SHIRLEY MULDOWNEY, NHRA LEGEND
obody had it harder than Shirley
Muldowney did, and nobody ever will.
Not just a winner, but a champion,
and not just a champion but a three-time
champ in the fastest class of them all, Top
Fuel, she was – and is – tough. She had to
be. As the first successful female driver
in drag racing and by far the most prolific
female in motorsports history, Muldowney
withstood abuse today’s drivers could never
achievement after another: first NHRA final
(Columbus, ’75), first win (Columbus, ’ 76),
first championship (’ 77), first repeat title
(’ 80), first U.S. Nationals win (’ 82), and first
three-time Top Fuel champ, also in ’ 82.
By then, other drivers had no choice
but to accept her. She wasn’t just racing
men, she was whupping them on a
regular basis. “They made me the way I
am,” she says. “It must have been in there
somewhere the whole time, but those guys
really brought it out of this little 100lb
female. They created a monster, but it
helped me in the end. It made me better.”
Muldowney’s first major breakthrough
came at the 1975 NHRA Springnationals,
where she beat “Big Daddy” himself to
reach her first TF final. Later that year
Today, it’s normal to see women winning in NHRA drag racing.
In the hairy-chested 1970s, Shirley Muldowney battled
prejudice and adversity to become a true Top Fuel legend.
“They made me the way I
am. They created a monster,
but it helped me in the end.
It made me better”
comprehend. Taunts, boos, jeers, and
countless crude, hateful remarks rained
down on her for years – and that was just
the fans. You should have heard the drivers.
“They were horrible to me,”
Muldowney says with the intensity that’s
defined her for decades. “It was ugly.
Professional jealousy, if you ask me. They
couldn’t handle it. It never stopped me,
though. I’d just put my head down and
keep pushing forward, and if you got in
my way, you’d get a bump on your head.”
Voted the fifth-greatest driver in drag
racing history, behind only “Big Daddy”
Don Garlits, John Force, Don “the Snake”
Prudhomme and Bob Glidden, Muldowney
won three NHRA Top Fuel titles, and from
1977 to ’ 82, her career was one landmark
WORDS Todd Veney MAIN IMAGE National Dragster archive