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July 4, 1903 – Dorothy Levitt becomes first female auto racer

On this day in 1903 Dorothy Levitt became the first woman reported in the press to compete in an automobile race, and she won. She earned first place at the Southport Speed Trials driving a 12 hp Gladiator. Her initiation to auto racing was more or less a publicity stunt by her boss at Napier Car Company. He taught his beautiful young secretary to drive in order to boost sales. Her ability to race was soon discovered to be astonishing and she would go on to be a fearless driver, boater and even flyer. Levitt set a number of early records, including the “longest drive achieved by a lady driver.” She drove an 8 hp De Dion-Bouton from London to Liverpool and back in less than two days. She had to accompanying mechanic but traveled with an official observer, her pet Pomeranian dog Dodo, and a revolver. Levitt set speed records on land and sea. She passed away at age 40 in 1922. She was found dead in her bed and the death certificate named her as Dorothy Elizabeth Levi, unmarried, and stated that “the cause of death was morphine poisoning while suffering from heart disease and an attack of measles.   PhotosDorothy Levitt and the 12 hp Gladiator car she drove in a series of reliability trials in 1903Dorothy Levitt, in a 26 hp Napier, at Brooklands, 1908Dorothy Levitt driving a Napier at the inaugural Brighton Speed Trials in July 1905, setting a new Ladies World Land Speed record of 79.75 miles an hour, as well as winning her class and the Autocar Challenge Trophy

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