78 may 2015
winning, the hard way
Why did it take more than 30 years for
another woman to win a championship
in an NHRA pro class (not including
Pro Stock Bike, which doesn’t run the
full schedule) since the last of Shirley
Muldowney’s three titles in 1982?
“I’ll tell you why,” says a typically
forthright Muldowney. “They weren’t
good enough. They didn’t have the guts.”
To her, only Erica Enders-Stevens,
who won the 2014 Pro Stock title in a
winner-takes-all final against Jason
Line at the Pomona finale, truly does.
“I knew Erica was going to win the
championship,” she says. “I root for all
women drivers, but for ability, style,
smarts, she’s got them all beat. No way
was she going to let that championship
get away from her. I never told her,
because I really don’t know her that
well, but I knew. It was a given.”
Last year, in what NHRA terms “The
Year of the Woman,” 14 wins went to
female racers, who scored in every pro
class except Top Fuel, where Brittany
Force just missed with four runner-ups.
Enders-Stevens led the way with six
wins in seven finals, nailing it, time
after time, in pressure situations.
Modern drivers may be better at
dealing with women’s success, but it
seems that some “fans” still aren’t.
“Some things they write on message
boards – Erica’s cross-eyed, her cheeks
are too chubby, her butt’s too fat – are
just unbelievable, but I never let it get to
me,” Enders-Stevens says. “I learned
that a long time ago. Those are the kind
of people who couldn’t drive a car to
the water box without throwing up.”
Erica Enders-Stevens (ABOVE) winning
the 2014 NHRA Pro Stock title was never
in doubt, according to Shirley Muldowney.
erica leads the charge
tHE yEAR Of tHE wOMAN
off, and I knew it was over. The car turned
right at a 90-degree angle – there was no
guardrail past the finish line – went into a
ditch, and disintegrated. I remember two
really hard hits, then I was knocked out.
“When I woke up, I was 300ft from the
impact point, and the engine was another
300ft from the car. I was on my side, with
no car in front of me – everything was
just gone. I figured I must have come out
of it. They couldn’t find me at first, and
I remember hearing someone say, ‘She’s
over here.’ They tipped me right-side-up,
and then the pain started. I’d rather die
than ever feel anything like that again.”
It took a year and a half for Muldowney
to recover, and if not for Dr. Larry
Conochie and Dr. Terry Trammell, she
almost certainly would have lost a leg. But
by the start of the 1986 season, she was
back. “What else was I going to do?” she
says. “Drag racing was all I ever knew.”
Three years later, Muldowney earned
one last major victory on a holeshot over
Darrell Gwynn at Phoenix, and finished
her NHRA career with 18 wins from her
25 final round appearances.
“I appreciated every win,” she says.
“I knew how hard they were to get, and
every one was like a gift to me. I’ll be 75
this year. Garlits is 80-something. Some
fans don’t even know who we are anymore
– they weren’t there – but so many of them
over the years have been wonderful to me.
“You know what’s funny? As I started to
show some gray hair, people would come
up to me, and you could tell that they had
changed, that they finally appreciated what
I did. ‘I was wrong about you,’ they’d say.”
All they would’ve had to do is talk to
the other drivers. Those guys may not
have liked it, but they’ve known exactly
who Shirley Muldowney is all along.
They had to race her.
(fAR LEft) All eyes
on Shirley Muldowney
as she returns in
1986 from career-threatening injuries.
remains an NHRA
legend and a true
drag racing pioneer.
Muldowney beats Don Garlits in the Top Fuel semi-final
of the 1975 Springnationals in Columbus, Ohio. She
then lost to Marvin Graham in her first final, but won
her first national event at the same venue a year later.
“They tipped me right-side-
up...then the pain started.
i’d rather die than feel
anything like that again”