Garage Groundbreakers: The Women Pioneers
SEMA Member News—November/December 2012
Garage Groundbreakers: The Women Pioneers
By JoAnn Bortles
The year 2012 has been a landmark for women in the automotive industry. The SEMA Mustang Build Powered by Women has turned the eyes of the world toward the efforts of women in the industry. Here’s a look at some of the women who broke through the barriers and paved the way for those who followed.
In 1964, when the average American woman did not have a job outside of the home and many women did not even drive a car, Barb Hamilton was the first woman to earn an NHRA license for a supercharged vehicle. Hamilton wasn’t looking to make history but merely wanted to drive the ’37 Willys coupe that she and her friend Nancy Leonello built. She went on to win the C/GS class at the 1966 Spring Nationals, was runner up at the 1968 Indy Nationals and set an NHRA national record in drag racing. During the week, she worked as a technical writer for TRW, but this weekend racer was the holder of the NHRA C Gas Supercharged ET record of 11.94 seconds.
She was right in the thick of drag racing’s gasser wars and notched many match race wins. Prior to the 1967 Nationals, Hamilton was one of four women whose licenses were revoked. Pressure from Hamilton and Paula Murphy persuaded NHRA to reinstate the four licenses and add a fifth for Shirley Muldowney. Hamilton moved up to B/GS before her retirement in 1972. She is one of only a few women who built, owned, wrenched, and drove her own car. A true pioneer in the sport of drag racing, she was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 1992.
When it comes to women manufacturers in the aftermarket, there is only one who comes to mind as being the true pioneer, Joan Weiand. Married to Phil Weiand in 1964, she quit her job as a keypunch operator to help him in his business, Weiand Automotive. The mechanically inclined Weiand started in the office part time, became the office manager and eventually expanded into every aspect of the business, including advertising, production, product development and manufacturing scheduling. When Phil passed away in 1978, Joan Weiand had a full knowledge of the business and stepped right in to keep Weiand Automotive going strong.
“You find yourself in a situation where you must go forward,” she said. “It’s sink or swim, and I am not one to sink.”
For 20 years, Weiand was president of the company, and she was inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame in 1995, 20 years after her husband, making them the only husband-and-wife team to have that honor. They are also the only husband-and-wife team in the Petersen Museum Hall of Fame.
Joan Weiand saw a need to keep young people interested in the industry and started the SEMA Scholarship Fund in 1984 by donating $10,000. Now retired, she still keeps active in SEMA, coming each year to the SEMA Industry Awards Banquet.
The SBN will mark its 20th anniversary in 2013, and no conversation about women pioneers would be complete without the inspirational Amy Faulk, founder of the SEMA Businesswomen’s Network (SBN). Faulk grew up around cars, starting her racing career in 1978 when her husband Kenny, a mechanic and race car builder, fired his driver and put his wife in the driver’s seat of the modified Volkswagon he’d built. Faulk went on to become the first woman to win a national event in an alcohol dragster. She was also the first woman to win an NHRA division championship, one of the first to work in the performance auto-parts industry and to be elected to the SEMA Board of Directors. She also created the MPMC Media Trade Conference.
Faulk’s many accomplishments include 1979 NHRA Super Stock World Champion, the 1980 Car Craft Magazine Driver of the Year, 2002 SEMA Hall of Fame, 2003 NHRA Division 2 Sportsman Hall of Fame Award (first woman recipient), the first recipient and the inspiration of the NHRA Appreciation Award, SEMA Person of the Year and 2009 NHRA Hall of Fame Recipient.
In 1993, Faulk saw a need for a committee that fit the needs of women in the industry, and the SBN was created. She is currently the CEO of Hypertech and is still drag racing in the Stock Eliminator category, striving to be the only person—male or female—to win national events in four categories.