Shirley Muldowney Documentary Is Must-See NHRA History Lesson

'cha cha' muldowney competing in the winternationals
Muldowney Documentary Is Must-See NHRA HistoryWalt Disney Television Photo Archives - Getty Images

The words "pioneer" and "trailblazer" get thrown around a little too much in sport.

Shirley Muldowney is deserving of both monikers.

With Muldowney, one could also throw in "bad ass" as well.

The native of Schenectady, N.Y., raced her way into a man's world—namely the world of professional drag racing—in the early 1970s and went to a 30-year career of kicking butt and taking names.

A new documentary entitled, Shirley is the definitive racing biography of the first woman champion in NHRA history. The documentary debuts March 20, 7 p.m., on FS1.

Shirley is a high-speed trip from Muldowney's roots in match racing through her big break with Connie Kalitta to what it was like to be a woman knocking the men in the sport down a few pegs on the NHRA national circuit.


Case in point. The time drag racing legend "Big Daddy" Don Garlits signed off on the woman who became known to her fans as "Cha Cha" Muldowney's NHRA Top Fuel license. In 1976, she became the first woman to win a Top Fuel Wally. In 1977, she became the first woman to win a season championship in the class.

"Don't worry, she's not going to amount to much," said Garlits, after signing off on the license.

Well, she did.

A Muldowney-Garlits NHRA Top Fuel rivalry sold tickets throughout the late '70s and into the '80s. Muldowney one Top Fuel championships in 1977, 1980 and 1982. Garlits was king in 1975, 1985 and 1986.

"It was a true rivalry," says Muldowney, who was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1990. "He hated me, I hated him."

Added Garlits, "We had some violent words at times at these races. She was a killer back them."

Shirley is worth a look. It, too, is a killer.

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