NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Shirley Muldowney to become member of Bristol’s Legends of Thunder Valley

Three-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion Shirley Muldowney will be inducted into the prestigious Legends of Thunder Valley, Bristol Dragway's official Hall of Fame, during the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
04 Jun 2024
Posted by NHRA.com staff
Shirley Muldowney

Shirley Muldowney never raised a trophy at historic Bristol Dragway, but don’t let that glaring stat distract from the over-arching victory she claimed through her tenacity as a pioneering trailblazer in motorsports. One so significant that women across the country continuously offer praise and thanks to her; because of her efforts, they are now able to compete and win in Professional and Sportsman drag racing.

Muldowney, who thrilled fans at the controls of her famously pink dragsters throughout many competitive races at Bristol Dragway and signed every single autograph for her legion of fans who came out to cheer her on, will be inducted into the prestigious Legends of Thunder Valley, the iconic track’s official Hall of Fame, during the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals on June 7-9.

Muldowney, 83, is the 21st inductee in the Legends of Thunder Valley and becomes the first female racer to be enshrined in the exclusive club that also includes Don “the Snake” Prudhomme, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, NHRA founder Wally Parks, John Force, Don Schumacher, and Scotty Cannon, to name a few. She will be presented with the customary Legends of Thunder Valley plaque by Bristol Motor Speedway President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell during the pre-race ceremony, which begins at 11 a.m. The accompanying sign showcasing her name in brilliant red will be installed upon the grandstand suite fascia as part of the ceremony.

“Shirley Muldowney has meant so much to the sport of drag racing, and her fire and will to compete carried her to a Hall of Fame career,” said Jerry Caldwell, president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway and Bristol Dragway. “She has competed many times at Bristol Dragway over the years and won over the fans from around our region. They truly love her and cheered her on every chance they got. Her world record speed of 302 miles per hour set here in 1997 stands out as one of her best performance accomplishments at Thunder Valley. We are so excited to induct Shirley into the Legends of Thunder Valley, for all that she has meant to the sport of drag racing and Bristol Dragway.”

Officially at Bristol Dragway, Muldowney was one of only a few drivers to compete at the scenic dragstrip in all three major sanctions, NHRA, IHRA, and AHRA, and she claimed two IHRA runner-up finishes and set one IHRA national speed record at 302.08 mph in June 1997.

When Muldowney set out to become a drag racer at Fonda Speedway as an 18-year-old hot rod enthusiast from Schenectady, N.Y., in the late 1950s, she had no way of knowing, at the time, what an impact she would ultimately have on professional drag racing at the highest levels.

She broke the gender barrier and overcame hostility and discrimination to break through and have one of the most successful careers in National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) history. In 2001, during NHRA’s celebration of its 50th anniversary, Muldowney was named the No. 5 drag racer in its list of Top 50 Drivers.

Because of Muldowney, Melanie Troxel, Alexis DeJoria, Erica Enders, and Angelle Sampey were all able to celebrate NHRA national event victories in Bristol Dragway’s Victory Lane. Even more female racers have been able to earn multiple victories and series championship titles since Muldowney forged a trail of success in the 1970s and 1980s, including three NHRA Top Fuel world championship titles, 18 career NHRA national event victories, one IHRA Top Fuel world championship crown and tons of match-race victories from coast to coast.

In all, more than 60 women have raced in the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series and even more have raced in NHRA Sportsman classes. Enders has won the most Wallys among women, 47, and is followed closely by Sampey, a 46-time winner in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Muldowney still holds the record for victories among women in Top Fuel at 18, two ahead of two-time series champ Brittany Force’s 16.

In the Top Fuel category, Muldowney certainly blazed the trail. She was the first woman to get a Top Fuel license (1973); the first woman to advance to a Top Fuel final round (1975); the first woman to win a Top Fuel race (1976); and the first to qualify No. 1 in Top Fuel (1976).

If you want to learn more about “The First Lady of Drag Racing” but missed her impactful Hollywood movie in the 1980s, Heart Like a Wheel, you can now catch her official documentary called Shirley, which made its debut on FS1 on March 20. The documentary, produced by FOX’s Pam Miller, covers her life from her start, through her teaming with Connie Kalitta, her near-career-ending crash in 1984 in Montreal, and her return to the track for more victories, and her emotional final season in 2003 called “The Last Pass.”

Guests are invited to come out and celebrate with Muldowney June 7-9 at Thunder Valley. She will be featured in several autograph sessions, including Saturday night’s popular Fan Fest in the Pits.

To purchase your reserved seats, call Bristol Dragway at (866) 415-4158. Tickets also are available online by visiting the BMS website.