Elizabeth Junek  Czech Republic

  • Full name Eliška Junková
  • Nickname Smisek
  • Birth date November 16, 1900
  • Birthplace Olomouc, Moravia,
  • Date of death January 5, 1994 (93 years 50 days)
  • Place of death Prague, Czech Republic
Profile

Eliška Junková, who raced as Elizabeth Junek, was one of eight children who started work in a bank where she met Vincenc "Cenek" Junek. She learned several languages in the expectation she would be able to go abroad, and so she did. She was reunited with Junek, who had by then grown rich, in Paris and decided if they were to be together she should learn about cars, his passion.

Returning to Prague in 1922, she took driving lessons and they got married. He was racing a Bugatti and Junková became his mechanic, but he struggled with gear changes as a result of a war injury and she started driving instead. In 1923 she made her professional debut alongside her husband, and a year later came her solo debut. She recorded some impressive results, and after she won at Zbraslav-Jiloviste in 1925 they bought a second Bugatti to celebrate.

By 1926, Junková was racing men on equal terms and attracting a high level of publicity. At the gruelling Targa Florio in Sicily she was fourth when she crashed out, but her skills and stamina earned her the respect of her contemporaries. Later in the year she won a two-litre sports-car class at Nürburgring, becoming the only woman in history to win a grand prix. She survived the race but a hug from the overall winner, the German Otto Merz, left her with two broken ribs.

At the 1928 Targa Florio, in another new Bugatti, she actually led until near the end, finally finishing fifth but beating many of the leading drivers of the time. But at the that year's German Grand Prix tragedy struck. She was sharing the drive with her husband and he had just taken over when he crashed and was killed. The devastated Junková retired immediately, sold all her cars, and went travelling. Ettore Bugatti gave her a new touring car for her journey, cannily employing her as an agent for his business in Asia.

She remarried, but the post-war Yugoslavian regime refused to allow her travel and she was largely forgotten by the racing fraternity. She lived long enough to see the fall of communism and in 1989, aged 91, she shunned medical advice and travelled to the USA as guest of honour for a Bugatti reunion.

Her nickname smisek dated back to her childhood and came because of her ever-present smile.
Martin Williamson

Notes

"What a beautiful sporting couple; Junek and his wife. His dedicated and excited pupil, in whose slim body is beating the heart of a brave man and whose childlike hands drive her car with unmistakable security and at great speed through tight curves."

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