You don’t get the title of “The First Lady of Drag Racing” by idling, you have to have your foot ready to take off to become a legend like Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney. Shirley had to be tougher than the guys that dominated the sport and louder than the roaring engines she drove to become the trailblazer we all know her as today.
Born during a time where drag racing was a man’s sport, Shirley received push back on the streets and from the NHRA in her quest to become a racer. In the documentary Legend: The Series Shirley states that she can not recall how many times she was denied the opportunity to race by the NHRA and racers. Her relentlessness and passion finally paid off when she received a NHRA pro license in 1965, making her the first—and at the time—the only woman to do so.
Regardless of a lack of funds from sponsorships, she continued to make the most of what she had and went on to make history and break records. She dominated in Top Fuel, winning the 1977, 1980, and 1982 NHRA Top Fuel Championships (making her the only person to win 3 championships at the time), and also found success in racing Funny Cars.
Her endurance and drive helped fill seats in the stands and elevate drag racing to a larger audience. She even helped improve track conditions for racers and spectators. When Legend: The Series asked what she would like to be remembered by she responded with, “The lady driver that really delivered the goods.” She not only delivered, she set the standard of what a legendary racer is, earning her title as “The First Lady of Drag Racing.”
Check out Shirley’s interview with Legend: The Series here.