Mad for Speed

The Racing Life of Joan Newton Cuneo


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About the Book

This book covers Joan Newton Cuneo’s life, and her roles (from 1905 to 1915) as the premier female racer in the United States and spokeswoman for women drivers and good roads. Beginning with her family history and marriage to Andrew Cuneo, it traces her life in New York society, the birth of her children, and Joan’s growing interest in automobile touring and racing and partnership with Louis Disbrow, her racing mechanic. The book covers Joan’s experiences in three Glidden Tours, including her notes on the 1907 tour, her first races, and her rivals. It also looks at the growth and change of automobile culture and the battles for control of racing among the American Automobile Association, the Automobile Club of America, and the American Automobile Manufacturers Association—which ended in banishing women racers shortly after Joan’s greatest racing victories at New Orleans (in 1909). The book then follows Joan’s attempts to continue racing, the end of her marriage, her move to the Upper Peninsula, and her remarriage and death. The book also includes a chapter on her female rivals in racing and touring.

About the Author(s)

Elsa A. Nystrom is a professor of history at Kennesaw State University. She lives in Marietta, Georgia.

Bibliographic Details

Elsa A. Nystrom

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 232
Bibliographic Info: 47 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2013
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7093-8
eISBN: 978-1-4766-0271-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Foreword: In Search of Cousin Joan (by Dick Newton) 1
Preface 7
Introduction 9
1. From Holyoke to New York 13
2. Joan Newton Cuneo Learns to Drive 28
3. Mrs. Cuneo Makes the News! 47
4. “A case of love at first sight” 61
5. The 1907 Glidden Tour and Other Challenges 74
6. Queen for a Day 89
7. The Great Mardi Gras Races 105
8. Banished! 119
9. Joan Cuneo’s Swan Song—On to Atlanta 134
10. Winding Down 145
11. Bankruptcy, Scandal, Divorce 158
12. Contemporaries and Rivals: American Women Racers and Tourists, 1900–1920 167
Epilogue 183
Appendix I: Joan Newton Cuneo’s Cars (by Elsa Nystrom) 189
Appendix II: Racing the Knox (by Dick Newton) 191
Chapter Notes 195
Bibliography 211
Index 215

Book Reviews & Awards

“very readable book on a fascinating woman and belongs in every racing and automobile library”—Antique Automobile; “a work of impressive and deftly written scholarship…a valued contribution”—Midwest Book Review; “the surest way your reviewer knows to encourage researcher/writers like Elsa Nystrom, and publishers like McFarland, to continue to produce such quality tomes is to encourage you to acquire a copy of this book for your library. And don’t merely shelve it, but take the time to read first for you’ll enjoy ‘making the acquaintance’ of Joan Newton Cuneo”—SAH Journal; “colorful story…McFarland deserves praise for championing such projects”—SpeedReaders; “As a passionate student of auto racing history, especially the formative years of the early 20th Century, I am especially grateful to Elsa Nystrom for her diligent investigation and recording of the incredible life of Joan Cuneo. The story of this auto racing pioneer is essential reading for anyone who appreciates motorsport or is intrigued by the role of women making their mark on American culture. Elsa’s thorough research and breezy writing style insures the time you spend with this engaging biography will be a great investment in not only your education but entertainment as well.”—Mark Dill, former Vice President, Marketing, Indianapolis Motor Speedway; “How wonderful Elsa went to the trouble to do so much research to uncover the life of Joan Newton Cuneo, a woman who would appear to be before her time, but as you read this fabulous story you’ll also learn about other women automobilists who lived in this era. Intertwined in her story are stories on the history of the automotive industry, auto racing sanctioning organizations, events, tracks and people, roads and highways, and women’s roles in society. So much information and knowledge is packed into this exciting book.”—Lyn St. James, race car driver and founder of Project Podium.