Post by: Jim Smith auto racing historian for RRO
No drag race in the world compares to the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) U.S. Nationals located at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park held over this Labor Day weekend. Over the years been called the oldest, the most prestigious and richest drag race in the world. It has famously been called “THE BIG GO. “
This year’s 68th edition will also be the last race before the Countdown to the Championship begins. As the excitement builds for this year’s U.S. Nationals, female drivers will continue to mix it up with the men to determine the U.S.Nationals Champion, in the top four professional categoriesas well as the series championships at the end of the year.Only the top ten in each class will be allowed to compete for the Championship.
The results going into this weekend finds Brittany Force leading the Top Fuel standings, Erica Enders leading the Pro Stock standings, Angelle Sampey finds herself second in the Pro Motorcycle standings and Alexis Dejoria is seventh in the Funny Car standings. All four have clinched berths in the Countdown to the Championship.
Pro Stock Motorcycle has the largest number of females that have clinched a berth in the Countdown to the Championship. Angie Smith in 6th and Karen Stoffer in 7thjoin Sampey in the Countdown.
Top Fuel’s Leah Pruett is the only prominent racer not to have clinched a berth in the Countdown. She is 7th in the championship standings and her Tony Stewart owned team will find a way to keep her in the top ten.
Forty years ago, Shirley Muldowney was seeking her firstU.S. Nationals Championship. She earnd many first’s as a female racer and she fought hard over the years to gain acceptance in a male dominated sport. She came to win that years race and second place was not acceptable.
She started racing in the late 1950’s and this was a time when the NHRA was unwilling to license female’s to raceserious competition cars. They could race Stock and Super Stock cars only. She finally got her competition license in 1965 and she raced her husband’s twin- engine Top Gas dragster. The NHRA soon pulled her license, but reinstated it when she threatened to go to the newspapers.
She raced in the U.S, Nationals in 1969 and 1970 in her husbands Top Gas dragster, but soon left her husband and Top Gas racing. She moved to Detroit and began racing nitro Funny Cars.
She teamed up with Connie Kalitta, who now runs three drag racing teams and owns Kalitta Airlines. They match raced all over the country in twin Mustang nitro Funny Cars as the Bounty Hunter and the Bounty Huntress between 1971 and 1973.
Shirley then decided to get her Top Fuel license. She became the first female in history to be granted a Top Fuel license. At the 1976 Spring Nationals in Columbus she won the race and became first female to score a NHRA Top Fuel victory in drag racing history.
In 1977, she won the Top Fuel World Championship andshe became the first female driver to win a championship in any form of motor sports. In 1980, she became the first driver of either gender to win a second NHRA Top Fuel World Championship. In 1981, she won the AHRA Top Fuel World Championship.
Now we are back to the 1982 U.S. Nationals. There were 30 Top Fuel cars trying to qualify for the 16 car field. She qualified second to Gary Beck with a 5.57 e.t. compared to Becks’ 5.54 e.t.. For a change she was not the only female in the field. Lucille Lee qualified, but she went out in the first round.
She won all of her rounds and on that fateful day and she was lined up against Kalitta, who had returned to Top Fuel Racing, for the final round. Kalitta tore his engine down for the final round while Shirley’s crew performed only routine maintenance. She had lane choice and she chose the left lane. She beat Kalitta 5.57/251.39 to 5.66/241.28 to win the Championship.
In 1982, she won a total of four events to become the first three time Top Fuel World Champion in the history of the sport.
In 1984, while racing the only major NHRA event in Canada, her left front tire came off the rim and got tangled in the steering. The car crashed heavily and she sustained burns along with major injuries to her arms, hands, legs and pelvis. She along with Indy cars Dr.Terry Trammell worked through a series of six surgeries over the next 18 months to get her back in shape to race.
She raced in the IHRA a few seasons and she went to 11 final rounds and winning three through 2000. She finally retired in 2003.
In 1975, she was the first female voted into the All-American Auto Racing Team, by a panel of auto racing writers and was named to that panel four more times.
In 1990, she was inducted into the Motor Sports Hall of Fame of America
In 2001, the NHRA named her the fifth best Top Fuel Driver of all time.
In 2004, the International Motor Sports hall of Fame.
In 2005, the Automotive Hall of fame
She will probably put in an appearance at this years U.S. Nationals to catch up with her long time racing friends. The Shirley Muldowney grandstand is located at the starting line of Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.