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VALE NELMA REED

Article Date: 13 November 2015

Reed Family Racing matriarch Nelma Reed has been remembered for her great contributions to drag racing, in particular her pioneering efforts to forge a pathway for women in what was once a male-dominated sport.
 
Nelma passed away on November 11.
 
Her husband Jim, son Steven, grandson Daniel, and granddaughter Sally’s husband, Matt Watts, are all Australian drag racing champions. Steve and wife Debbie are Willowbank Track Champions, as are Daniel and his wife Fiona. The entire family have raced at some time over the past five decades, including Nelma and Jim’s daughter Kerri-Lee and her husband Mark Lougheed.
 
Nelma and Jim have several great-grandchildren, who represent the fourth generation of their drag racing dynasty.
 
In 2012, the Australian Nostalgia Fuel Association honoured Nelma and Jim with Pioneer Awards for their contributions to drag racing, and last year Jim was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Jim, an early proponent of the sport in Queensland, first competed in sprint racing, before it was called drag racing, in 1952 in his 1935 Ford Coupe.
 
Jim and Nelma married in 1957 and Nelma first drove competitively in go-karts in 1960. In 1965 Jim competed at early drag racing events at Lowood circuit on the Darling Downs. “I wanted to race at Lowood, but they wouldn’t let me,’’ Nelma said in a past interview about her career.
 
In 1966 Jim built a 272 Y-block Ford-powered dragster for the April, 1966 opening of Surfers Paradise International Raceway, later constructing an Anglia for a different class of racing. Using both cars, Jim and Nelma competed at Surfers Raceway drag racing events. “I drove the dragster a few times, I didn’t like being closed in, in the Anglia,’’ Nelma said.
 
The dragster was cut up and rebuilt into an Altered in 1968. Nelma recorded times only marginally slower than her husband in the Altered and achieved a lot of publicity in the media as “the fastest woman on four wheels in Australia’’.
 
Nelma recalled that she was treated well by other competitors, but sometimes damaged one or two male egos when she won. “It was only hurt pride, but it never seemed to be me that beat them, the excuses used to come out about missing a gear, losing traction or something,’’ Nelma recalled following her retirement from racing.
 
 “When Jim put nitro in the car he would keep saying ‘you can drive next time’, but ‘next time’ never came and that was the end of my drag racing career.’’
 
Lex Swayn, a drag racing journalist and member of Willowbank Raceway’s board of management, said: “Nelma was certainly a trail-blazer for participation in drag racing by women.
 
“This diminutive, but strong-minded woman showed that females could compete on an even playing field with men in the sport and while Nelma did not win a national championship, the legacy she has bequeathed to drag racing is the 11 Australian titles won by women since 1983, as well as the many championships and titles won by her descendants.
 
“Above all that,’’ Swayn said, “Nelma loved drag racing and acknowledged that the sport had been the glue that had helped keep the Reeds a close family unit.’’
 
Willowbank Raceway’s board, staff, volunteer officials and the entire racing community offer their condolences to the Reed family over the passing of Nelma.
 
A celebration of her life will be held on November 17 at 10.30am at the Garden Chapel, Albany Creek Memorial Park, 400 Albany Creek Road, Bridgeman Downs.
 
 

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