A LIFETIME OF DEVOTION
Growing through her teen years in upstate New York, the woman affectionately known simply
as Shirley has always had an affection for speed and competition. Starting off as a street racer
in the 1950s, she quickly fell in love with the sport of drag racing.
From 1958 to 1964 she competed in a variety of race cars, including a factory experimental car
during the 1963 season. Shirley found there was little else she would rather do than beat the boys.
She had no intention of backing down from anybody, especially if it was a gender issue. Her
determination to succeed forever changed the sport the following year.
In 1965 Shirley Muldowney earned the license to drive a gasoline powered dragster in the largest
sanctioning body, the National Hot Rod Association or NHRA as it's known. She was the first woman
to do so in an NHRA professional category. She then spent the better part of the next four years on the
match race circuit in the east and mid-west.
In 1971 the demise of the NHRA top gas (T/G) class she was competing in, helped force a change in
her career direction. She stepped up to the category of funny car (F/C) comprised of nitromethane
burning fuel coupes. These were tubular chassis cars with fiberglass bodies, awkward looking, dangerous,
and very difficult to drive. At her first F/C race in Lebanon Valley, New York, she won the event.
She expanded her efforts by racing in more than one sanction and in 1971 won her first national event with
the International Hot Rod Association (IBRA) at their Southern Nationals race in Rockingham, N. Carolina.
The following season she took the runner up spot at the very same race
During three years behind the wheel of a funny car, Shirley was involved in at least four bad fires caused by engine parts failures. In a F/C, the driver sits straddling the motor directly in line with potential disaster. When a motor comes apart the oil and sometimes the fuel gets on the red hot exhaust pipes and ignites while the car is traveling at speeds well over two hundred miles per hour. The net effect is facing a blow torch while driving at a rate of speed equal to one football field per second. One of her worst fires came during the 1973 NHRA
U.S. Nationals held at Indy and she vowed it would be her last.
Following her recovery, she traveled to a race at Cayuga Dragway Park facility in Ontario, Canada where she
made the switch from funny car to the premier class of Top Fuel (T/F). These cars place the driver compartment
forward of the engine and have advantages allowing them to be the world's fastest race cars. Shirley made her
licensing runs in the presence of Connie
Kalittal, Don Garlits and Tommy Ivo, becoming the first woman ever to
license for T/F competition in the NHRA.
She returned to the U.S. Nationals the following year in 1974 posting top speed of the meet at 241.58mph with
her own car and race team. She also scored a semifinal finish at the National Challenge in N.Y., with elapsed
times as quick as 6.09 seconds.
On June 15, 1975 she became the first woman to advance to the finals in top fuel, losing the last round of racing
to Marvin Graham at the NHRA Spring Nationals. Two months later on August 24, she became the first woman
to break the five second barrier. During the Popular Hot Rodding Championships in Martin, Michigan she blasted
a 5.98 second elapsed time. Weeks later at the U.S. Nationals, she again advanced to the finals only to come up
just short against Don Garlits. Her season long accomplishments earned her a place on the prestigious ten member,
"All American Team" by the AARWBA.
Next season at the Springnationals, she came full circle with her efforts by qualifying number one (6.09), posting
low elapsed time of the race (5.96), and top speed of the event (243.90mph) on her way to winning her first
NHRA national event June 13, 1976.
She won her second race of the season at the World Finals in Ontario, California on October 10, 1976 posting
low elapsed time (5.77) and top speed (249mph). They were the fastest runs of the season. Despite only racing
in four of the eight NHRA national events, she placed 15th for the season. She was voted T/F driver of the year
by Drag News and once again chosen to the "All American Team" by the
After devoting so many years to the sport she loved, Shirley knew in her heart next season would be her biggest
ever. She entered the history books early in 1977 becoming the second person to run over 250 mph at a race in
Arizona on January 17 posting a speed of 250.69mph and then going 252mph during qualifying. This was going
to be her year.
At the first race of the season'. she posted the sports quickest numbers (5.77) and a thundering 253mph speed
during the Winston World Series event on May 7 in Irvine,, California. She then moved on to the NHRA
Springnationals in Columbus, Ohio winning the race for the second straight year on June 12. Next event, she
qualified number one, a feat she repeated three times that year, with wins at the NHRA Summer Nationals in
Englishtown, New Jersey on July 10, the NHRA Molson Grand Nationals in Canada on August 7, and two
weeks later while beating rival Don Garlits on her way to a runner up finish at the PHR Championship in
Martin, Michigan on August 14.
Shirley's historical season long accomplishments clinched the Winston World Championship for points in
top fuel making her the first and only lady ever to do so (1977). She became the first racer ever to win
three consecutive NHRA national events back to back. Today in over four decades of drag racing, she is still
the only woman ever to win an NHRA top fuel points championship.
So monumental were her achievements, the.United States House of Representatives on October 14, 1977
bestowed upon Shirley an "Outstanding Achievement Award." Drag News proclaimed her the top fuel
Driver of the Year for the second consecutive season. Car Craft, one of the nations most prestigious
publications recognized her as "Person of the Year." In 1980 she won it all again with wins at the
Wintemationals, The Springnationals, The Fall Nationals, and the Winston World Finals. At the time
she won, she was the only driver in the sport ever to win two Winston Points Championships in top fuel.
What made her (1980) win even more impressive was her second place finish in the AHRA top fuel wars
in the same season nearly clinching two titles simultaneously!
During the next season (1981), Shirley concentrated on the American Hot Rod Association
and brought that home giving her two T/F titles in two seasons while finishing in the top five for NHRA that year.
In 1982, Shirley again set sights on the NHRA and scored big. She became the first professional driver in T/F
to win the World Championship three times in a career. She was voted to the Car Craft All Star Team as,
"Top Fuel Driver of the Year" for the second consecutive season and voted to the AARWBA top ten for the
fifth time receiving the greatest number of votes ever by a driver.
In 1983 Shirley finished fourth in Winston Points with landmark wins at the Wintenationals and the World Finals.
At Columbus, Ohio, one of her favorite tracks, she went to the finals for a record six times in eight years.
After devoting twenty five years of her life to drag racing, Shirley had for the most part seen and done it all,
yet her toughest battle of all lie ahead.
On June 29th, 1984 tragedy struck during a race in Montreal, Canada. A front tire failure on her fuel dragster
caused a high speed crash at over 250 mph that nearly ended her life. Her legs were badly broken and required
extensive repeated surgery so that she may one day walk again. For some there was speculation if she would
ever drive again, but not for Shirley
Muldowney. Eighteen months later she was back in a race car.
In 1986 she was recognized by the AARWBA with the "Come back Driver of the year" award as she
progressively fought her return into battle. By 1989 Shirley was back in the thick of the T/F wars finishing in
the Winston points top ten. She advanced to the final found in NHRA competition three times that year, won
the Fall Nationals and entered the CRAGAR FOUR SECOND CLUB with a run of 4.974 at 284mph,
the only lady to do so at that time.
In 1990, Shirley finished in the NHRA top ten, but decided to change gears the following season. Match racing
was a pastime Shirley once enjoyed back from the old barnstorming days of drag racing and she remembered it
as a good way to earn a living. Through out most of the early 1990s, Shirley set out on vigorous match racing
schedules across the USA and overseas. In 1993 she set a track record at the Fuji International Speedway in
Japan of 5.30 @ 285mph. Track records became somewhat of a hobby for her as she set no less than twelve
new ones at various facilities all across America.
By 1995 the desire for competition brought her back to the
IHRA. In 1996 she reached the final round in
International Hot Rod Association competition five straight times, winning three national events back to back.
She qualified in the top three at every race and finished the year in the number two spot for top fuel points.
In 1997 Shirley continued running open competition when her busy match racing schedule allowed. In open
competition, she set and re-set the high mile per hour mark for the national record four times with a standing
mark of 303.71 mph at seasons end. She held the number two spot in points, but opting not to go to the final
race of the year dropped her to third for the season.
The highlight of her year was being honored by the United States Sports Academy's 25h anniversary
CNN/USA Today balloting for "Top Athletes of the past 25 years." In four categories names were presented
by ballot voting for persons whose noted accomplishments made an impact on their respective sport. In auto
racing for the men it was Richard Petty - known as the king of
NASCAR. For the women it was
Shirley Muldowney whose forty years of dedication and devotion have carved her an unmistakable mark
in the annals of auto racing.
In 1998, Shirley had another successful year racing. She set track records for top speed or elapsed time
at Atco New Jersey, Milan Michigan, Epping New Hampshire, and Stanton Michigan where she not only
engraved new track records but set a new performance d for the International Hot Rod Association.
Her 4.69 second e time at 312.50 mph run during qualifying at the Northern Nationals was the quickest and
fastest ever recorded in the history of competition, proving once again what she is made of. Shirley also
received one of the highest distinctions of her career when she was honored by the New York State Senate
as one of, "Thirty Women of Distinction," a historical display presented at the state capital in Albany.
Her historical motorsports accomplishments were acknowledged along side such luminaries as
Susan B. Anthony, and Eleanor Roosevelt. With a long and distinguished career, Shirley Muldowney
remains the single most accomplished woman competing in professional
honoured to have such a racing superstar a
part of our site. A mentor to all of us -
Shirley Muldowney is a hero and we will always
cheer her on!