Torn From The Headlines

First Lady Of Drag Racing Makes Her Final Top Fuel Pass

LAST RIDE: Shirley Muldowney in the cockpit of her Top Fuel dragster in November 2003. (Angela Barraza Photo)

LAST RIDE: Shirley Muldowney in the cockpit of her Top Fuel dragster in November 2003. (Angela Barraza Photo)

Shirley Muldowney, “the first lady of drag racing,” made her final run down the quarter-mile on Sunday, Nov. 9, 2003, during the 39th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway.

After more than 40 years of drag racing, Muldowney started the final day of her career by beating Paul Romine in round one of Top Fuel eliminations. Her pink Mac Tools/Action Collectibles Dragster ran a 4.685 e.t. at 301.07 mph to Romine’s losing 4.677 e.t. at 259.66 mph.

Muldowney’s final competitive pass came in round two when she lost to Cory McClenathan. McClenathan ran a 4.552 e.t. at 322.88 mph to Muldowney’s 4.707 e.t. at 317.12 mph.

“I will never forget this weekend for the rest of my life,” said the 63-year-old Muldowney. “I’m delighted it was in Pomona. I’ve had a lot of time to prepare for (retirement). It has totally sunk in that this is the last race.”

The season-ending event was the last of six races that comprised Muldowney’s “Last Pass” retirement tour in 2003. Her dragster was prepared by husband/crew chief Rahn Tobler with assistance from a group of veteran drag-racing mechanics.

“There’s a lot of talent on this team,” said Bob Brandt, who worked with Don Prudhomme for 17 years and helped establish and manage Tony Schumacher’s championship-winning Exide dragster team. “We’ve all been friends of Rahn and Shirley for a long time, and we just wanted to help her have a great outing.”

Muldowney’s last pass was a milestone moment for auto racing as it brought down the curtain on a career that saw her become the most successful female driver in the history of the sport.

Breaking gender barriers at every level, Muldowney became the first female driver licensed to compete in NHRA’s supercharged gasoline dragster category in 1965. She switched to Funny Cars when the gasoline categories were discontinued in 1971 and soon became the first female to earn an NHRA Top Fuel license.

Racing out of Mount Clemens, Mich., Muldowney went on to win 18 NHRA Top Fuel events and claimed three series championships — 1977, 1980 and 1982.

The 1983 movie “Heart Like a Wheel” was based on her life and Muldowney was honored as one of NHRA’s Top 50 drivers during the organization’s 50th anniversary in 2001.

“I know what we have done, and I can’t say I’ve done it all by myself,” Muldowney said. “I like to think I made a difference. I hung in there. I’ve always had my own style of doing things.”

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