Kitty O’Neil

Record-breaking Stuntwoman Continues to Leave a Mark

Kitty O'Neil's life was a testament to courage, resilience, and the power of determination. Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, O'Neil faced adversity from an early age. An illness during infancy left her deaf, and she battled additional health challenges throughout her life, including overcoming spinal meningitis and two bouts of cancer. 

Despite these obstacles, O'Neil refused to be defined by her disabilities. As a teenager, she found comfort and success in the world of competitive diving, winning Amateur Athletic Union championships under the guidance of her coach, Sammy Lee. However, her Olympic dreams were halted by a wrist injury and a bout of spinal meningitis, redirecting her focus to new challenges. 

Undeterred by setbacks, O'Neil embraced a life of adventure, pursuing water skiing, scuba diving, skydiving, and hang gliding with a fearless spirit. In 1970, she transitioned to the world of motorsports, competing in races such as the Baja 500 and the Mint 400. 

It was O'Neil's groundbreaking achievements in the realm of speed racing that truly set her apart. In 1976, she shattered the women's land-speed record, reaching an astonishing 512.7 miles per hour in a rocket-powered vehicle—a feat that earned her the title of "the fastest woman in the world." Her record-breaking run in southeastern Oregon's Alvord Desert remains unmatched to this day. 

Kitty O'Neil  Kitty O'Neil  Kitty O'Neil  Kitty O'Neil 

However, her legacy extends beyond the race track. A fearless stuntwoman, she performed death-defying feats in Hollywood films, including "Airport '77," "The Blues Brothers," and "Smokey and the Bandit II." Her unparalleled skill and courage earned her recognition as the first woman to perform with Stunts Unlimited, a leading stunt agency. 

In 1978, O'Neil was immortalized in the form of a Mattel action figure, a testament to her impact and influence in the world of entertainment. Her daring exploits, including setting a women's high-fall record of 127 feet and a women's speed record on water of 275 miles per hour, captivated audiences and inspired generations. 

Despite facing numerous challenges throughout her life, O'Neil's resilience and determination never wavered. When she retired, she had set 22 speed records on land and on water. Unfortunately, O’Neil died of pneumonia on November 2, 2018 after suffering a heart attack at Eureka Community Hospital in Eureka, South Dakota at the age of 72. 

Kitty O'Neil's indomitable spirit and trailblazing achievements continue to inspire individuals around the world, serving as a reminder that with perseverance and courage, anything is possible. Her legacy as a true pioneer in motorsports and entertainment will forever be etched in history.  

Coastal Bend Sports Hall of Fame & Awards Show Inductees

Eugene Upshaw

Trailblazing Figure Transcended Gridiron, Leaving Lasting Legacy

Eugene 'Gene' Upshaw, a titan in the world of American football, cemented his legacy as one of the game's greatest players and leaders. Learn more about his remarkable career with the Oakland Raiders and discover his journey from a standout college athlete to his dominance on the professional football field. 

Philip Danaher

High School Football Coaching Legend Left Lasting Legacy

Discover the inspiring journey of Phil Danaher, a Texas high school football coaching legend, and his remarkable career milestones. Learn how Danaher’s influence transcends victories, shaping the lives of countless players both on and off the field, making him a true icon in the world of football.

Amy Acuff

High-Flying Track & Field Star Achievement Set New Heights for Aspiring Athletes

Amy Acuff, a native of Corpus Christi, Texas, knows how to aim high—literally and figuratively. The record-setting high jumper has made an impressive five appearances in the Olympics, showcasing her exceptional talent and determination on the world stage.

Kitty O'Neil

Record-breaking Stuntwoman Continues to Leave a Mark

Discover the remarkable story of Kitty O'Neil, a groundbreaking stuntwoman and speed racer whose fearless spirit defied the odds and inspired millions. Despite being deaf since infancy, O'Neil fearlessly pursued her passion for speed and adventure, setting numerous land speed records and performing daring stunts in Hollywood films. Learn the incredible journey of a trailblazer who shattered stereotypes and paved the way for future generations of women in motorsports and entertainment.