Relentless Shirley "Cha Cha" Muldowney

The First Lady of Drag Racing.

Where do we begin the story of a troubled young girl that had no direction or guidance? School had not appeal to Shirley. All she wanted to do back in the 1950’s as a teenager was to race up and down the streets of Schenectady, New York in a hot rod. She married 19-year-old Jack Muldowney when she was 16.

Shirley said in an interview: “It was Jack who taught me how to drive a car. Jack was the mechanic. He was the guy who tuned the cars that let this girl beat all the boys. I was a kid from Upstate New York with no guidance, no direction. I was headed for trouble, nothing going for me. Then I found the sport at a very young age and was able to make something out of it.”

In the middle of a half-mile dirt oval track in Fonda, New York was an eighth mile drag strip. In 1958 Shirley buckled up into her first dragster. At all of 18, she recalls the now defunct strip as “…Deadly, deadly! You would go down the center of that dirt oval and then you would sail off that strip onto the oval, all four wheels would leave the ground!”

It wasn’t until she was 25 in 1965 when she obtained her NHRA Pro License. She competed in 1969 and 1970 U.S. Nationals in a twin-engine Top Gas dragster. She switched to Funny Car buying her first car from Connie Kalitta. In 1971 Muldowney won her first major event, the IHRA Southern Nationals. Around this time Shirley and Jack separated. He wasn’t interested in going into Top Fuel, they remained good friends till his death in 2007.


In 1973 Shirley became the first woman to run Top Fuel behind the wheel of Poncho Rendon’s digger. Don Garlits, Tommy Ivo, and Connie Kalitta signed her license making it official. From ’73 to ’77 she teamed up with Kalitta as the Bounty Hunter and Bounty Huntress Mustangs in match races. In 1973 her Buttera chassis Mustang caught fire at Dragway 42 in Ohio. In 1976 at Columbus, Ohio, Muldowney qualified number one by 0.05 second, setting the low elapsed time and top speed of the meet. Having the low ET in every round, breaking her own top speed record in the final and winning the class. An unprecedented three NHRA Top Fuel Dragster World Championships followed in 1977, 1980 and 1982!

Her success was met with wild opposition from those who felt drag racing was not a place for women. Don Garlits is noted in saying: “…if you ask me who I have the most respect for, I’d say Shirley Muldowney. She went against all odds. They didn’t want her to race Top Fuel, the association, the racers, nobody, but Shirley.”

Shirley replied: “NHRA fought me every inch of the way, but when they saw how a girl could fill the stands; they saw I was good for the sport.”

In 1984 a crash had crushed her hands, pelvis, and legs. She was sidelined for a long period but returned to the circuit in the late 1980’s continuing to race without any major sponsorships through the 1990’s in IHRA competition, as well as match-racing events. She returned to the NHRA towards the end of her career, running select events until retirement in 2003. Fred Farndon, long-time drag racer said she was the best ‘natural’ driver, top fuel or funny car, no question.

Today Shirley Muldowney operates; “Shirley’s Kids” a charitable organization helping children in need in cities where drag racing is part of the community. In 1990 she was entered into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. In 2001 she was awarded NHRA Top 50 Drivers of 1951-2000. And in 2004 she was introduced into the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame.

We like the story of Shirley Muldowney, like Burns Stainless she is relentless. With so much opposition, she tirelessly took on an industry and WON! Are you ready to win? Look at our Race Engine Spec Form on our website. That is where we begin in your journey of building an exhaust system perfect for your specific application. We call it our X-Design Parametric Exhaust Modeling Program.

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