Muldowney's dragster at the 1986 NHRA Nationals
June 19, 1940 |
|NHRA, Top Fuel|
|Top Fuel 1977, 1980, 1982|
|1990, 2001, 2004||Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, National Hot Rod Association top 50 Drivers of 1951–2000, International Motor Sports Hall of Fame|
Shirley Muldowney (born June 19, 1940 in Burlington, Vermont ), also known professionally as "Cha Cha" and the "First Lady of Drag Racing", is a pioneer in professional auto racing. She was the first woman to receive a license from the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) to drive a Top Fuel dragster. She won the NHRA Top Fuel championship in 1977, 1980 and 1982, becoming the first person to win two and three Top Fuel titles. She has won a total of 18 NHRA national events.
Racing career 
Born Shirley Ann Roque, Muldowney began street racing in the 1950s in Schenectady, New York. "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, the then eighteen-year-old made her debut on the dragstrip of the Fonda Speedway. Muldowney obtained her NHRA pro license in 1965. She competed in the 1969 and 1970 U.S. Nationals in a twin-engine dragster in Top Gas. With Top Gas losing popularity, Muldowney switched to Funny Car, buying her first car from Connie Kalitta.
Around this time, she and Jack drifted apart. "He didn't want to go nitro racing and we parted, but we stayed friends all those years until he passed away just recently."
Muldowney won her first major event, the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) Southern Nationals, in 1971. From 1972 to 1977, she teamed up with Kalitta, competing in match races as the "Bounty Hunter" and "Bounty Huntress".
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 said 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.
Muldowney noted, "NHRA fought me every inch of the way, but when they saw how a girl could fill the stands; they saw I was good for the sport."
A crash in 1984 crushed her hands, pelvis, and legs, necessitating 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. 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."
Recent activities include the dictation of her memoirs, Shirley Muldowney's Tales from the Track, which Bill Stephens transcribed, and which Sports Publishing L.L.C. published in 2005.
Awards and honors 
- In 1975, she was voted the first woman member of the ten-person Auto Racing All-American team by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association.
- In 1976, she was named Drag News Top Fuel Driver of the Year and voted to the Auto Racing All-American Team for the second time.
- In 1977, she won the NHRA Winston world points championship, becoming the first woman to claim drag racing's most prestigious title. Recipient of "Outstanding Achievement Award" from the United States House of Representatives on October 14, 1977. Named Drag News Top Fuel Driver of the Year for the second straight season. Named Car Craft Magazine Person of the Year during the annual Car Craft Awards Banquet, Indianapolis, Indiana. First Top Fuel driver to win three NHRA national events back-to-back.
- 1980 Won NHRA Winston world points championship for the second time.
- 1981 Won AHRA world championship. Voted to Auto Racing All-American team for the fifth time. Voted Car Craft Magazine All-Star Team, Top Fuel Driver of the Year, for the second year in a row.
- 1982 Won NHRA Winston points championship, becoming the first person to claim drag racing's most prestigious title three times. Voted to Auto Racing All-American Team for the fifth time.
- In 1990, she was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
- In 2001, she was ranked number 5 on the National Hot Rod Association's 50th Anniversary list of its Top 50 Drivers, 1951-2000.
- In 2004, she was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
- in 2008, ESPN ranked her 21st on its list of the Top 25 Drivers of All Time, citing her record as the first woman to win a major racing championship.
Cultural references 
The 1983 film Heart Like a Wheel, about Muldowney's life and career, starred Bonnie Bedelia. Muldowney would rather have had Jamie Lee Curtis play her; she called Bedelia "a snot," and stated, "When she was promoting the movie on TV shows, she would tell interviewers she didn't even like racing. She got out of race car [sic] like she was getting up from the dinner table." Muldowney had mixed feelings about the film itself, stating, "No, the movie did not capture my life very well at all, but more importantly, I thought the movie was very, very good for the sport."
- "Shirley Muldowney". Biography.com. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- Phil Burgess. "No. 5, Shirley Muldowney". nhraonline.com. Retrieved December 19, 2009.
- Lowe, Jaime (July 7, 2005). "Where Are They Now? Shirley Muldowney". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved December 19, 2009.
- Chandler, Norman (30 January 1981). "Her life in the fast lane isn't a drag for Shirley Muldowney". Los Angeles Times.
- Bill McGuire. "In Their Own Words: Shirley Muldowney / Local Drag Racing". Hot Rod Magazine. Retrieved December 19, 2009.
- Bill McGuire. "In Their Own Words: Shirley Muldowney / Twin-Engine Chevy Top Gas Dragster". Hot Rod Magazine. Retrieved December 20, 2009.
- Bill McGuire. "In Their Own Words: Shirley Muldowney / Shirley's First Funny Car, 1971". Hot Rod Magazine. Retrieved December 20, 2009.
- Bill McGuire. "In Their Own Words: Shirley Muldowney / Top Fuel License". Hot Rod Magazine. Retrieved December 19, 2009.
- "Don Garlits interview". zoomster.com.
- Racing Pioneer Muldowney Retires, CBS News, November 10, 2003, retrieved 2010-05-01
- "NHRA's Top 50 Drivers". National Hot Rod Association. Retrieved May 31, 2010.
- "Kinser, Mansell, Garlits, Lauda, and Muldowney set high standards". ESPN. May 20, 2008. Retrieved May 31, 2010.
- Bill McGuire. "In Their Own Words: Shirley Muldowney / Heart Like A Wheel, 1983". Hot Rod Magazine. Retrieved December 19, 2009.