Shirley Muldowney

SHIRLEY MULDOWNEY

 

Vital Statistics
​​Residence: Huntersville, North Carolina
Hometown: Schenactady, New York
Date of birth: June 19, 1940

SHIRLEY MULDOWNEY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lending a hand to children in need in the markets where drag racing has become a part of the community.


Drag Racing Legend: Top Fuel Dragster & Funny Car
​Career national event wins: 31 (18 NHRA, 8 AHRA, 5 IHRA)
Career championships: 4 (NHRA: 1977, 1980, 1982; AHRA: 1981)

Career Highlights

  • 2003: "Last Pass" retirement tour included six races; won final NHRA round on a holeshot, and her.028-second reaction time was the best of any driver that day
  • 1997: Finished third in IHRA points standings; set IHRA speed record (303.71 mph)
  • 1996: Finished second in IHRA Top Fuel class
  • 1993: Set track record at Fuji International Speedway in Japan (5.30 seconds at 285 mph)
  • 1989: Won Fall Nationals in Phoenix for her final NHRA victory
  • 1986: Won AARWBA Comeback Driver of the Year after returning from injuries suffered in a crash in 1984
  • 1982: Won third NHRA Top Fuel championship; won her first U.S Nationals; won the Jerry Titus Memorial Award as  the All-American team member receiving the greatest number of votes from AARWBA membership
  • 1981: Won AHRA Top Fuel championship; won prestigious March Meet in Bakersfield, Calif.
  • 1980: Became first driver to win two NHRA Top Fuel championships
  • 1977: Won first NHRA Top Fuel championship; first driver to win three consecutive races
  • 1976: First woman to win in Top Fuel when she won at Columbus, Ohio.; qualified No. 1 and won NHRA World Finals in Pomona; named to AARWBA All-American team, named "Drag News" Top Fuel driver of the year
  • 1975: First woman to reach NHRA final round, in Columbus, Ohio; broke six-second barrier with 5.98-second pass in Martin, Mich.; named to AARWBA All-American team
  • 1971: Won IHRA Southern Nationals in Funny Car
  • 1965: First woman to earn an NHRA license

Notable:

  • Voted into numerous Halls of Fame, including the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, originally located in Novi, Mich., the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala., and the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in Ocala, Fla.
  • In 1992, earned the Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias Courage Award, presented annually by the United States Sports Academy, to an individual who demonstrates courageous action in overcoming adversity to excel in sport
  • No. 5 on NHRA's Top 50 Drivers, named in 2001;
  • The 1983 film "Heart Like a Wheel" was based on her life. Bonnie Bedelia played Muldowney and earned an Golden Globe nomination

BIOGRAPHY

Shirley Muldowney is a true pioneer in the world of drag racing and in the world of motorsports.

The legendary racer competed at a time when women were regularly shunned in the racing world, but her passion and determination helped her fight through discrimination to become a three-time World Champion.

Muldowney began racing in the 1950s at Fonda Speedway in New York, driving a dragster built by then-husband Jack. Several years later, in 1965, she became the first woman to earn a professional NHRA license.

After a few years of racing in the Super Gas category, Muldowney switched to Funny Car, and in 1971 she won her first major race, the IHRA Southern Nationals. She also began a long career in match races, battling Connie Kalitta and others in the mid-1970s.

A move to the Top Fuel class in 1973 helped her burgeoning career blossom. In another major accomplishment, she became the first woman to win an NHRA race in a professional class in 1976, going to the winner's circle at the Spring Nationals in Columbus, Ohio.

She kept winning, and the following season she earned the NHRA Top Fuel championship after becoming the first driver in the class to win three consecutive national events.

Muldowney won the Top Fuel title again in 1980 and 1982, and she also won the AHRA Top Fuel championship in 1981, her fourth major championship in a six-year period.

Along the way, Muldowney fought stereotypes and outright discrimination while racing in a male-dominated sport. Female drivers are commonplace these days, with two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders and Funny Car winner Courtney Force among the biggest stars in the sport, but Muldowney was a lone ranger, and she constantly had to prove her mettle against disbelieving male drivers and competitors, and she did it the only way she knew: With her foot to the floor.

In 1992, Muldowney's perseverance helped her earn the Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias Courage Award, presented annually by the United States Sports Academy to an individual who demonstrates courageous action in overcoming adversity to excel in sport.

After the string of success in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Muldowney suffered serious injuries in a crash in Montreal, Canada. Broken bones in her hands, pelvis, and legs forced her to undergo intense rehabilitation for a year and a half at home in Michigan, but Muldowney was undeterred. She returned to racing in 1986, winning an NHRA national event and earning the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association Comeback Driver of the Year Award.

In 1989, Muldowney won her 18th and final NHRA national event, the Fall Nationals in Phoenix, but she was hardly done driving, continuing to compete in match races, at IHRA races, and in special events across the globe. One of those special races came in 1993, when she raced in Japan and set the Fuji International Speedway track record.

More honors came her way in 1998, when she was named by the New York State Senate as one of 30 "Women of Distinction" during the Women's History Month Exhibit. In 2003, she was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.

That year was also Muldowney's "Last Pass" tour, as she retired from the sport, but she went out with a bang, winning in the first round of her final race on a holeshot, and her .023-second reaction time was the best by any driver that day.

Muldowney has been voted into numerous Halls of Fame, including the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, originally located in Novi, Mich.; the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala.; and the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in Ocala, Fla.