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  • Diane Mague Stanley

"There goes your mother"

Updated: Jan 4, 2019


This week’s topic is “Lucky” and the one person I can think of who was really lucky was my maternal grandmother, Big Grandma, who I introduced last week. Her name was Kitty Saunders and she was a powder puff derby racer of the 1930’s in New Jersey. She was ahead of her time in testing the limits of what women could achieve in typically male fields and was something of a daredevil. As is the case today, there was more news generated when something bad happened to her, than if it had been something good.


Kitty and her husband, Raymond Conrad, shared a love of fast cars and racing. Raymond was a certified riding race car mechanic[1] and Kitty was a driver. She drove their own car, the Conrad Special, No. 49, a sprint car. Sunday was usually racing day. Church was not on the agenda for the Conrads, but a family outing to the races was. Raymond, Kitty, and their four kids would pile in the car and head for the local speedway where Kitty raced the other women drivers on the powder puff circuit.


The country was still in the grips of the Great Depression that Sunday in June 1933 when Kitty was entered to race at the New Market, New Jersey, Raceway. Kitty and Raymond had been quarreling that day and Kitty was feeling defiant. That’s when she took the curve a bit too fast. The crowd, including her children, gasped in horror from the grandstand as Kitty lost control of the Conrad Special and it barreled off the track into a group of trees, skidded onto its side, and rolled over. A little boy standing next to my mother, who she knew from other weekends at the races, calmly leaned over to her and said, “There goes your mother,” very matter-of-factly.



The newly formed Arbor Rescue Squad from Piscataway sprang into action. This was one of the first rescues made by the squad, an event remembered proudly by the organization to this day.[2] Kitt dislocated her hip and was pierced in the forehead with a tree limb. Amazingly, Kitty even won that race, because all the other cars were behind her, and they had accidents too caused by Kitty’s roll-over. Kitty was still technically in the lead even as she was carried off the track.


Kitty’s accident made all the newspapers. Not just locally, but as far away as South Carolina. Back in the 1930’s, it was big enough news for a woman to engage in such a male dominated sport and the accident only added to the news excitement. These were the days of Amelia Earhart and other female daredevils. Kitty counted herself among that sisterhood. The newspapers played up the fact that she was a woman and a mother with headlines like, “Racing Mother Outflirts with Death.”[3] Kitty vowed in one article to race again the following weekend, but she was in fact seriously injured and that was her last race.


Big Grandma still had the scar on her forehead many years later when her racing career was far behind her. She would regale us grandkids with all the details of the big crash. On that day, she was indeed a lucky woman.



SOURCES

[1] A riding mechanic was approved to accompany the driver during races like the Indy 500. Raymond was chosen to be the riding mechanic for ray Keech in 1929, but sadly Keech was killed in an accident shortly before the indy 500. “Keech Killed, Woodbury is Hurt in Crash,” Altoona (Pennsylvania) Tribune, June 17, 1929, p. 1.


[2] “History of the Arbor Rescue Squad.” Arbor Rescue Squad (http://arborrescue.org/ : accessed 14 March 2018).


[3] Morning News, Florence, South Carolina (online archive), "Racing Mother Outflirts Death," Morning News (Florence, South Carolina), Thursday, June 22, 1933; website and access date not recorded.


© 2016-2018 Diane Mague Stanley ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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© 2016-2018 Diane Mague Stanley ALL RIGHTS RESERVED