In an industry dominated by male drivers, there are only a handful of women who have dared to amaze the motorsports scene. One of these women is the audacious great grandmother of six, still competing in vintage go-kart racing.
While most of us associate old age with settling down, taking things easy and enjoying retirement, Faye “Ladybug” Pierson, a celebrity of vintage kart racing is still getting out on the track. She’s the first woman to be inducted into the World Karting Association Hall of Fame and has been a star attraction of kart racing since the late 1950’s.
It might not be considered as extreme as professional car racing but professional go-karting is no joke. With some karts exceeding speeds of 120km per hour and largely exposed drivers, go karting is considered a “stepping stone” by many for professional car racing.
Art Ingels and Lou Borelli constructed the first motorised kart in California, 1956. They attached a West Bend lawnmower engine to a tubular chassis. After seeing the kart, Duffy Livingstone decides to build two of his own. It isn’t long before more people are making their very own motorised go-karts.
Faye “Ladybug” Pierson got her first taste of go-karts nearly 60 years ago when her husband Tom and their friends decided to build several karts.
“I got my first ride on a kit kart Christmas day 1957,” Pierson told vintagekarts.com, “It had a dropped front axle, round steering wheel, drum brake and west bend engine- the first “bug” kart.”
Pierson and fellow kart makers and drivers would regularly meet in shopping centre car parks on weekends to race and were part of an ‘infamous gang’ frequently chased off by the police.
It was shortly after this that Faye and her late husband Tom Pierson founded Bug Engineering, which later became K&P Manufacturing, the oldest kart manufacturer still operating today.
“We bought a big Greyhound bus and loaded ten karts on the roof and took the team up and down California, sometimes making two different races on a weekend. It was always tough, getting up Monday morning, sore, and sending two boys off to school and me to the “Bug” office.” she told vintagekarts.com
GoKart Manufacturing built the first go-kart track facility in Azusa California, in 1958, which had a straightaway long enough for the karts to reach speeds close to 100km per hour. In 1959, the first Grand National was held at the Azusa racetrack and after initially being banned due to a fierce rivalry Bug Engineering’s team were finally allowed to compete with Faye “Ladybug” taking out 2nd place in the A class finals.
While the popularity of go-kart racing continued to explode across the globe, “Ladybug” Pierson spent the next two years competing in “100 milers” across North America. In 1961, she was invited to join a fourteen “man” team to race in England and Italy. She finished second in England but came into some trouble in Italy after there was a decision to “Import an Italian engine for production and mounted a Saetta engine on my “Bug”.” She was assigned a non-English speaking Italian mechanic, which made things difficult resulting in her dropping the chain due to the size of the gear.
The following year Pierson was injured at Riverside International Raceway while testing a sports car, forcing her into recovery for a year. After this incident, her husband asked her to quit and so she did for the next 40 years.
It was only in 2002 that Faye “Ladybug” Pierson found herself tempted back to the track. After persistent encouragement, Faye found herself competing in the first Karting Olympics picking held in West Quincy, Missouri.
Since then she has been competing again in various karting events beating people half her age. She told Los Angles Times, “I still run as hard as I can. I’m not as fast or brave as I used to be in the corners. But I flatfoot it all the way down to the turns.”
With a motto like, “You may never be too old to do the things you used to do.” It’s no wonder that the lively great grandmother has no plans of slowing down, her friends are building her a V-8, 4-speed racing Fiero and she says, “I’m like good wine – I’ll improve with age.”