Kathy climbing into George Drolsom's Porsche, 1983
Kathy Rude was born in 1957. She is most remembered for racing in major sportscar events, in the early 1980s. She started her career with karting in the 1970s, and progressed through Formula Ford and Formula Atlantic, racing in Atlantics for at least one season, in 1979.
1980 saw Kathy make her move into major sportscar racing. She had attracted the attention of several team owners, and was being tipped by some as a future Indycar hopeful. Driving Tom Nehl’s Chevrolet Camaro, she entered the Daytona 24 Hours, with Nehl and Peter Kirill. They were 25th, eighth in the GTO class, after limping to the end with engine trouble.
In 1981, she was signed up by Kent Racing, and expanded her competition programme. Her car was a Mazda RX-7, and her usual co-driver was Lee Mueller. Her return to Daytona at the start of the season went well: Kathy, Lee and Philippe Martin were seventh overall, and third in the GTU class. Unfortunately, Kathy’s first Sebring 12 Hours did not go as smoothly. She and Divina Galica were classified 31st in the RX-7 after not making the finish. This was after qualifying fourth in their heat, along with Lee Mueller. Driving solo, Kathy was then fourteenth in the Road Atlanta IMSA race. In the Riverside 6 Hours, she and Divina could only manage a lowly 36th. It was better for Kathy and Lee in the Pocono IMSA round: they were ninth. On her first trip to Europe, driving Quirin Bovy’s Camaro, she did not finish the Spa 24 Hours. However, her best result of the year came on another “away” race, the Suzuka 1000km. She and Yoshimi Katayama were third in the Kent Mazda.
She remained with Kent in 1982, and her season this year was focused on the IMSA championship, in the USA. Teaming up with Lee Mueller again for Daytona at the start of the season, she achieved a class win and a sixth place overall, becoming the first woman to win her class in that event. Allan Moffat was the third driver.
In the same car, but now driving for Rick Knoop, the pair entered the Sebring 12 Hours, but did not drive. They were back with Kent for the Riverside 6 Hours, but in a Toyota Celica rather than the Mazda. They were 31st. At Charlotte, they fared somewhat better, coming 13th. The next time they drove together was at Mosport, Lee Mueller or Rick Knoop having tackled the single-driver races. They were fourteenth, fifth in class. At Road America, they were 22nd, fourth in class, and at Mid-Ohio, 24th. Road Atlanta gave them a 26th place. Their last race of the season together saw them fourteenth at Pocono.
1983 saw Kathy back in the IMSA series, beginning with the Daytona 24 Hours. By this time, she was no longer racing with the Kent team, and was driving a Porsche 924 run by Brumos Racing. For Daytona, it was an all-female team of Kathy, Deborah Gregg, and Bonnie Henn. They were thirteenth, one place below Kathy’s former team-mate Lee Mueller in a Kent Mazda. The same trio was less fortunate in the Sebring 12 Hours, only managing 35th. This event was never Kathy’s best one. Her next outing was Road Atlanta, in the same car, with Deborah Gregg. They were 20th, fourth in class. At Riverside, they were down the order again in 43rd, after failing to finish. After missing the Laguna Seca round, they were seventeenth at Charlotte, fifth in class.
A couple of rounds later, Kathy reappeared in George Drolsom’s 934, with him as co-driver. They were fourteenth at Mid-Ohio. At Brainerd in July, she had switched teams again, and was driving a Porsche 935 with Greg Pusey. Sadly, this proved to be her last major sportscar race. On the 59th lap, she was involved in an incident with another car*, and flipped the Porsche at 140mph. The car caught fire immediately. Kathy received serious burns, and multiple orthopaedic and internal injuries. She was in a coma for several weeks after the crash, and underwent a series of surgeries and blood transfusions, as well as a lengthy rehabilitation programme. Fortunately, she survived her ordeal, and even returned to the tracks for a few smaller events, most notably the 1985 Toyota Pro Celebrity Long Beach race. However, she never got the chance to take up the Indycar seat for 1984 that she had arranged. Her career is one of the great “could have been” scenarios of motor racing, as she was well-respected as a driver and earmarked for great things by some.
During her convalescence, she married Ludwig Heimrath Jr., a fellow sportscar racer. She now works as a driving safety instructor and public speaker, and has also survived breast cancer.
*Details of the crash have been redacted. This is partly due to conflicting evidence, and partly due to ambivalence over detailed reporting of accidents on Speedqueens.
(Photo by Mark Windecker)