Shirley Muldowney The cars race for just a quarter-mile, but you can see them from a mile away - at least. When Shirley Muldowney pulls the parachutes out, they are more than just a way of stopping the 8,000 horsepower, nitromethane-burning Top...
The cars race for just a quarter-mile, but you can see them from a mile away - at least. When Shirley Muldowney pulls the parachutes out, they are more than just a way of stopping the 8,000 horsepower, nitromethane-burning Top Fuel dragster. They are pink, and they are pink for a reason. Muldowney's career has been a continuing list of "firsts" more than anything else. She was the first female to earn her NHRA Top Fuel license. She was the first (and only) female to win an NHRA Top Fuel championship. She was also the first person in NHRA history to repeat as the Top Fuel champion. The list goes on and on. As the 49th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals approaches, however, Muldowney will be preparing to start a list of "lasts" to accomplish. This weekend will be the final time Muldowney will suit up her signature pink firesuit and make a competitive run at the NHRA's U.S. Nationals, throwing the pink chutes for the final time in front of the Indy crowd. The U.S. Nationals is one of six events on the schedule for Muldowney's retirement 'Last Pass' season. In this Q&A session, Muldowney talks about what it is like to prepare for her final competitive race at Indy, what she is going to miss the most once her retirement year is over and why she likes Indy so much.
Q: What are you looking forward to most about competing at the U.S. Nationals one last time?
MULDOWNEY: Winning of course. I think we certainly help the gate. I spend a lot of time with the fans just like I always have. I always like to go down there. The whole gang is there, people I have been friends with for 25 years. The people are great, we have great food and we all have a good time.
Q: What makes Indy such a special place to you?
MULDOWNEY: I think it is because it is the best paying race and it is important because there is a lot of prestige associated with that race. There is a lot of prestige along with winning Indy because people remember winning Indy more than winning other races. It's the biggest race. I think the history behind it makes it so important. This is the race that is the most sought after. Not every racer can say they have won it. I can say I have won it. There are racers who have won it several times as a driver like (Don) Prudhomme and (Don) Garlits.
Q: What is your favorite Indy moment?
MULDOWNEY: Certainly the time that I won in 1982 (against Connie Kalitta in the final). The fact that it was Indy and the final pair was the quickest and fastest side-by-side run ever at the time helped make it so special. Connie in all his years, and he was certainly there before I ever was, still never won Indy. He did win it (1994) when Tim Richards was with him. Connie won it in grand style, he got his day as did I. There have been a couple of flukes where someone fell into it. But that is a very remote thing when it comes to Indy. It is rare to see someone fall into it where a car that is really not a performer, slide through. But that is just part of the sport. It does happen.
Q: Do you think this weekend is going to be more emotional than any other race?
MULDOWNEY: No, absolutely not. I'm treating every race the same. We are going to go there and try to do the very best we can. We don't get a lot of runs out there, but we are also not stupid over here. Certainly Indy is special but it would be great to win Las Vegas too. I've never been to Chicago and it would be nice to win that one. I certainly think Pomona will be fun for all of us. We're all looking forward to that.
We just try to do the best we can and enjoy ourselves. We wouldn't race if we couldn't have fun. We don't race like that. Our whole crew eats every meal together, we all go out together and we enjoy ourselves. We had a ball in the '70s and '80s. We've always had a good team with good people. If someone wasn't good, they didn't stay long. We've never been a team to deal with egos. The problems always get handled and Rahn (Tobler, crew chief and husband) is a great person to work under. We all look forward to race weekends.
Q: What are you going to miss most about competing in Indy?
MULDOWNEY: I won't miss the humidity. I am anxious to see all of the new improvements. I got a glimpse back in June with the Goodguys event. That was a lot of fun. I don't usually go to the track without a race car. I am not a very good spectator. I will attend a few races (after retirement) to give me a chance to be with Rahn at the track, but I am not going to homestead anybody's pit. That is not anything I want to do. I am very comfortable with (retirement). The fans are great. Everywhere the fans are great. Hopefully we can do our best at Indy. I will miss driving the car and trying to make it happen, getting results, being on your game, seeing the guys smile when they get the numbers they are looking for. I'm going to miss the speed, the fan reaction - I like all that. I won't miss putting that suit on when it is 90 degrees.