Leading Ladies: “Mrs. Speedway” Joyce Smith

Behind every great man is a great women, or at least that’s how the saying goes, but for Alice “Joyce” Smith, she didn’t need a great man to set her apart from the rest. Sure, her husband “Speedy Bill” Smith will forever be known for his amazing accomplishments in the automotive industry, including starting Speedway Motors with his wife, but Joyce too will go down in history as a leading influence in the hot rod and the racing world for generations to come on her own accord. That’s why this month, we’re featuring Joyce Smith, or “Mrs. Speedway” as she was lovingly known, as the latest inductee in the Leading Ladies family!

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Joyce’s automotive passions started at an early age, even prior to her marrying “Speedy Bill” Smith in October 1952. Images: Speedway Motors

Born in North Platte, Nebraska, Smith was a go-getter from the very beginning. Growing up in the local Lutheran church, Joyce attended Our Redeemer Lutheran Church and School as a young woman, where she played the organ before graduating from North Platte High School in 1948.

She is the epitome of the women I hope to be one day.                  – Lauren Smith

During high school, in addition to her organ playing, Joyce worked at O’Connor’s Department Store and even helped serve the troops of World War II with her mother at the local North Platte Canteen.

After graduating from high school, Joyce went on to Nebraska Wesleyan University, helping pay her own way through four years at the university by working for a local reverend and dean. While there, she served as the first dorm president of Johnson House, as well as an officer and Rush Chairman for Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, later serving as the sorority’s Chapter Adviser. It was during these four years that Joyce met “Speedy” Bill Smith.

In October of 1952, Joyce married Speedy Bill and the young couple founded Speedway Motors not as a man with his wife merely supporting his ideas and the household in the background, but as partners. In fact, it was Joyce’s $300 that she loaned her husband that was the initial start-up money for the company!

“Joyce and Bill were partners for 61 years in business together. They built a beautiful partnership together, but more importantly, they built a beautiful marriage,” Besty Grindlay, the Smith’s eldest granddaughter told us of her grandparents. “If you ever had the pleasure of running into them together, you know that Bill adored Joyce and relied on her heavily.

She reminded him of details when he told stories, she added humor and flair and they played off each other as only any couple married for so long can. She helped smooth some of the feathers that Bill was known to ruffle. Bill once said; “I could not have reached this point without her, even if I had, it wouldn’t have been near as much fun.”

Joyce filled several roles in the growing company, including parts counter clerk and parts runner.

Initially Speedway’s bookkeeper, Joyce served in many different positions within the company, including being Speedway’s first counter girl and parts runner, all while acting as Speedway’s official Treasurer, Corporate Secretary and Financial Officer, titles she held for six decades as “Mrs. Speedway”.

Speedway Motors and the racing industry it stemmed from was just as much a passion of Joyce’s as it was Bill’s. Holding many rolls within the company, Joyce could often be found at car shows and races enjoying the industry in which she worked and was a partial owner of a company when she wasn’t behind the counter at Speedway helping customers or at home, raising the couple’s four boys.

She could often be found at car shows and races, supporting Speedway Motors in capacities that were not routinely thought of as women’s roles at that time.

“She is the epitome of the women I hope to be one day,” Lauren Smith, Joyce and Bill’s second eldest granddaughter told us. “She was genuine in everything she did and determined to follow her passion. She was always the hardest worker in the room alongside Bill, and always had a smile on her face. I learned the importance of having a balance of grit and heart. She has rooted me in the automotive industry and showed me that women can do anything they sets their mind to.”

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A hard-working mother, Joyce still found time to spend mornings at home with her boys, be a Cub Scout den mother and even a library volunteer while working 60-plus hour weeks at Speedway. Her faith was always a major part of Joyce’s life and as an adult, she also acted as a Sunday school teacher at the local St. Paul United Methodist Church, a church where she was a member for 59 years.

“Her knowledge of the car industry exceeded many of the tough guys that came on to the scene in the early days. She was a class act with a knack for classic cars.” — Lauren Smith

“Joyce was a trailblazer; the original powerhouse woman,” Grindlay explained. “At a time when there were limitations, she blew those out of the water. She was the first female board member on several boards, a Cub Scout den mother, Sunday school teacher, accounting wizard, business leader, entrepreneur – she did it all.”

She added,”She showcased what it looked like to be successful in this industry and set a path for her children (and now grandchildren) to follow! I don’t even consider being a woman in this industry as a road block – and that’s thanks to the confidence and the gumption that Joyce exuded every day.”

“I think that Joyce was one of the strongest and smartest women to ever come about in the automotive industry,” Smith told us. “She always made things work even when it seemed impossible and constantly supported Bill, her family, and Speedway before herself. Joyce lived an interesting life, full of joy and racing. She was nothing short of an amazing person.”

In addition to being a founding partner in Speedway Motors, Joyce also helped found the commercial real estate company B&J Partnership, which later became known as Speedway Properties. This company earned many local and national awards, including the 1993 Cornerstone Award.

Joyce1A woman of enormous talent, passion and devotion to the hot rod community, Joyce’s dedicated work in the automotive industry earned her many great honors over the years, including being a SEMA Hall of Fame member, an honor she held for over 30 years, as well as having been named the 2005 Goodguys Woman of the Year.

“She’s a role model to any woman in this industry that has ever wondered if they belong here – she’s my reminder every day that women CAN and SHOULD be a part of this industry.” — Betsy Grindlay

Around when SEMA was first started, Joyce was also part of many firsts in the industry, including being the first vendor at the NSRA Street Rod Nationals and witnessing the inception of the now famed Specialty Equipment Market Association. She was also a proud co-founder of the Museum of American Speed, a museum dedicated to generations of racing legends, cars and equipment that holds one of the biggest collections of automotive racing and historical artifacts in the world– a collection Joyce and Speedy Bill worked on for decades building.

Through this museum, which was founded by the couple in 1992 and remains on the Speedway Motors property in Lincoln, Nebraska, Joyce’s knowledge and love of the automotive industry can be experienced. As a quote from Speedy Bill himself on the official website for the museum states, “If you love life, you will love the Smith Collection Museum of American Speed. Here, there are thousands of physical examples from persons who lived, loved, and had the passion for speed.”

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Joyce and “Speedy Bill” Smith were an epic pair in the hot rod industry!

A true trailblazer in the hot rod scene, Joyce never let the fact that she was a woman in a “man’s industry” stop her from pursuing her passions or making her mark in the automotive world. A renowned business woman, Joyce even served and directed many organizations as the first or one of the first female board members over the years.

Though Joyce passed away in August of 2013 following a 34-month battle with leukemia, her love and passion for the industry, as well as her positive attitude and real go-getter spirit live on, inspiring both males and females in the industry. Among them, Joyce and Bill Smith’s oldest granddaughter, Betsy Grindlay who we talked to for this special feature and who works for Speedway Motors, most recently being part of the all-female Speedway T-bucket build we’ll be profiling here on Rod Authority.

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When asked what Joyce might tell a young woman looking to get into the automotive industry if she were alive today, Betsy replied, “She’d probably, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, ask what was stopping you! She loved what she was doing, she was the anchor of the family, of the business, [and] truly an anchor for Bill. She often said that if anyone had told them early in their career that Speedway Motors would end up where it is today – that they’d think it was crazy – and not possible. Simply because she didn’t set out with the absurd idea to revolutionize anything – she worked hard, doing something she enjoyed and success followed. She’d tell anyone to pursue your dreams, put in your time, find something you enjoy doing (in or out of the automobile space) – because you can achieve anything you put your mind too.”

Speedy Bill and Joyce pose in front of one of the many #4X Speedway Motors house cars.

Smith, on the other hand said, “She would probably say learn as much as you can, as often as you can, and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Nothing can replace old-fashioned hard work and you can achieve anything you set your mind to.” She added, “She was ornery and full of life in the automotive industry. Anyone that had the chance to talk with her would leave beaming with a new fiery passion for cars. I think that she would tell young women to be that person to others and to spread their passion for cars around like wildfire.”

Now that’s one heck of an inspiring woman of the automotive world!

About the author

Lindsey Fisher

Lindsey is a freelance writer and lover of anything with a rumble. Hot rods, muscle cars, motorcycles - she's owned and driven it all. When she's not busy writing about them, she's out in her garage wrenching away. Who doesn't love a tech-savy gal that knows her way around a garage?
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