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Kay Petre was the darling of Brooklands. A talented racing driver, it was the sight of her slight frame behind the wheel of a 10-litre Delage that endeared her to the "right crowd". Born in Toronto, the 4ft 10in Kathleen Defries settled in England where she met and married solicitor Henry Petre in 1929.
Her new husband bought her a Wolseley Hornet as a birthday present and she began to race. Petre started at Le Mans on three occasions – 13th on her debut with a Riley Ulster Imp in 1934, she retired from the race in both 1935 and 1937.
Her competition with Gwenda Stewart for the Woman’s Outer Circuit lap record captured the public’s imagination and she won a handicap race with a Bugatti during 1935 while a regular in Brooklands’ major events of the time. After a poor 1936, she began 1937 in South Africa as one of the visiting European stars that included Bernd Rosemeyer and his new bride Elly Beinhorn, with whom Petre became firm friends.
However, she suffered a heavy crash during practice for the 1937 BRDC 500 when her Austin Seven was hit by Reg Parnell’s MG Magnette. Petre recovered from her severe head injuries but decided to retire from racing.
She later took up rallying and worked as a journalist after the war. Petre remained a popular visitor to races before her death at the grand old age of 91.