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Shirley Muldowney - Funny Cars—not So Funny

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Toward the late 1960s, cars were being designed from scratch specifically for drag racing. Because of their odd proportions—a long, skinny front end and a jacked-up behind—the cars are called "funny cars." In the driver's seat of her own Plymouth, Muldowney was finishing at the front of the pack in funny car races in the early 1970s, reaching speeds over 200 mph and finishing the quarter-mile track in seven or eight seconds.

In 1971, Muldowney held her own against the best funny-car drivers, beating many of them. In September, she made the finals of the prestigious NHRA Nationals held at Indianapolis Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. Any driver who could cover the track in less than seven seconds was considered elite at the time, and Muldowney did it in 6.76 seconds, reaching 215.31 mph. Her car broke down in the final round, but Muldowney was considered a threat to any driver on the track.

The Muldowneys divorced in 1972, and Shirley moved to Mt. Clemens, Michigan, to be closer to the Midwestern racing scene. Funny cars are inherently dangerous and fire prone, so Muldowney chose to switch to the top drag racing category, called Top Fuel. She won the 1974 U.S. Nationals at 241.58 mph, and was the first woman to advance to the finals in Top Fuel, coming in second place at the 1975 NHRA Spring National in Columbus, Ohio, and at the NHRA U.S. National. She was the first woman to break the five-second barrier with 5.98 seconds at the Popular Hot Rodding Championships in August. A successful season ended with her being voted to the prestigious "All-American Team" by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AARWBA).

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