Shirley "Cha Cha" Muldowney known as the "First Lady of Racing" was born in 1940, and raised in Schenectady, New York in the 1950s.

Her first drag race was at the Fonda Speedway, in New York. Between 1958 and 1963 she perfected the skills needed to be a drag racer. In 1965 she became the first woman to earn a license from the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). In 1971 she joined the funny car circuit, winning her first race in Lebanon Valley, New York. She won her first national event at the Southern Nationals race in Rockingham, North Carolina, sponsored by the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA). After four serious fires in funny cars, she switched to Top Fuel cars -- the worlds fastest race cars. She was the first woman ever to earn a license for a Top Fuel car in the NHRA. In 1975 she became the first woman ever to advance to the finals in Top Fuel and the first woman to break the five second barrier.

In 1977 she became only the second person ever to run over 250 mph, and the first woman to win the Winston World Championship in points. That same year she became the first racer to win three consecutive NHRA national events. Later that year she was honored with an "Outstanding Achievement Award" from the United States House of Representatives.

Shirley broke many records over the next two decades, and even a near fatal crash at over 250 mph in 1984 only slowed her down temporarily. Shirley's career has spanned four decades and she has achieved more than most men in her sport have; including being honorored by the New York State Senate in the "Thirty Women of Distinction", keeping company with the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt and Susan B. Anthony.

Shirley's incredible life story was depicted in a feature film "Heart like a wheel," starting Bonnie Bedelia, in 1983. While the story was interesting, it failed to capture much of the essense of her intense spirit and courage. It was also written a few years too soon, causing the ommision of some of the most important aspects of her life, including the crash that almost took her life.

I think Chris Martin sums her up well with the following:
"Possibly the last century's most significant female sports figure. Name the player -- Babe Zaharias, Cheryl Miller, Wilma Rudolph, Martina Navritolova, Nancy Lopez, you name 'em -- none competed against men, and none competed against them in a macho competition like drag racing. But more important, no female athlete ever dominated the male species in the last 100 years like Shirley. She is the sport's most important contribution to the world picture."
-- Chris Martin,
Her awards, honors and achievements:

Shirley's fellow drag racers in the Motorsports Hall of Fame include:

Eddie Hill
Tom McEwen
Danny Ongais
C. J. Hart
Don Nicholson
Art Chrisman
Bill Jenkins
Keith Black
Bob Glidden
Wally Parks
Connie Kalitta
Don Prudhomme