Drag racing boasts a diversity of participation that is the envy of every other motor racing discipline on the planet. But, how diverse would the sport be today had there never been a woman with the fiery determination of Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney?
While Shirley Shahan, Judy Lilly and others had broken drag racing’s gender barrier long before Muldowney left the streets of Schenectady, N.Y., they earned their NHRA hardware in cars that could have been driven to and from church, school or the corner store.
When Muldowney burst upon the scene in the early 1970s, though, she wasn’t interested in driving a Dodge or Ford or Chevrolet. She was hell bent on mashing the pedal on a Top Fuel dragster, a purpose-built race car that even in 1973 was capable of zero to 240 mile per hour acceleration in less than six seconds.
The problem was that conventional wisdom suggested that while it was okay for women to compete in Stock and Super Stock, members of the “fairer sex” simply were not physically capable of handling the torque and power of a fuel altered, Funny Car or Top Fuel dragster.
Muldowney, of course, begged to differ and in this episode of Legends, The Series, Season Five, the “First Woman of Racing” talks about how she forever changed the landscape of the sport; how she believes that “if I hadn’t had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder, I would have failed”; how her opponents never understood that “the madder I got, the better I got”; and how, ultimately, she battled back from horrendous injuries in a 1984 crash at Montreal to win yet again.
So, pull up a chair and strap in. It’s gonna be one wild ride…