- Published on Friday, 25 April 2014 15:48
TOP FUEL PIONEER SHIRLEY MULDOWNEY REFLECTS ON NHRA CAREER, DISCUSSES UPCOMING 100TH FEMALE VICTORY
BAYTOWN, Texas – In order for 100 professional wins by a female driver in the NHRA to be possible there had to be a first. Of course, that honor and distinction of course goes to the legendary Shirley Muldowney, who started the impressive streak with her first career victory in Top Fuel on June 13, 1976 in Columbus.
Ninety-seven more wins by female competitors have followed in the NHRA professional ranks, putting the total at 98 and making the historic 100th win possible heading into this weekend’s 27th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Royal Purple Raceway.
That magical number certainly grabbed Muldowney’s attention and she discussed the importance and significance of the landmark achievement.
“I think it’s a terrific thing,” Muldowney said. “A lot of ladies played a big part in getting to 100 wins and it’s good for the sport. Anything that shows women can be competitive with men and come out on top, it’s a good thing. There are a lot of cars capable of getting that 100th win.”
All eyes at Royal Purple Raceway will be on the likes of Houston area native Erica Enders-Stevens in Pro Stock, Alexis DeJoria and Courtney Force in Funny Car, and Brittany Force and Leah Pritchett in Top Fuel, as the 100th win will be within reach at Houston.
Bob Vandergriff (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) are last year’s winners at one of the circuit’s quickest and fastest tracks. The event, the sixth of 24 during the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, will once again be televised on ESPN2.
But it all started with Muldowney, who overcame adversity and doubters to blaze a path for females in the sport. The pioneer won her first NHRA race in 1976, starting a historic run that included a number of significant moments.
She won her first world championship in 1977, following that with championships in 1980 and 1982. She became the first NHRA driver to win three world championships, as Muldowney became a star attraction in the motorsports world.
“Nobody could hold me back from what I wanted to do,” Muldowney said. “When the NHRA saw that I was capable in the driver’s seat they relaxed and were great. They were very accepting. They knew I could sell tickets and that I had the goods.”
There was no denying that as fans, media members and fellow competitors marveled over her driving ability and fiery personality. Muldowney finished with 18 career Top Fuel victories, including a memorable performance and win at the prestigious U.S. Nationals in 1982. That remains one of her career highlights, as does her championship in 1980.
“In 1980, we slayed them,” Muldowney said. “We came out of the box at Pomona with a brand new car that I had never even driven before and we won. I was really proud of that.”
Muldowney’s place in the sport as a pioneer and Hall of Fame driver is certainly secure, but the impact she has had remains impressive. The current crop of female drivers have all remarked on how Muldowney has paved the way for their own successes, and she remains to be blown away from the constant support she has received for more than 40 years.
“Some of the most wonderful things people said to me or said about me just because I drove that race car is really special and unbelievable,” Muldowney said. “It was my life and it means a great deal to me. That tells me I made a difference, had an impact, helped the sport and did something good. It’s amazing to see how I am treated all because of that race car and I can’t say enough how much I appreciate it. I love the sport and I think drag racing the most exciting motorsport around. There’s nothing like it.”
Muldowney will be attentively watching the race weekend in Houston with the possibility of the landmark 100th victory by a female driver taking place at Royal Purple Raceway.
She also praised the current lineup of female competitors, which includes Pro Stock points leader Enders-Stevens, DeJoria, who posted her first two career victories to start off 2014 in strong fashion, and the Force sisters who have won the Auto Club Road to the Future Award (Rookie of the Year) in consecutive years.
“I think today’s crop is very good,” Muldowney said. “Erica is as good as anybody and is good as I’ve ever seen. She does an incredible job and you don’t see many mistakes from her, and the job all of them are doing is great.”
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, April 25, with sessions at 4 and 6:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, April 26, at 12:30 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 28. Pro Mod qualifying is set for Friday, April 25 at 6 p.m. and Saturday, April 26 at 2 and 4:30 p.m. Pro Mod eliminations are scheduled for Sunday at 9:45 a.m.
Women in NHRA Drag Racing, a brief history:
The following women (listed in alphabetical order by category) have competed in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:
Top Fuel (18): Vivica Averstedt, Dannielle DePorter, Vicky Fanning, Gina Ferraro, Brittany Force, Rhonda Hartman-Smith, Lori Johns, Kim LaHaie, Lucille Lee, Shirley Muldowney, Shelly Payne (Anderson), Cristen Powell, Leah Pritchett, Sue Ransom, Joanne Reynolds, Rachelle Splatt,
Melanie Troxel, Hillary Will
Funny Car (14): Alexis DeJoria, Vicky Fanning, Courtney Force, Ashley Force Hood, Rodalyn Knox, Paula Martin, Shirley Muldowney, Paula Murphy, Cristen Powell, Leah Pritchett, Susie Spencer, Melanie Troxel, Della Woods, Carol Yenter
Pro Stock (6): Erica Enders-Stevens, Grace Howell, Judy Lilly, Lucinda McFarlin, Shay Nicols, Shirley Shahan
Pro Stock Motorcycle (16): Dawn Matthews Baugues, Connie Cohen, Vicki Farr, Lori Francis, Linda Jackson, Anne Hansen, Elvira Karlsson, Peggy Lewellyn, Dawn Minturn, Stephanie Reaves, Angelle Sampey, Angie Smith (McBride), Karen Stoffer, Katie Sullivan, Valerie Thompson, Holly Wallace
Female leaders in victories:
1. Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle 41 (first at Reading 1996, last at Houston 2007)
2. Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel 18 (first at Columbus 1976, last at Phoenix 1989)
3. Erica Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock 7 (first at Chicago 2012, last at Las Vegas 1 2014)
4. Karen Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle 6 (first at Houston 2004, last at Denver 2011)
5. Melanie Troxel, Top Fuel-Funny Car 5 (first at Pomona 1 2006, TF, last at Bristol 2008, FC)
6. Shelly Payne, Top Fuel 4 (first at Reading 1993, last at Seattle 1996)
Lori Johns, Top Fuel 4 (first at Pomona 1 1990, last at Memphis 1991)
Ashley Force Hood, Funny Car 4 (first at Atlanta 2008, last at Indianapolis 2010)
9. Courtney Force, Funny Car 3 (first at Seattle 2012, last at Epping 2013)
10. Alexis DeJoria, Funny Car 2 (first at Phoenix 2014, last at Las Vegas 1 2014)
11. Lucille Lee, Top Fuel 1 (Atlanta 1982)
Cristen Powell, Top Fuel 1 (Englishtown 1997)
Peggy Llewellyn, Pro Stock Motorcycle 1 (Dallas 2007)
Hillary Will, Top Fuel 1 (Topeka 2008)
Female pro series world champions:
Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel 3 (1977, 1980, 1982)
Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle 3 (2000, 2001, 2002)