The Queen Of Drag Racing Speaks: Shirley Muldowney

“The guys said, ‘maybe this problem will go away.’ It didn’t go away. It got worse. Nobody messes with me.” – Shirley Muldowney

People have short memories. About every five years or so, the world of auto racing anoints the sport’s next great female pioneer: Janet, Lyn, Angelle, Sarah, Danica. With all due respect to these great and capable racers, baloney. Motorsports already has its greatest and bravest female pioneer, and she has the arrows in her back to prove it. Before any of them, Shirley Muldowney smashed through all the barriers to become the first woman to truly excel as a professional racer.

Shirley won three NHRA Top Fuel World Championships, in 1977, 1980, and 1982. The first woman to win an NHRA national event in a pro eliminator (at Columbus in 1976), she collected 18 national event victories in NHRA competition–and several more under IHRA and AHRA sanctions. In 2004, she was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, while NHRA has ranked her number five on its permanent list of the sport’s 50 all-time greatest drivers. So if you are looking for credentials, Shirley has those in spades.

But credentials are only part of Shirley’s legacy. She will be forever known for her character–as perhaps the most tenacious competitor drag racing has ever seen. Her will to win was second to none. In a mean, tough sport that was not at all ready to accept women as competitors, Shirley succeeded by out-toughing the men. One observer suggested that the 1983 Hollywood movie that was made about her life, Heart Like a Wheel, should have been titled Heart Like a Bulldog. Think Dale Earnhardt Sr. in shoulder-length curls, and you come close to what Shirley was about as a competitor… read more >

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