Ageing with attitude: Rallying Rosemary Smith is still mad for road

Margaret Jennings speaks to a trailblazer who has defied gender stereotypes, and is defying age stereotypes in a viral Formula One video for Renault.

‘I’LL be 80 next month — I don’t think my grandmother would have driven an ordinary car at that age, not to talk of a Formula One, but life has changed so much. People used to be old at 50,” says Rosemary Smith.

The Dubliner made headlines back in the mid-60s for crashing through the gender barrier in the international rally driving circuit. 

Now she’s at it again, defying ageism and displaying her spirit in a newly released promotional video showing her driving a Formula One car.

The video has been made as part of the 40th anniversary for Renault’s Formula One activity.

 At a time when an increasing number of older icons show us how to celebrate longevity — a positive message that crosses all age barriers — it’s a clever move by the multinational car manufacturer.

“I just jumped to it when I was asked to do it,” Rosemary tells Feelgood.

“It was absolutely crazy. I was a bit worried going out on the track — these cars are worth millions.

“I’m sure the mechanics and everyone else involved were thinking ‘this auld one is coming out to drive one of our precious cars’, but I skipped out, though they could have thought I’d be coming with a walking frame.”

For the uninitiated, a Formula One car,

says Rosemary, is worth millions. It’s the top fastest racing car in the circuits and at the apex of motor racing. And it’s a very rare event indeed, for someone to get to test drive such a vehicle — not to talk of a woman, and at her age.

The promotional video gives snapshots of Rosemary’s career with footage of her as the blonde female driver, all style and painted nails, who broke into a man’s world with her determination and spunk.

She contributes herself, with reminiscences about that time and how, as she says, “it took a long time for the men to accept me”. None of that spark is gone, as she declares several decades later: “You know the older you get you can feel that time is sort of running out... I’ve got to make the most of every moment.” The offer from Renault “came out of the blue,” but she hadn’t to think twice about sitting into that single-seat mega-fast car and revving up.

“I didn’t think I’d ever in my life get the chance to drive a Formula One car,” she says. “The video has gone viral — whatever that means.”

Though the record of her drive was made on May 10 Rosemary was sworn to secrecy before its launch last weekend. Renault finishes the video with the declaration: “10th May, 2017, 79-year-old Rosemary Smith became the oldest person to drive a 800bhp race car. Celebrating 40 years of Renault in Formula One.” Underneath the Renault logo is the motto “Passion for Life”.

Rosemary talks about that passion: “Passion is something you must have because you’re not ever going to succeed unless you have this real passion to do it.”

She’s a perfect example of that — from her young rally driving days, when she defied social norms, to continuing to do that now, as she enters her eighth decade.

Two years ago in an interview for this page, she said that even when she’s driving normally, the adrenaline kicks in and she gets the urge to put the foot down: “At this stage of my life I should be trotting along like a dear old lady. No way I can do that.”

As part of that determined streak and to pass on her passion and expertise, she set up her driving school for Transition Year students which is run out of Goffs on the Naas road, Dublin and which she loves.

When she accepted that exhilarating challenge to drive in that precious car her passion over-rode any of her underlying trepidation and the rush kicked in.

“Feeling the adrenaline and the air whistling by — it’s an amazing feeling.”

Has she any idea how many miles an hour she was doing?

“I have absolutely no idea,” she says. “I didn’t want to keep my eyes off the track.”

Age should not be a barrier for any of us, to live life to the full, says Rosemary, unless, of course we have an illness or some kind of disability which might get in the way.

She herself hasn’t had a total clean slate on that front.

“I’ve had five heart stints, one broken collar bone, a cracked knee cap and sprained ankle — and none of them, touch wood, in a car.”

She continues to do some classic car rallies but the Formula One experience was an unexpected dream which arose from a casual conversation she had with one of the Renault representatives when she moved over to that company.

It was obviously a dream for the company also to have someone as inspiring as Rosemary to drive home — so to speak — their own message about passion and resilience.

“I think when you’re good at something why should you give it up?” she says on the promotional video. “You’ve got to have passion.”

Lust for life

The Baddiewinkle’s Guide to Life,

by Baddie Winkle, €18.96

We featured an interview with her over two years ago, but Instagram’s hippest grandma, Baddie Winkel’s star has risen higher since then, with more than 3m followers. 

From appearing on MTV’s Video Music Awards and in a Smirnoff commercial, to representing cosmetic companies and making a music video, the Kentucky-based 88-year-old demonstrates it’s never too late to open a new chapter in your life. It’s no surprise that this hardback book has followed. 

Imbued with her energetic, infectious spirit and rebellious attitude, it is a handbook for living life adventurously. 

Baddie tells her life story, including the joys and heartbreak and lessons she has learned, and shares her thoughts on issues, including fashion, pop culture, being age appropriate, and being an octogenarian internet star.

Silver surfer

How chocolate might improve your memory.

Hear ye, hear ye

Do you know someone who deserves an award? Nominations have opened for the 2017 Hidden Hearing Heroes Awards, honouring ordinary people for their contribution to Irish society or for sporting or charity achievements.

Although the awards scheme is supported by Hidden Hearing, nominees are not necessarily deaf or hard of hearing, according to Dolores Madden, marketing director of Hidden Hearing Ireland.

The awards, established in 2011, will recognise over 20 real-life heroes, with an overall winner and a special recognition recipient presented in each of the categories.

Nomination categories include the Age Is No Barrier Hero, Young Hero, Triumph over Adversity Hero, Healthcare Hero and Charity Hero, with award categories also recognising Deaf or Hard of Hearing Heroes, Family Heroes, Sporting Heroes, and both an Unsung Hero and Heroine.

Nomination forms are available online at hiddenhearing.ie and in Hidden Hearing clinics countrywide.



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