Taking chances, living life to the fullest and doing whatever she wanted no matter what obstacle stood in her way is what Betty Skelton was known for. That and proving women could do just about anything when it came to cars and planes. Unfortunately, after 85 years of life, Skelton passed away on August 31st. Joining friends, family and fans, E3 Spark Plugs took a moment to reflect on Skelton’s life and passions, and say goodbye to the dynamic woman.
Skelton was born in Florida in 1926. At a young age, Skelton found her passion for airplanes- playing with toy models and spending time at the local airfield, learning as much as she could from the pilots. Skelton made her first solo flight illegally when she was 12 and legally when she was 16. By age 18, she had her commercial pilot’s license and became a certified flight instructor.
After acquiring her pilot’s license, Skelton took on aerobatics and performed at air shows across the country. Holding the U.S. Female Aerobatics Championship title from 1948 to 1950, Skelton set the world altitude record at 25,763 feet in 1949, only to set it at 29,050 in 1951. Considering her aerobatics as art rather than stunts, cutting a ribbon with her propeller as she flew 10 feet from the ground upside down was her most memorable aerobatic act.
In 1953, Skelton retired from aerobatics and met Bill France Sr., the founder of NASCAR. Upon France’s invitation, Skelton drove a pace car at Daytona Beach, setting the women’s stock-car speed record at 105mph. Skelton went on to be the first female Indy Car driver and to set several more automotive speed records. In 1956, she broke the transcontinental speed record for her trip from New York to Los Angeles in 57 hours. She also became the first female technical narrator at auto shows in 1956. Skelton test-drove Corvettes, started the Corvette News magazine and was inducted in 10 halls of fame in her lifetime as well.
To lose a legend like Skelton is always tough. But her legend and what she did for women in the aviation and automotive industries will live on forever. Thanks goes out to E3 Spark Plugs for honoring Skelton and helping us remember the fantastic woman, daredevil and limit-pusher that was Ms. Betty Skelton.