President's Cup Nationals -- Saturday Notebook BUNNY'S BACK For anyone who thinks that drag racing is just two cars going in a straight line really fast, you couldn't be any further from the truth. There is so much more to the sport than...
President's Cup Nationals -- Saturday Notebook
For anyone who thinks that drag racing is just two cars going in a straight line really fast, you couldn't be any further from the truth.
There is so much more to the sport than just the action seen on the track. Just ask the living legend known the world over simply as Bunny.
For Bunny Burkett, the sport of drag racing has been many things. From providing a stage to climb from poverty to stardom, to providing a second family, to acting as a form of medicine, the sport of drag racing has been Burkett's life for the past 44 years and will continue to be her life for as long as she lives.
"I never dreamed that when I first started racing on that little rinky dink track in Manassas, Virginia in 1965 that I would still be here 44 years later," Burkett said. "But the fact that I have been able to stay in the sport with the amount of money and all that has to be spent today and still be here today -- I never dreamed I would get to do this."
To fully understand the story of Carol Burkett -- the given name of Bunny -- you have to travel all the way back to 1945 in the hills of West Virginia where Burkett was born. Growing up in poverty, Burkett and her family moved to Virginia at the age of 13 where she was introduced to the sport for the very first time.
Getting her start behind the wheel of her boyfriend's '55 Mercury at the age of 15 at Old Dominion Speedway, Burkett knew from an early age that all she ever wanted to do was race.
"It got in my blood early," Burkett said with a laugh.
By the age of 19 Burkett finally had her very own car -- a 1964 Mustang -- and by 20 she was winning races on a regular basis. But in 1967, Burkett hit a bit of a snag.
Running into financial trouble, Burkett began work as a hostess at the former Playboy Club in Baltimore to help earn some extra money to continue racing and by the end of the year Burkett was back with a new car and a brand new nickname -- Bunny.
Burkett continued to race off and on over the next few years before fully committing to the sport in the 1980s. And it was during that time that Burkett claimed her very first championship.
Moving from the world of door cars to funny cars, Burkett quickly became one of the most dominating drivers in the sport behind the wheel of an Alcohol Funny Car. And in 1986, 26 years after the first time she sat in a racecar, Burkett was crowned champion for the very first time.
In the first year of Alcohol Funny Car in the ranks of the International Hot Rod Association, Burkett went out and dominated the field, beating out Greg Moss to claim the very first IHRA AFC championship and beginning her reign as the First Lady of Funny Car.
"I try not to think of it that way. I know a lot of people do think of it and it is no secret that I have acquired the title of the Second Lady of Drag Racing and the First Lady of Funny Car, but Shirley (Muldowney) made the path and it was pretty narrow," Burkett said. "All I did was help widen it."
Over the next few years Burkett continued to compete, winning races and championships with both the IHRA and NHRA before finally cutting back on her schedule now well into her 60s.
But even though she wasn't as dominating as she once was, during the 90's and into the new millennium Burkett's love of the sport continued to grow. And it is the fans, Burkett will admit, that keeps her going even at the age of 64.
"At this stage in my life it is definitely the fans that keep me going. If it were for money I would have had to quit a long time ago. And if it were for the glory, lets just say I have been there done that," Burkett said. "I just keep coming back because it is the fans that get me out of every predicament, every illness and every crash."
And Burkett has had her share of predicaments.
From a crash that nearly took her life in 1995 to being diagnosed with cancer twice, Burkett has battled her way through nearly every obstacle possible, but continues to drive and be an inspiration to people across the globe.
"I have died, had breast cancer, a mastectomy, hysterectomy, I have fell and broke my leg, had a hip replacement, had another form of cancer, but every single time all I could think of is getting back in that car," Burkett said. "I had commitments and I had my fans. I mean they just get in a tizzy when I am not out here."
Still, even after all she has accomplished over the course of her incredible career, Burkett doesn't want to be remembered for her accomplishments on the track.
"I don't ever think of what I have done as being the first lady or being a lady in the sport. All I want is to be remembered as a good drag racer, a good driver and most of all a good person," Burkett said.
No matter what happens, one thing is for certain -- Bunny Burkett will not be forgotten.
From her accomplishments on the track to her inspiration off the track, Burkett will always be remembered as one of the greatest drag racers of all time.
And at Maryland International Raceway this weekend Burkett will once again show why she is considered one of the best in the business with a match race against Bill Naves. Parked right next to the concession stand that proudly displays her 1986 championship funny car on its roof, Burkett is thrilled to be back at her home track this weekend giving her fans another taste of Bunny and the Boys.
"I am so excited for this weekend. When I rolled in here yesterday and I got to park right beside my '86 world championship car, my IHRA car up on that tower, I looked at Royce (Miller) with tears in my eyes and told him my life, my racing career is complete being able to be here again and park beside my IHRA world championship machine," Burkett said. "Being the first funny car champion in IHRA and then having the honor of being on top of the snack bar while I am still active, while I am still alive is an incredible honor.
"Imagine that, I already have my own memorial."