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HomeAutomobileGoogle Doodle honors Kitty O'Neil, the original 'fastest woman alive'

Google Doodle honors Kitty O’Neil, the original ‘fastest woman alive’

If you’re familiar with the life of Jessi Combs, then you’re probably familiar with the term “The Fastest Woman Alive” as combs earned posthumously the female land speed record after a tragic accident in the Oregon desert in 2019. Before that though Combs’ massive speed runs, Kitty O’Neil set records in the 1970s, even surpassing the men of her day. Today, Google honored O’Neil with a Doodle, so it’s time for a quick history lesson on the original “Fastest Woman Alive.”

O’Neil was born in Texas in the mid-1940s, and despite battling several childhood illnesses that caused her to lose her hearing, she became a competitive diver in her teens. She had great success, but a training accident while preparing for the 1964 Olympics resulted in a broken wrist and meningitis that could have prevented her from walking.

She went to swimming events but eventually lost her spark for water sports and switched to faster activities like water skiing and skydiving. Amazingly, she experienced another medical setback in her late 30s when she underwent cancer treatment.

In search of increasingly dangerous roller coaster rides, O’Neil turned to racing in the 1970s, competing in the Mint 400 and Baja 500. From there, she transitioned into stunt work, becoming the first woman to work with Stunts Unlimited, a major talent agency. She was involved in “The Bionic Woman” and “Smokey and the Bandit II” and prompted Mattel to create a Kitty O’Neil action figure.

In 1976, O’Neil ventured into the southeastern Oregon desert to set the land speed record for female drivers. She averaged more than 812 km/h and a top speed of 621 km/h, and later said she only used 60 percent of the car’s available power because she believed she would have exceeded 700 km/h at full power. However, her contract with sponsors prevented her from passing male driver Hal Needham, although he did not even get behind the wheel to record a speed.

In later life, O’Neil slowed down her stunt and driving careers after seeing colleagues being killed in action. She ended her career with 22 land and water speed records. She died of pneumonia in late 2018 at the age of 72 and was honored during the In Memoriam portion of the Oscars in 2019.



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