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Girl power! The big list of female firsts in NHRA Drag Racing history

In no other motorsport have women accomplished as much as they have in NHRA Drag Racing. The female drivers of the NHRA have racked up scores of firsts in the sport that place them head and shoulders above their peers in other motorsports. Here's a look at some of those firsts.
07 Jul 2023
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
Female firsts

Lauren Freer earned a piece of NHRA history at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk when she became the first woman to win in two classes at an NHRA national event. Freer, who previously had collected four wins, scored first in Super Comp, then a few minutes later titled in Super Gas. She was the 30th driver in NHRA to accomplish the feat but the first female. It was the 45th time in NHRA history that a driver has doubled.

That's a pretty cool accomplishment, and that got me thinking about other famous female firsts. So here’s my list of the first women to …

… earn an NHRA license to drive a supercharged race car

While other female drivers, including Shirley Shahan, Peggy Hart, Roberta Leighton, and Carol Cox, had already been competing in their naturally aspirated cars, in 1964, Barbara Hamilton was the first woman licensed by NHRA to drive a supercharged car in competition with her blown ’37 Willys gasser. It took about two years and 20 rejected petitions before NHRA finally relented. 

… earn an NHRA nitro license

Paula Murphy was the first woman in NHRA history to receive a nitro license, in 1966 for Funny Car competition. “Fat Jack” Bynum built the chassis and the 392 engine that sat beneath a windshield-less ’66 Mustang body known as Miss STP. Tom McEwen, then the president of the UDRA, was the first to welcome the idea of a female Funny Car racer and oversaw her licensing at Lions Drag Strip in late 1966. It took a couple of outings before she got the required signatures, provided by none other than McEwen and Don Garlits, and, once she had proven herself capable, NHRA granted her a license as well.

… earn an NHRA Top Fuel license

Shirley Muldowney, who already had been competing in Funny Car for several years, was the first woman to get her license in Top Fuel, moving up from Top Gas and making runs in Poncho Rendon’s fuel dragster in 1973. Don Garlits and Tommy Ivo both signed her license.

… win class eliminations at an NHRA national event

At the 1962 Winternationals, Southern California homemaker Carol Cox made history when she became NHRA's first female class eliminations winner, driving her S/SA Pontiac to victory. Later that year, Roberta Leighton won her class, J/S, in a ‘60 El Camino at the Nationals in Indy.

… win an NHRA national event eliminator

Shirley Shahan was the first woman to win an NHRA national event, winning in Stock at the 1966 Winternationals, driving her S/SA Hemi-powered “Drag-on Lady” Belvedere to victory. Late in 1965, Shahan had been runner-up in Top Stock at the Hot Rod Meet in Riverside, Calif., and followed with a runner-up at the 1966 AHRA Winternationals in Irwindale, Calif., before her win at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona.

… qualify in a Pro class at a national event

Shirley Shahan (Pro Stock) and Shirley Muldowney (Funny Car) both qualified for Indy in 1971. There’s no real record of who was the first, so let’s give it to both of them.

UPDATE: Reader Dave Scoggin was there and, according to his handwritten notes, "Shirley Shahan made her 10.00 qualifying pass around noon on Sunday. Shirley Muldowney failed to fire on Friday, then had to nurse Connie [Kalitta] back to health after his devastating crash; she made her one-and-only 6.76 run at around 2:10 on Sunday. So, I guess Ms. Shahan was the first."

… qualify No. 1 in a pro category (Top Fuel)

Muldowney was the first female to qualify No. 1 in a Pro category, in Top Fuel at the 1976 Springnationals in Columbus, Ohio, with a performance of 6.031 seconds. Fifteen other women have qualified No. 1 in a Pro category in NHRA history: Lucille Lee, Lori Johns, Shelly Payne, Cristen Powell, Angelle Sampey, Melanie Troxel, Erica Enders, Karen Stoffer, Ashley Force Hood, Courtney Force, Alexis DeJoria, Brittany Force, Leah Pruett. Angie Smith, and Camrie Caruso.

… win a round in a Pro class

Muldowney won in the opening round of Funny Car at the 1973 Springnationals, defeating Jim Murphy, 6.84 to 6.91. She lost in round two to Dave Beebe.

… advance to a final round in Top Fuel

A year before she qualified No. 1 for the first time, Muldowney was the first female to advance to a final round in Top Fuel, at the 1975 Springnationals, after defeating Don Garlits in the semifinals. Muldowney smoked the tires and lost the final to Marvin Graham, 6.19 to 6.36. To add insult to injury, she ended up in the sand trap after a parachute failure. 

… win a Top Fuel wally

A year after her runner-up at National Trail Raceway, and after also losing the final round of the 1975 U.S. Nationals to Don Garlits, Muldowney was the first female to win in Top Fuel at the 1976 Springnationals, defeating Bob Edwards. Her 5.96 in the final round was a new track record and easily eclipsed Edwards’ 6.30. Muldowney would win 17 more times in her Hall of Fame career.

… post victories in both nitro categories 

Melanie Troxel became the first woman in NHRA history to post victories in both nitro categories in May 2008. She won her first Top Fuel race at the Winternationals in 2006 and her first Funny Car race in 2008 in Bristol. She was the 14th driver in NHRA history to win in both nitro categories (the number now sits at 18).

… qualify No. 1 in Funny Car

Two races after her breakthrough Funny Car win in Bristol, Troxel became the first female to qualify No. 1 in Funny Car in Chicago 2008.

… advance to a final round in Funny Car 

Ashley Force Hood became the first female driver to advance to a final round in Funny Car at the fall Las Vegas event in 2007, in her first year in the class. It was her 21st race in the class, and she’d been to a trio of semifinals already that year before reaching the final in Las Vegas, where she lost on a 4.87 to 4.82 holeshot to former John Force Racing driver Tony Pedregon. 

… win a Wally in Funny Car 

Less than a year later, Force Hood became the first female driver to win in Funny Car at the 2008 Southern Nationals in Atlanta, beating her father, John Force, in the final round of eliminations.

… qualify No. 1 in Pro Stock 

Erica Enders became the first woman to qualify No. 1 in Pro Stock history in Topeka in 2006. Her No. 1 qualifying effort earlier this season in Bristol was the 30th of her career.

… win a round in Pro Stock

Lucinda McFarlin, of Victoria, Texas, was the first female Pro Stock driver to win a round of eliminations when she defeated Don Beverley in the first round of the 1992 Mid-South Nationals in Memphis, Tenn., for her only round-win.

… advance to a final round in Pro Stock

Enders became the first woman to advance to a final round in Pro Stock at the Chicago event in 2005. She defeated Ron Krisher, Mike Edwards, and Warren Johnson in the early rounds before losing to Jason Line on a red-light in the final.

… win a Pro Stock Wally

Seven long years later back at Route 66 Raceway, Enders became the first female to win in Pro Stock at the Chicago event in 2012, defeating Greg Anderson in the final round, 6.62 to 6.64.  

… qualify No. 1, advance to a final round, and win in Pro Stock Motorcycle

Angelle Sampey accomplished all three feats in one fell swoop at the 1996 Keystone Nationals in Reading aboard George Bryce’s Star Racing Suzuki. Sampey (née Seeling) had made her debut just a few races earlier at the Mile-High Nationals and even won a round there before dominating at Maple Grove Raceway, where she concluded her run with a final-round victory over Dave Schultz.

… win in a Sportsman class

  • Top Alcohol Dragster: Amy Faulk (1990 Baton Rouge)
  • Top Alcohol Funny Car: Bunny Burkett (1986 Reading)
  • Comp: Amy Faulk (1983 Atlanta)
  • Super Stock: Judy Lilly (1972 Pomona)
  • Stock: Shirley Shanan (1966 Pomona)
  • Factory Stock: Leah Pruett (2018 Indy)
  • Super Comp: Kathy Woeber (1988 Atlanta)
  • Super Gas: Vonnie Mills (1987 Gainesville)
  • Super Street: Deborah Ridenhour (2001 Houston)
  • Top Dragster: Jenifer White (2011 Bristol)
  • Top Sportsman: Vonnie Mills (2022 Reading)

… win a Pro championship (Top Fuel)

Shirley Muldowney won the 1977 championship in a runaway after three straight summer wins (Columbus, Englishtown, and Montreal). Her total of 11,939 points was more than 16 round-wins ahead of championship runner-up Pat Dakin’s score of 8,640.

… win a championship in Funny Car 

Still waiting … Best finish to date: Ashley Force, second place in 2009. How ‘bout it, Alexis DeJoria?

… win a championship in Pro Stock 

Erica Enders became the first female to win a championship in Pro Stock in 2014 after a six-win season. She went on to win four more championships, in 2015, ’19, ’20, and ‘22. She’s still the only female to win a Pro Stock championship.

… win a championship in Pro Stock Motorcycle 

In 2000, Angelle Sampey became the first female to win a championship in Pro Stock Motorcycle. She also won it the next two years (2001 and 2002) and is still the only female to win a Pro Stock Motorcycle championship, and with 46 career wins, she’s the winningest female driver in NHRA history (Enders has 45).

… win two TOP FUEL championships

When she won the Top Fuel championship in 1980, Muldowney became the first driver (of either gender) to repeat as NHRA Top Fuel champion after her initial title in 1977. She would win a third and final title in 1982.

… win a Sportsman championship

Amy Faulk won the Super Stock championship in 1979 by winning the 1979 World Finals at Ontario Motor Speedway, driving her SS/IA ’67 Camaro past Bob Marshall in the final round. Other female Sportsman champs since then: Jackie Alley (Super Stock, 2011); Mia Tedesco (Super Gas, 2016); Allison Doll (Stock, 2019); Megan Meyer (Top Alcohol Dragster, 2019-20); and Rachel Meyer (Top Alcohol Dragster, 2021).

… win the U.S. Nationals

Muldowney won Top Fuel at the 1982 U.S. Nationals to become the first woman to win the Big Go, defeating arch-rival Connie Kalitta in the final round, 5.57 to 5.66. Since Muldowney’s win, four other female drivers have won the U.S. Nationals in a Pro class: Angelle Sampey in Pro Stock Motorcycle (2001 and 2002), Ashley Force Hood (2009 and 2010), Alexis DeJoria (2014) in Funny Car, and Erica Enders (2015, '20, and 21). There has been a female winner in the Top Alcohol Dragster ranks in each of the last four years: Megan Meyer (2019 and ‘20), Jackie Fricke (2021), and Julie Nataas (2022). Leah Pruett (Factory Stock, 2018) and Heather Fetch Robilotto (2006) have also won Indy in the Sportsman ranks.

… clock a five-second run

After qualifying fifth at the 1975 U.S. Nationals with a 6.01, Muldowney ran 5.999 in round one to defeat Jim Bucher to become the first woman to cover the quarter-mile in less than six seconds.

… clock a four-second run

Fourteen years and one career-threatening accident later, Muldowney became the first to make a sub-five-second pass, a 4.974, that qualified her No. 1 at the 1989 NHRA Keystone Nationals in Reading and made her the eighth member of the Cragar Four-Second Club. A month later, she would win her 18th and final national event, at the Fallnationals in Phoenix.

… clock a 250-mph run 

Again, it’s Muldowney, with a pass of 253.52 mph during a Division 7 WCS meet at Orange County International Raceway in Irvine, Calif. Muldowney was just the second member of the NHRA 250-mph Club, 19 months after Don Garlits inaugurated it with his famed 250.69-mph blast at the 1975 World Finals.

… clock a 300-mph run 

Australian Rachelle Splatt was the first female in NHRA history to clock a 300-mph run, posting a speed of an even 300.00 mph in Houston in 1994. On that run, she became the 16th and final member of the Slick 50 300-MPH Club.


First all-female Top Fuel final

A few months after a stinging defeat to class newcomer Lucille Lee in the final round of the 1982 March Meet and after Lee had become the second female winner in Top Fuel a month later in Atlanta, Muldowney, far lane, defeated Lee in the first all-female national event Top Fuel final in NHRA history at the 1982 Springnationals. It would take 34 years for another all-female Top Fuel final when Leah Pritchett defeated Brittany Force in Phoenix in 2016. 

First all-female Funny Car final

Again, still waiting …

First all-female Pro Stock final

Erica Enders, near lane, defeated rookie No. 1 qualifier Camrie Caruso in the final round of the 2022 SpringNationals in Houston, 6.56 to 6.62. Less than a year later and almost 11 years after Enders' breakthrough win, Caruso became the class' second female winner when she scored at this year's NHRA Arizona Nationals. 

First all-female Pro Stock Motorcycle final

Angelle Sampey, near lane, defeated  Karen Stoffer in the final round in Reading in 2002. Thirteen years later, Stoffer returned the favor at the Norwalk event in 2015.

First time THAT two women won PRO CLASSES at the same event

The first time two women won at the same event was in Seattle in 2012 when Courtney Force won in Funny Car and Erica Enders won in Pro Stock. They were joined on the victory stage by a third woman, Megan Ellison, center, who won in Super Street. 

First time THAT multiple women won the world championship in the same year

In 2019, Erica Enders won her third Pro Stock crown and was joined on the champions’ stage by Megan Meyer, center, in Top Alcohol Dragster and Allison Doll, right,  who won the Stock title. A year later, Enders and Meyer again won championships in their classes, and last year, Enders and Top Fuel champ Brittany Force became the first two women in a Professional class to win championships in the same year.

Total wins by women in national event competition

  • Overall: 366 wins by 97 different women
  • Pros: 190 wins by 19 women

Pro national records held by women

Currently, three of the four NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Pro category national records are held by women:

Brittany Force, Top Fuel:

  • 3.623 sec. Sept. 2019, Reading
  • 338.94 mph Nov. 20‘22, Pomona 

Erica Enders, Pro Stock: 

  • 6.450 sec. March 2022, Gainesville 

Karen Stoffer, Pro Stock Motorcycle: 

  • 6.665 sec. March 2022, Gainesville


So, there you have it ... all of the female firsts that I can think of or research. Big tip o' the hat to statsmeister Bob Frey for helping me figure out the ones I couldn't find and the NHRA media department staff for their help through the annual Media Guides.

With next week the start of the Western Swing, the Dragster Insider will be laying low until the week after Sonoma, working on more good stuff.

Phil Burgess can be reached at pburgess@nhra.com

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