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Shirley Muldowney - Like Husband, Like Wife

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Jack Muldowney's longtime interest in high-performance cars began to wear off on his young bride. She began by attending races with her husband, and cheering him on when he raced. He taught her to drive after they were married, and Shirley became intrigued with the world of drag racing, and very familiar with all aspects of the sport, from the technical requirements of driving to the particulars involved with getting a car on the track. Drag races usually run on a quarter-mile track, and are paired head-to-head; the faster of two racers wins the race, which is over in less than fifteen seconds. The cars come to a stop with the aid of a parachute that ejects from behind to slow them down. Drag racing is so-named because drivers "drag" out through each gear shift.

Muldowney soon asked her husband to let her race, and he gave her her first car, a 1940 Ford running on a Cadillac V-8 engine. She entered local competitions in the regular stock car category and, though she did not win, she occasionally made it to the finals. She became more competitive in the early 1960s with her next two cars, a 348 tri-powered Chevrolet and then a 1963 Super Stock Plymouth. She hit just over 100 mph when racing, while drivers who raced low slung, specially-outfitted drag cars were reaching speeds of 170-180 mph. Her husband built her a Chevy-powered dragster and she soon caught up.

Muldowney had no problem proving herself on the track in amateur races. But drag racing's sanctioning bodies, including the NHRA and American Hot Rod Association (AHRA), had reservations about granting professional status to a woman. Muldowney and fellow female racers Judi Boertman, Paula Murphy, and Della Woods launched a campaign to be allowed to race professionally. In 1965, Muldowney was the first woman to receive her license to drive dragsters. There were naysayers who predicted one serious crash or fire would spook Muldowney off the track, but after several, she was always ready to get back in the car. She escaped what could have been a very serious crash in 1967 at the Orange County International Raceway without a scratch, and with a great deal of respect in the sport.

Chronology

1958 Begins racing
1965 Becomes first woman licensed by National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) to drive a dragster
1975 Becomes first woman to advance to the finals of an NHRA national event in a professional category
1975 Becomes first woman to break the 6.00 second barrier
1976 Qualifies in top spot with quickest time (6.03) and speed (249.30 MPH), becomes the first women to win a professional title in national event competition
1976 Qualifies first and wins NHRA Winston World Finals
1976 Posts best elapsed time (5.77) and top speed (249.30 MPH) for the entire NHRA Season.
1977 Becomes first woman to claim Winston World Championship, drag racing's most prestigious title
1977 Becomes first Top Fuel driver to win three NHRA national events back-to-back
1980 Wins Winston World Championship, becoming the first person in history to claim title twice
1981 Becomes first woman to win AHRA World Championship; and first woman to win March Meet
1982 Wins Winston World Championship, becoming the first person in history to claim title three times
1983 Heart Like a Wheel is released
1989 Drives all-time best time of 4.97 at 284 MPH
1993 Sets track record at Fuji International Speedway, Fuji, Japan (5.30 sec. at 285 MPH); sets new IHRA speed record at 294.98 MPH
1997 Sets new IHRA speed record at 303.71 MPH
1999 Drives full race schedule with no sponsorship; advances to the semi-final round at IHRA Northern Nationals.
2000 Qualifies in third place with time of 4.78; sets new track and IHRA national speed record at 310 MPH; qualifies first at IHRA Nationals with time of 4.74 and a career best speed of 319.22 (Both were track records); qualifies in NHRA U.S. Nationals and World Finals
2001 Qualified 12th at the NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals; runs career best of 4.64 \ time at 320.20 MPH
2002 Drives five national events with sponsorship from Action Performance Companies and MAC Tools
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