Ada Pace. To most it’s not a name that sounds familiar but she was a phenomenal woman. Years ahead of her time and a trailblazer in the racing game who picked up numerous trophies both on two wheels and four in the 50s and 60s. Earning her the nickname “Sayonara”.
Originally from Turin, Ada died in hospital in Rivoli, Italy at the grand old age of 92 in November 2016.
Ada might not have found fame and fortune in this country but she was someone well liked and very well respected in Italy and across Europe, although she did have to fight for that respect in a sport still very much considered misogynistic even today.
Ada was a very sporty youngster who enjoyed basketball, athletics and shooting. Her passion began at a very early age – probably because her father had a workshop where he tinkered with engines.
In the mid to late 1940’s she started out on Vespas and in 1947 and 1948 entered the one-make races organised by the Vespa Club in Italy.
Piaggio recognised her prowess in the sport and gave her a scooter to use. During the 1950s she took part in the “Six Day” and the “1000km” events. In 1953, ’54 and ’56 she won the National Trophy Gymkhana races on a Vespa 125.
In 1950 she entered her first 4-wheeled race but wasn’t very successful. She didn’t give up though and tried again in 1951 in a Fiat 1500 6C. She entered the Turin – Saint Remo race and against all the odds, won, much to the chagrin of the male competitors and the race organisers as well.
This had never happened before and official complaints were lodged against her. Unfortunately these protests would continue to dog her throughout her racing career.
However this win was only the start and the following years would see her race in many cars including Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Orca and Maserati.
In the years between 1957 and 1962 Ada won 11 Italian titles in some of the most important races, including the Mille Miglia, the Targa Florio, 12 hours of Monza and the Sestriere Rally.
Sadly Ada still suffered complaints from her male counterparts, which eventually came to a head at the Circuit de Lumezzane race event in 1957. After she won, another formal complaint was lodged against her but the race official, Renzo Castagneto, decided to investigate the first three cars past the post.
The outcome was very surprising in that Ada’s car was shown to be in perfect order but the cars that took 2nd and 3rd were found to have irregularities and were disqualified. Irony at it’s best!
This vindication however did not last and when Ada won the Gold Cup ACI at the Circuit of Modena the men who came 2nd and 3rd refused to stand on the podium with her because she would be higher up than them.
She even tried a stint at Formula 1 but this was not to be and she finally retired from competitive racing in 1965 following a crash in a race in which she was fortunately unharmed.
Ada never really complained about her treatment but instead had a plaque made up with the Japanese word for goodbye “Sayonara” on her number plate for anyone following to see, a nice touch!
She was greatly admired throughout the racing community, Enzo Ferrari, Piero Tariff and the Maserati brothers were just a few of her fans.
The world should be thankful for women like Ada who quite literally drove not only a scooter but cars through a male dominated sport but also beat her competitors with grace, wit and good humor.