Judy Smith was born in Connecticut and moved to California in 1947. She graduated from Venice High School in 1950 and married Val Smith the following year. They had two children, daughter Dominy and son Amery. Judy graduated from UCLA in the early sixties, where she majored in design. She went on to graduate school, but the responsibilities of raising two children eventually made it too difficult to continue. “My husband became a dirt bike racer in the early ‘50s, and I was his pit crew and chase person for several years. This was in the period when Bud Ekins was the big hero in the desert. He was also a personal friend, and when, in 1970, I read that he had won the Baja 1000 it astounded me. I had never considered the fact that race drivers were just ordinary people. I knew Bud well enough to know that he was just people, and therefore I was convinced that if he could race in the Baja 1000, I could too. So I did.”
Judy started racing in 1971. Her first race was the Baja 500 in a Volkswagen sedan with co-driver, Muriel Heath. “We finished about 10th in class and had already decided we’d do it some more. But the car died in the Mexican 1000 in ’71, literally broke in two, and was fodder for the local dump. By then I had a single seat Funco Hustler in the works. I first raced it in an ARVRA race in January of ’72. I rolled it over, landed on my wheels, but didn’t hurt it. I loved the fact that I was alone in the car with nobody telling me where to go or what to do.”
About this time, Judy started working part time for Scott McKenzie at Sand-Master. She had joined FAIR (First Association of Independent Racers) and was helping with their newsletter. For several years Judy wrote the newsletter, and also started writing a column about FAIR for Stan Parnell’s monthly Off Road Action News. She wrote several items for Hot VWs in the mid ‘70s and in ’77, after her marriage with Val ended in divorce, she started writing articles for Off-Road Action News and also for Fred Horton’s Off-Road Advertiser. “I did a column called ‘The Losers’ and would talk to all the racers who had not finished a race, and write their stories, because I often felt that the non-finishers, especially those that struggled before they finally gave up, had the best stories. I loved doing the Losers, but when Jean started having me write regular race stories (for the newly created Dusty Times) there was no time – so I just got in the habit of incorporating the Loser stuff into the race story. I always thought it made the stories more interesting. I still do.”
Judy also wrote a number of articles for various SCORE publications in the late ‘70s such as histories of the Baja 500 and 1000 and short biographies of season points winners. She continued to race sporadically, through the late seventies and into the mid eighties with Jean Calvin or John Howard, who became her second husband in 1998. In 2002, Judy & John seized the opportunity to make the peninsula run one more time and drove the first half of the Baja 1000 in Jim Kirby’s 5-1600 Baja Bug. Jim took over on the final leg to become the last official finisher in the grueling 1000-mile race, while Judy jumped in the van and drove the rest of the way to La Paz so she could be on hand to report the final results of the race for Dusty Times.
Learn more about ORMHOF inductee Judy Smith in this Conversations with Big Rich podcast:
In 2023, Rich got a chance to interview Judy by telephone with her nurse, Jennifer facilitating the call. In Judy’s own words, she doesn’t get out much anymore, but the spirit is willing if you’d like a companion to a race. The oral history of the ones who came before is such a treasure. Thanks for paving the road, Judy.
6:14 – back then, California teenagers were very different from Connecticut teenagers
10:59 – that’s good for women, and I wondered what I could do?
19:13 – I was always happy if there was another racer broken in the same place
23:25 – no one was there to say, “you didn’t do that right”
30:06 – I remember one guy telling me if I ever beat him, he wouldn’t come back – I don’t know whatever happened to him.
38:56 – how could you be that dumb on a place like the Peninsula and not know where South is?
Take a look at one of Judy’s “Loser” stories here: https://simplebooklet.com/1988volume5number3dustytimesmagazine#page=25
Digitizing Dusty Times has been an ongoing project of the Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame, we are fortunate to get to access the writing of history.
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