July/Aug 2019 edition
Issue #6 AutoMobilia Resource Magazine
John C. Lutsch
For collectors, most of the time, it’s all about the object; whether artwork, models, posters, photographs, etc., our eyes are drawn to a well-rendered car, a beautiful hood ornament, or shining porcelain sign. But sometimes, it’s the story behind the object that assumes primary importance.
Suzy Dietrich was a pioneering female racing driver from Sandusky, Ohio, who gained notoriety in the early 1950s through late 1960s, piloting Porsches, Elvas, MGs and a Formula Junior Cooper in regional and national SCCA-sanctioned events, such as Cumberland, Elkhart Lake, Watkins Glen and even Daytona and Nassau Speed Week. She competed primarily in the ladies’ division, but occasionally went head to head with the men.
She began her racing career in 1953 in a supercharged MG TC, due largely to the influence of her husband Chuck Dietrich, a successful Porsche and Ferrari driver with whom she owned a car dealership. When she wasn’t involved with cars, she worked in a school library, prompting lifelong friend and fellow racer Denise McCluggage to describe her as, “An enormously cute librarian”!
It took another two years of honing her skills behind the wheel before she scored her first victory, still in the MG, at Cumberland, Maryland, besting rival Margaret Wyllie in a Jaguar C-Type! At the time, Cumberland was an important venue in American sports car racing, driven by the likes of Briggs Cunningham, Carroll Shelby, Jack McAfee, Walt Hansgen, Roger Penske, and Bob Tulius.
By 1956, Suzy was something of a fixture at the race circuits east of the Mississippi, and it was at this time she had her first experience in a Porsche 550; years later, upon reflection, she stated the 550 was her favorite racing car. She competed regularly during the following decade, including an epic drive in the 1966 Daytona 24 Hours. She travelled extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe, often in support of her husband’s racing efforts. By 1967, Suzy’s involvement in racing began to diminish, largely due to a separation and eventual divorce from Chuck. She continued on as a librarian, but also returned to the scene in 1970 as a team owner, fielding a Formula Continental Brabham BT21.
Sadly, Suzy Dietrich passed away in 2015 at age 88; her personal collection of mementos and racing memorabilia being offered at auction in 2011 to assist with living expenses.
It was from this auction that the subject of this article was purchased; a Les Leston “GP” Lap Chart timing board, accompanied by period photographs of Suzy, and several notebooks containing lap times from a myriad of races. The timing board is a fairly rare bird itself, and is composed of a wooden framework that supports three “Cleco” stopwatches which are protected by a sheet of red Perspex. Three Bakelite tabs are affixed to a hinged bar, which the operator would press to activate the timers.
A marvelous item from the auction lot is a period photograph of Suzy using the timing board at an unidentified race, probably keeping track of Chuck’s progress. Another remarkable item is a small notebook, in which the lap times are recorded for the August 27, 1960 Brand’s Hatch Formula 2 and Formula Junior races. The F2 race was won by none other than Jim Clark, with Dan Gurney coming second. The Leston lap timer was doubtless on hand while the notes were taken. Participating in the events were Clark, Gurney, Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, Innes Ireland, John Surtees, Jo Bonnier, and Olivier Gendebien. Remarkable!
The Leston timing board is certainly an interesting bit of memorabilia, but its intimate association with Suzy Dietrich makes it quite special. In her words, “I may not win, but I’m hard to beat. Don’t ever forget it!” You go girl!
To read more great columns like this one from automobilia expert John Lutsch...
John C. Lutsch is the owner of Aeromobilia.com, an internet-based purveyor of unique automobile and aviation-related art, models and rare treasures for the collector and enthusiast.