to qualify for a race.

MWhile she was not racing, Nadin directed many races promoted by companies like General Motors and Honda. Even after she stopped racing, the British Formula Vee pioneer didn’t lose her adventurous spirit and she found out a new sport: skiing, which was introduced to her by her friend Galica who also competed in four Winter Olympic Games. “With skiing (when I could) as much more feeling of speed on ones two feet!”, recalls Jennifer Nadin.

 

Advice to the Young Drivers

Nowadays Jennifer Nadin lives between the two small cities in England and New Zealand. On summers she usually drives around Europe with her husband, showing off her abilities as a driver. She keeps all her good memories of a career full of victories.

Even with her controversial history, Jennifer still believes that the Formula Vee has a good potential for young drivers and has some advice for who wants to start their career:

“Choose carefully after learning in Formula Vee for perhaps two years. Money is not everything but one needs sponsors, whom are often not often treated very well...

Do your homework on investigating our chosen company’s background and who the owner is. In my experience Marketing Departments are not the starting point, remember they are supposed to bring ideas to the board, and they take the credit and commission!

Get access and use humility and charm with a professional presentation. Busy men/women have a short attention span.

And you need a lot of luck and determination to succeed”.

  

 

 

 


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