Champion driver, Bridgeville resident Donna Mae Mims dies at 82
By Jessica Turnbull
Monday, October 12, 2009

Donna Mae Mims wanted to be behind the steering wheel when friends said goodbye to the woman who made history when she became the first female to win the Sports Car Club of America championship in 1963.

On Monday, a standing-room-only crowd bid farewell to Mims in her signature pink outfit as she sat in the driver's seat of her beloved pink 1979 Corvette for a final time at Beinhauer's funeral home in Peters, Washington County.

"They got it in, though I don't know how," said Don Baker, a close friend. "The doors only allowed about an inch and a half on either side."

Mims, 82, of Bridgeville died Tuesday of a stroke. She was known as the "Pink Lady" of sports car racing for her signature color blonde hair dyed pink and "Think Pink" emblazoned across her cars. Her favorite car had a portrait of Marilyn Monroe on the hood.

Mims, who grew up in Dormont, was introduced to racing after she and her former husband bought a Corvette. He wouldn't let her paint it pink, so she put what would become her motto "Think Pink" on the side. When the two split, she kept his name, the car and a love of racing, Baker said.

"People always ask me if all this pink talk is a gag or a publicity stunt. Absolutely not. I just happen to like pink I feel pink. It's a girl color, and I'm a girl," Mims told Vintage Motorsport Magazine in 2005.

After she retired from racing in the 1970s, she helped start the Steeltown Corvette Club and the Three Rivers Corvette Club, while volunteering with the Sports Car Club of America and the Corvette Club of Western Pennsylvania.

She worked for Yenko Chevrolet and Yenko Sports Car division, said Tom Clary, president of the Yenko Sports Car Club.

About 40 Corvettes Mims' favorite car took part in the funeral procession from Beinhauer's to a post-service luncheon.

Baker said Mims will be cremated. Some of her ashes will be placed in the North Hills cemetery plot of a favorite uncle, some at the finish line of the old Cumberland Airport race site and some at the Beaver Run Race Track.

The Corvette may be donated to the National Corvette Musuem or to the Frick Museum, Baker said. But Baker said Mims' life was about more than racing, made evident by a stranger's story offered at the funeral service.

The man recalled biking through South Hills Village in 1976 when he crashed and broke his elbow. Mims came across him during one of her regular jogs and offered to help, calling the ambulance. Since he was without his identification, Mims went to his house after ringing the wrong doorbell and scaring the neighbors found the injured man's wallet and sat with him at the hospital, Baker said.

"He said he had never seen her again until he saw her obituary and said he had to come," Baker said. "She was a good person who was just full of life."

Dan BelBianco, executive director of the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, said about half of those at the service attended Mims' church, Mt. Lebanon United Methodist Church.

"She was more than just this crazy racer," BelBianco said. "She was a person who loved everyone and was loved."

BelBianco said he got to know Mims as a volunteer at the Grand Prix. He knew her only as the funny lady who loved pink until someone told him about Mims' racing background.

"I asked her, and she talked about it, but only in terms of telling funny stories, nothing bragging about it," he said. "She was so humble."

Mims was going to serve as the honorary race director for the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix next year. BelBianco said she will be honored at the event.

In 1972, Mims organized a three-woman team to participate in the original Brook Yates' Cannonball Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash. The race became famous in the 1981 movie starring Burt Reynolds and Farrah Fawcett. Actress Adrienne Barbeau played Mims.

The Cannonball Run was an illegal cross-country race from New York to Los Angeles, which took about 36 hours to complete.

Mims' team, in a Cadillac limousine, didn't make it to the finish line. A team member fell asleep at the wheel in Texas and flipped the car. Mims, asleep in the back seat, recalled waking up and thinking she was in a washing machine, Baker said.

The crash caused a cigar box full of money to pay speeding fines to tumble.

"It's raining money," Mims told Baker.

Mims walked away from the crash with a broken collarbone, but she feared the worst. That's because a Spanish-speaking doctor backed away while examining her. He told a translator that Mims' hands and face were both green.

The porta-potty in the car, which had been emptied at the previous pit stop, had spilled chemicals all over Mims, turning her green.

"She was happy and funny and always dressed in pink," BelBianco said.

Jessica Turnbull can be reached at or .