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“Miss Elfrieda Mais” – Dare Devil and Pioneer Racing Car Driver

“Miss” Elfrieda Mais (Hellmann) was born in 1892 at Indianapolis, Indiana, and began her career as an airplane daredevil and wing walker at the age of eighteen in 1910. A year later in 1911, she married racing driver John A. “Johnny” Mais, and in 1912 began driving racing cars. Elfrieda did not compete in auto races because the AAA and other sanctioning bodies did not allow women to drive in auto races with men before World War II.

Unable to compete on the track she traveled the midwest racing circuit and began running by herself against the clock in time trials and performed stunts between race heats. However, she did compete in “outlaw” non-sanctioned races organized by “Johnny” Mais. She set unofficial one and two-lap track records on one and two mile dirt tracks in Kansas between the mid-teens up until the early-1930s.

  • Early photos of Elfrieda Mais in an early racing car (above) and in a Dodge Brothers racing car (below) courtesy of kansasracinghistory.com

One of the stunts she performed later in her career was driving her E1 “Mais Special” racing car through a wooden wall (sometimes set on fire) set up on the main straight of speedways between races.

On September 27, 1934, at the Alabama State Fairgrounds Track located in Birmingham, it appears she died on her fourteenth attempt after crashing through a flaming wall. After passing through the wall it is reported that she and the “Mais Special” crashed through the outer track wall and hit a road grader followed by a crash through the Fairgrounds enclosure where the racing car hit a parked car and injured two boys, and a fair performer were also injured in the crash. See video (below) filmed before her thirteenth attempt.

Share what you find of interest in the photographs and the two videos (below) in this post. Learn more about Elfrieda Mais and other early women racing drivers at Bob Lawrence’s Vintage Auto Racing website.

  • “Elfrieda Mais” posing at a fairgrounds racing track courtesy of cneheritage.com

  • Crashing through a wooden wall in the E1 “Mais Special” courtesy of Ryan Smith/Reddit.

  • Full-sized version of the lead image courtesy of the “Chicago Tribune.”

  • The video above was filmed a few weeks before her death in 1934 on her thirteen attempt of crashing through a wooden wall. The video (below) contains photos of Mais as an airplane wing walker and dare devil.

17 responses to ““Miss Elfrieda Mais” – Dare Devil and Pioneer Racing Car Driver

  1. I believe the correct spelling is ” Elfrieda”.

    At the time of her death she was apparently married to a Ray LaPlante of Newark NJ. Some reports of the day state that Mr. La Plante witnesses her death. One apparently well researched report online has Mr La Plante as Elfrieda’s fourth husband, Johnny Mais being the first.

  2. The opening scene of her transferring from a car to a plane shows the vehicle she is leaving is a Lozier.
    I cannot imagine any person, mail or female, could do this without being incredibly daring.
    I admire her ability to overcome the fear of performing such stunts.

  3. In the first and last photos, any idea what the box (and cable) device is laying on the right side of the cockpit?

  4. Last week, in an old book, I happened across the story of Joan Cuneo, An early female driver who famously competed in the 1905 Glidden Tour, and who later set speed records along side such notable drivers a Ralph DePalma and Barney Olfield. She, and other women, were eventually banned by the AAA from racing.

    She has a nice wiki entry.

  5. A life cut short, but sounds like well lived! What an amazing time in history to have played with such monstrous toys.

  6. Elfrieda Mais was also known as a sucessful racing promoter in her own right performing the actual promotional tasks at the 1-mile Kenwood Park Speedway at Salina, Kansas in 1920 and 1921 while Johnny Mais was off competing in other races around the midwest.

  7. Well bless her heart. Lovely gutsy women. Cheers.
    Being an owner of 4 Dodge Brothers cars/trucks I love the DB picture. Thank you, Ron

  8. There is good evidence that the E1 race car is a 183 Frontenac. The photo of the engine, and the close up the frame rails are very consistent. The car was probably re-bodied. In regards to the “box” on the right side frame rail, it is consistent with May 1922 images of Wilbur D’Alene, when it was announced he would have a 2-way radio in his car. Not sure about the contraption in the cockpit.

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