Betty, with Cyclops builder Art Arfons (left) and a U.S. Auto Club
official, holds a sign showing her average speed of 277.62 mph
to set the women’s land speed record.
president in the history of the company with the title
of director of special projects for Chevrolet, General
Motors, the Florida Citrus Commission, Firestone, and
several other clients. In her role for Chevrolet, she
served as a technical liaison coordinator between the
sales and engineering department on annual events such
as the Mobil Economy Run, Pure Oil Performance Trials,
and Trans-Canada Rally.
But her primary assignment was promoting the
Corvette. “Things were pretty shaky for the Corvette in
’ 55 and ’ 56,” she said. “That was one of the reasons I was
hired.” She was put to work appearing at major events in
businesslike with what you’re doing, you don’t have the problem of
men discriminating against you. Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell were
all wonderful to me. They sent me to Daytona, and I paced almost all
the NASCAR races that year.”
Betty remained with Campbell Ewald throughout the ’60s and
participated in a number of demonstrations to showcase the dura-
bility of Chevrolets, including record transcontinental runs in
North and South America and a Baja run for Chevy trucks. She
appeared at auto shows, on television commercials, and in maga-
zine advertisements for Chevrolet, as well as in several Camel
cigarettes magazine ads.
In 1959, Betty interrupted her burgeoning advertising/driving
career to become involved with the NASA space program. “In
April that year, there was a big press conference to announce the
original seven Mercury astronauts,” Betty said. “Life
magazine rushed in there and bought the rights to their
stories. Look magazine got upset and went to NASA so
they could get onboard the publicity thing, too. Look
asked if they could bring a woman in to go through all of
the tests. They knew that I was probably one of the bet-
So Betty obtained permission from Campbell Ewald
management to take a short leave. “I went
with a Look camera crew, and we did all these tests. But
NASA was not at all happy about it. I felt they
had been forced into it. Look ran it as a cover story. But
the magazine became very unhappy with me, because
after I got to see the intelligent side of what NASA
wanted to accomplish, I didn’t feel that they needed a
woman, and the magazine thought I should have taken a
stand to become the first woman.
“I felt back then that it would be 20 to 25 years before a
“There is only one reason why an
woman would go up, and I was right. Sally Ride went up in 1983,
20 years after Valentina Tereshkova flew for Russia in June 1963.
I heard someone on the radio that morning just raising hell about
NASA for not having a woman. So I went in and wrote a follow-up
article stating my point of view.”
“I’d give my life to be part of our space program,” Betty wrote.
American woman should be in
space–because she is qualified
to be there.”–Betty Skelton
a specially built Corvette developed by Bill Mitchell and
Harley Earl. “It was a 1957 Corvette in pearlescent gold.
It had white leather, and everything was custom. The
seats had little pleats, and even the footwells and seat
belts were a gold color.
“Bill Mitchell always had the girls around him, but
this was the first time they ever had a woman who truly
knew how to handle a car. I found that if you’re