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Elizabeth Junek


Eliška Junková, also known as Elizabeth Junek, born November 16, 1900 in Olomouc, Moravia, Austro-Hungarian empire - died on January 5, 1994 in Prague, Czech Republic, is regarded as one of the greatest female drivers in Grand Prix motor racing history.

Born Alžběta Pospíšilová, she used the name Eliška. After the end of World War I, when her native Moravia became part of the new republic of Czechoslovakia, she married Cenek Junek, a banker who shared her fascination with automobiles and speed. After racing for a few years, she and her husband purchased a Bugatti Type 30s which had been raced in the Grand Prix de France at Strasbourg. As Eliška gained fame throughout Europe, her name was anglicized to Elizabeth. Initially she served as riding mechanic and her husband did the driving until an injury to his hand afforded her the opportunity to take the wheel. She immediately began winning and by 1926 was good enough to compete in races around Europe against the best male drivers of the time.

In 1926, she competed in the Targa Florio in Sicily, a race where physical strength was a necessity due to the nature of the very rough and often muddy course. Although her vehicle crashed and she was out of the race, her performance earned her a great deal of respect. Shortly thereafter, she won the two-liter sports car class at Nürburgring, Germany, making her the only woman in history to have ever won a Grand Prix race.

With her sights firmly set on winning the 1928 Targa Florio, she acquired a new Bugatti Type 35B to enable her to be on an equal footing with the top male drivers who would be competing. At the end of the first lap Junek was fourth behind the famous Louis Chiron in his factory sponsored Bugatti, but on the second lap she took the lead. On the final lap she ran into trouble and ended up finishing fifth but still beat 25 other top drivers including the likes of Luigi Fagioli, René Dreyfus, Ernesto Maserati and Tazio Nuvolari. Back at Nürburgring in July, she shared the driving with her husband and had just changed places with him when he went off course and was killed instantly. Devastated, she gave up racing and sold her vehicles.

With communist rule in Czechoslovakia she was largely forgotten by the motor racing world. Like Hellé Nice, her great female counterpart from France, only recently has Junková's pioneering effort been given the recognition it deserves.