The fight against fascism has taken many different forms including victory on the racetrack thanks to Lucy O’Reilly Schell, 26 October 1896 – 8 June 1952 and René Dreyfus, 6 May 1905 – 16 August 1993.
Lucy O’Reilly was born in Paris of an American father and a French mother. Before the First World War she met Selim Laurence ‘Laury’ Schell, the son of an American diplomat, born in Geneva and living in France, and the couple commenced an affair.
During the First World War, Lucy worked as a nurse, caring for injured servicemen in a Parisian military hospital. In April 1915, along with Laury, she relocated to America. However, in 1917 Lucy and Laury returned to Paris where they married and took up residence.
The couple had two children, Harry born in 1921, and Phillipe born in 1926. They also enjoyed a passion for motor racing, which they pursued with vigour from the late 1920s.
In 1936 Lucy inherited her father’s estate. She used his money to fund development of racing cars tailored to her requirements and became the first American woman to compete in an international Grand Prix. Furthermore, she established her own Grand Prix team.
In the 1930s, Hitler used Grand Prix racing as a metaphor for war and the superiority of his Nazi party. Motivated by her experiences as a nurse and her life in Paris, Lucy established the Écurie Bleue Grand Prix team with the aim of challenging Nazi and Italian supremacy. To that end she developed a car with Delahaye and recruited René Dreyfus, a French Jew blacklisted by the Nazis.
The first race of the 1938 Grand Prix season took place on 10 April at Pau. Lucy’s Écurie Bleue entered two cars driven by Dreyfus and his teammate Comotti while Rudolph Caracciola and Hermann Lang represented Germany in their Mercedes-Benz’s. However, during practice Lang crashed his car and it was deemed unfit to race.
During the race, Caracciola took an early lead, but the winding circuit limited the Mercedes’ greater power. Oil and rubber also made the track slippery. Dreyfus took advantage of these conditions to overtake Caracciola.
The Delahaye had a great advantage over the Mercedes – a much lower rate of fuel consumption. At the half way point, when Caracciola pitted for fuel, Dreyfus drove on and established a lead.
During the pit stop, Caracciola handed over his car to Lang. However, despite facing competition from a fresh driver, Dreyfus powered to victory, winning by over two minutes. Caracciola/Lang finished second while Comotti brought his Écurie Bleue home in third place.
Following the German invasion of France in 1940, Hitler ordered the seizure of Dreyfus’ car. However, to prevent the Delahaye’s destruction, the car was dismantled and the parts hidden.
Sadly, Laury died in a car crash on 18 October 1939 while Lucy was seriously injured in the same accident. During the Second World War, she returned to America with her family.
After the Second World War, Dreyfus became an American citizen and along with his brother Maurice he established a French restaurant in New York, which became a hub for the automobile racing community, a centre that continues to this day.