The first female owner to win Australia’s most famous motor race, the Bathurst 1000, was conceived in a Kings Cross jail cell to a prostitute mother and corrupt police officer father.
Standing at just over five foot tall with bleached blonde hair and tattoos covering her body, Betty Klimenko is certainly not the typical V8 supercar team owner.
Klimenko, who owns the Erebus team, was taken to an adoption home by her drug-addicted mother as a seven-week-old baby. It was there that an Auschwitz survivor with hardly a cent to his name instantly fell in love with her bright blue eyes.
His name was John Saunders and he adopted her on the spot, going on to found the world’s biggest shopping centre chain Westfield – worth about $63 billion today.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph in 2013, the heiress to her late father’s billion-dollar fortune spoke in-depth about her incredible life story.
‘I was a product of the Kings Cross jail. My father found his way into the cell and I was conceived. ‘ she told the publication.
‘Apparently my mother had three other girls and put them all up for adoption straight away. But for some reason she wanted to keep me.’
It wasn’t until Betty was eight years old she found out her parents John and Eta, both Hungarian Jews, had adopted her as a blonde-haired baby.
The tragic death of her adopted mother and the birth of her father’s shopping centre chain business when she was 10 resulted in teenage years spent isolated from family with nannies who ‘didn’t care about her’.
Despite her father’s physical absence, he instilled a work ethic that Klimenko says has stuck with her for life, making her work in his centres from the age of 13.
Betty’s first marriage broke down after just five years,and she soon fell in love with another man named Daniel, who at 19 was almost half her age.
The pair secretly married in Las Vegas, but her millionaire father disapproved of him because he wasn’t Jewish and the pair suffered a falling out.
Without her father’s financial support, she went from luxury to poverty.
‘I went from having limitless money to earning $19,000 a year,’ Betty told the Daily Telegraph.
‘I remember standing out the front of Coles waiting for the expired meat to come out because we couldn’t afford to eat.
Betty and her father reconciled before his death in 1997 at the age of 74. She said it took trustees close to a decade to sort out his will, worth over a billion dollars.
Taking a significant, but undisclosed, chunk of that fortune – Betty began pouring her newfound money into pursuits she was passionate about – one being car racing.
She previously admitted to spending more than $40 million on Erebus Motorsport, transforming the team from an underdog unit into a racing powerhouse.
And on Sunday, years of belief paid off when an Erebus Motorsport Supercar V8 driven by David Reynolds and Luke Youlden crossed the finish line first.
Taking to social media on Monday morning, Betty praised her team, the fans and the sport she loves, writing: ‘It was a very emotional and f***ing awesome day.’
‘To the fans … like I have said many times, we are all motorsport lovers, (we) just have a favourite team and driver.’
‘We all love the one thing that brings it, and us, all together, and that is the sport.’