Shirley Muldowney

By: Mimi Lipson
June 19, 2009


In 1965, SHIRLEY MULDOWNEY (born 1940) beat down the doors of the National Hot Rod Association and became the first licensed female drag racer. And despite the signature pink cars monogrammed with her nickname, “Cha-Cha” (which she has long since renounced: “There’s no room for bimboism in racing”), she was in no way a novelty act. She distinguished herself in the surprisingly dangerous Funny Car category, surviving fiery crashes and setting records, before moving on to win three NHRA Top Fuel championships. In the 1983 biopic, Heart Like A Wheel, Bonnie Bedelia plays the young Muldowney as a plucky housewife with a need for speed. It’s a nice movie, but I doubt it even approaches the true measure of Muldowney’s badass velocity. To look at her in this video, you might think you’d discovered the missing link between Wanda Jackson and Steve McQueen. She pulls on her boots, checks the engine, tucks away her teased black hair, and lowers herself behind the wheel of a funny car. A few seconds later you’re watching a parachute open, and you know that someone has just eaten her dust.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: | Gena Rowlands |

READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).


HiLo Heroes