Monday, October 29, 2012

A Date With Arlene

Driver and Sponsor- Arlene Hiss and Pete Reynolds

 A little while back we did an update on our Opel racing story, and on how we sponsored a driver named Arlene Hiss who not only won the SCCA Showroom Stock Championship, but also went on to be the first woman to race an Indy car and then successfully raced on the USAC Circuit. All in all an interesting part of the Reynolds racing story.

So when we happened to find that she was living in Lake Elsinore, we thought it would be more than a little bit of fun to go down and take her to lunch. So with retired dealer Pete Reynolds, his son Don who is now in charge of all day to day activities, and retired Sales Manager Spence Lyon who recalls her from back in the day, we did exactly that. We wanted to fill in some of the background of the story.

We found out that Arlene wasn't just a lady who decided to race her daily driver, but that she began racing Austin Healey Sprites in SCCA right after college around 1962. She had gotten interested when she had a boyfriend who raced SCCA, and the racing bug outlasted that relationship. Although she became a teacher, it probably wasn't random that she married a race driver, and it wasn't random that she came in and bought that white Opel 1900. She thought it was the best performing car in the Showroom Stock class and that's how we came to meet her- on our showroom floor, where we've met so many friends over the years.

It was only after she bought the car that she saw our name on the sides of other Opels and asked Pete Reynolds if he would sponsor her- he readily agreed. It was primarily a monetary donation, although there was one race day when she rolled across the service drive in full race attire for a quick repair. It must have gone well, because she did win the SCCA Showroom Stock Championship that year.

The little German Opel that had done so well in SCCA Showroom Stock was replaced in 1976 by a Japanese made product, and our Opel racing story came to a close. Arlene went on that year to be the first woman to drive an Indy Car in a USAC race, the Jimmy Bryan 150 USAC National Championship Race in Phoenix, on March 14, 1976. Although she did finish the race, she didn't find the open wheel racer to her liking and switched to more conventional USAC Stock Cars for the remainder of the season.

Arlene switched gears again after the 1976 season, and parked the racing cars in order to pursue an acting career. She later built a recording studio in Lake Elsinore and played in Bluegrass and Dixieland bands. Today she teaches for online colleges and remembers her racing days fondly. It was a great pleasure to spend the afternoon with her and  relive another chapter of Reynolds' racing history.

Pete Reynolds, Arlene Hiss, and Don Reynolds

Arlene Hiss with her SCCA Champion Reynolds Opel, circa 1975

Arlene Hiss in her Indy Car , 1976

Arlene behind the wheel of a USAC racer, 1976

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