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The Ossining Hill Climb of June 18, 1910

by Warren Rosenberg, MetroSports Magazine June 11, 2022

Before there was the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb race in 1916, and about the time of the Mt. Washington Hill Climb in New Hampshire starting in 1904, there were several local New York metro area hill climb races at sites in Ossining, White Plains, New Haven CT, West Orange NJ, and the Fort George area in Manhattan. Before there were winning female racecar drivers like Janet Guthrie, Shirley Muldowney, Danica Patrick, Pippa Mann or, more locally, Cold Spring’s Aurora Straus and Mamaroneck’s Kristina Esposito, there was New York City’s Joan Cuneo, one of America’s top racecar drivers of the early 1900s.

June 18, 2022 is the 112th anniversary of one of the early American motorsports events, the Ossining Hill Climb. Unfortunately, although the automobile that won the race was owned by one of the nation’s first female racecar drivers, Joan Cuneo, it wasn’t driven by Joan. Just one year earlier the Contest Board of the race’s sanctioning body, the American Automobile Association (AAA), banned women from competing in AAA sanctioned races.

The reason for this banishment, as relayed by Ms. Cuneo, was “During the three day Mardi Gras meet on the dirt track at New Orleans in 1909, competing with the greatest men drivers, I was unfortunate enough to break some records winning the gold trophy for the American amateur championship, two silver cups, a Rockwood vase, and a gold Klaxon horn. The surprise was too much of a shock for the men, and the American Automobile Association ruled that no more women were to be allowed to compete in their sanctioned events. In the hill climbs at Wilkesbarre, Ossining, and Port Jefferson I entered my racing car, with a friend driving it, and won events in all.”(1)

Louis Disbrow, a close friend and racing colleague, piloted Joan’s Knox Giantess car to win the Ossining Hill Climb, completing the course in 57.34 seconds and breaking the previous record of 58 seconds set in a Stanley Steamer automobile.

Such disappointment was nothing new to Ms. Cuneo. As noted in a previous article in MetroSports Magazine (April 2017), Joan Cuneo was also denied entry into the 1908 Briarcliff Trophy Race, an event held on a 32 mile road course through the towns of Briarcliff, Millwood, Yorktown, Mt. Kisco, Armonk, Valhalla, and Pleasantville which was run on April 24, 1908.

The “track”, climbing Sunset Hill, which was used in the Ossining Hill Climb race still exists in pretty much its original form, except it is now paved. The track ran along a section of what is now Ryder Road and began, heading east, close to where it crosses over Route 9, continuing uphill, at an average 11% grade, for approximately .7 miles past the current location of the Brookside School and ending near the Maryknoll Seminaries.

Unfortunately this prominent female racer of the early twentieth century, who had dominated races and set several speed records early in her racing career, never fully recovered from being banished from racing against men and dedicated herself to writing and charity work. What a tragedy for American automobile racing.

Cited reference: (1) Country Life in America, Volume 25, November 1913 via Google Books


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