November Shift Points

Shirley Muldowney "First Lady of Drag Racing"

Active years: 1958-2003
NHRA Championships: 3
National Wins: 18
First win: 1971
Last win: 2000

Shirley Muldowney, also known  as "Cha Cha" and the "First Lady of Drag Racing" is a woman who fought for what she loved doing. Muldowney grew up in an era where very few women had careers and fulfillment came from running a household . All she heard when she was younger was stay in school but, that is not what she wanted to do. "School had no appeal to me. All I wanted was to race up and down the streets in a hot rod," declared Muldowney. When she was sixteen, she married nineteen-year-old Jack Muldowney, who would build her first dragster.

"It was Jack Muldowney who first taught me how to drive a car. Jack was the mechanic. He was the guy who tuned the cars that let the girl beat all the boys. I was a kid from upstate New York with no guidance, no direction. I was headed for trouble, nothing going for me. Then I found the sport at a very young age and was able to make something out of it." 

In 1958, at age 18 she made her debut on the dragstrip of the Fonda Speedway. She was the first woman to receive a pro license from the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). But it didn't come easy, after 3 years of her writing letters, letting the officials know of every race she won and who she beat, they finally signed her license in 1965. NHRA didn't believe a woman could handle such a powerful vehicle consistently. Muldowney said the NHRA fought her every inch of the way, but when they saw how a woman could fill the stands; they saw she was good for the sport. She made women come out of the kitchen and watch her run.Muldowney's success came in the face of enormous opposition from those who felt drag racing (or any form of motorsport, for that matter) was no place for women. Don Garlits has this to day about her:

"Now, if you ask who do I have the most respect for, I'd say Shirley Muldowney. She went against all odds. They didn't want her to race Top Fuel, the association, the racers, nobody...Just Shirley."

She competed in the 1969 and 1970 U.S. Nationals in a twin-engine dragster in Top Gas. Muldowney won her first major event, the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) Southern Nationals, in 1971.  In 1975 she broke 6.00 second barrier - first woman to do so, her time: 5.98 seconds. In 1976 she qualified number one with a low elapsed time of 6.03 seconds and top speed of 249.30 MPH, winning NHRA Spring Nationals. She was the first women to win a professional title in a national event.She won the NHRA Top Fuel championship in 1977, 1980 and 1982, becoming the first person to win two and three Top Fuel titles. 

Unfortunately Muldowney had a crash in 1984, an intertube burst and wrapped itself around the front axle and she lost control. Her car hit an embankment at 250 MPH and shatter, leaving no car left behind. Her hands, pelvis, and legs were crushed she had half a dozen operations and 18 months of therapy. Muldowney was sidelined for a long period, but returned to the circuit in the late 1980s. She continued to race, mostly without major sponsorship, throughout the 1990s in IHRA competition as well as match-racing events. In 1996 she set new a IHRA speed record at 294.98 MPH. In 1997 she exceeded her speed record at 303.71 MPH. She returned to the NHRA towards the end of her career, running select events until her retirement at the end of 2003.

Muldowney was described by longtime drag racer Fred Farndon as the "best 'natural' driver (top fuel or funny car), no question."