Shirley Muldowney: First Lady of Drag Racing.
Shirley poses on the fender of her 1963 Split Window C2 Corvette after competing at the Fonda Speedway in Fonda, New York.
When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, my family loved to go to the local racing tracks. We would attend any type of car or motorcycle racing event, but it was drag racing in particular that really sparked my imagination. I was a naturally analytical and curious kid, so there was something that struck me as odd, and just a bit patronizing. At the quarter-mile oval in my hometown where the stock cars raced, women drivers were relegated to their own “Powder Puff” class and presented to fans as a curiosity. But, over at the local dragstrip, women were competing in the same classes as men. I loved our local drag racing scene, but the woman who was making the biggest splash on the national stage, screaming down the track in her hot pink dragster, was Shirley Muldowney, also known as the “First Lady of Drag Racing.”
In 1977, only two years after Muldowney earned her National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) license in the Top Fuel class, the first woman ever to do so, she won the National Championship. She duplicated that feat in 1980 and again in 1982. She was the first ever driver to win two Top Fuel titles and then the first to win three. During her career, she took the national title a total of 18 times, and still holds the record for most NHRA Top Fuel dragster national event wins by a woman.
In 2004 Muldowney was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Shirley’s amazing accomplishments on the track stand alongside the achievements of other pioneering women of the era: Carol Cox, the first woman to win an NHRA national event trophy (Super Stock Automatic, 1962); Roberta Leighton, the first woman to hold an NHRA license (Gas classes, 1963); Barbara Hamilton, the first woman licensed to drive a supercharged gasser (later in 1963); and Shirley Shahan, the first female NHRA national event winner (Stock Eliminator, 1966).
Shirley in the mid-1970’s with her Ford Mustang funny car, Bounty Huntress. © Shirley Muldowney Racing™ 2019 Team Shirley Racing