September '19

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8 THE SHOP SEPTEMBER 2019 Her first husband, Jack Muldowney, pre- pared and worked on her cars. "Jack was wonderful. He built a car for me, a gas dragster, in 1965." Muldowney kept at it, and her racing transformed from a hobby into a serious business and a real inspiration for women and girls everywhere. NOTHING COMES EASY Racing in those days was very different than it is now. "There were only eight to 10 races a year back then. These days, there's so many opportunities and you can rack up the numbers," she says. But back then a racing life was hard. "So much money was spent getting the cars up and down the track that there wasn't a lot of money left over." Being a woman made it even harder. "We fought constantly with the other racers. It was war. A lot of people didn't want me there. Back in the early days, it was often unpleasant, but I really loved what I did, and I always concentrated on my job." But just to be able to do her job was an uphill battle. Muldowney raced for seven years and then went for her NHRA Gas Dragster license. "When I took the test at Connecticut Dragway, I followed all the rules. You have to run within 10 percent of the national event record, but I passed and they awarded me the license for B Gas Dragster. Then NHRA got wind of it and sent me a letter that they would not honor the license. And their reason was that women didn't drive wire wheel cars. I tried for the next three years to get into a national event. I'd send an application with a check and they just denied it. So, I blew up at them and fought them. They realized in the end they didn't have a leg to stand on. They finally let me into a national event. I did well, but I didn't qualify because the car wasn't set up right." But times were changing, and Muldowney was in the right place at the right time. "Being a woman driver started to work for me, as they knew that I was going to bring in the female audience, and even- tually I started winning," she recalls. "I moved to the Detroit area in 1970 and set a goal to drive and make it pay. I had to make it pay in order for it to be my job." Suddenly, tracks were reaching out, wanting to book her. "The girl that's kicking all the boys," she says. "And that was when it started. I ran lots of match races, invitationals. There wasn't a ton of money in the NHRA national events and I couldn't afford to race in all the national events. There wasn't really a ton of money (for) winning a match race. But it was enough to support it and keep it going." Muldowney in 1981 with her son, John. Like many career women, Muldowney juggled family life and job demands in order to pursue her dreams. Muldowney raced against Don Garlits at the 1977 Spring Nationals and advanced to the finals. She won that event and the next two on her way to the NHRA Top Fuel championship. Waiting her turn in 1968. 8 THE SHOP SEPTEMBER 2019

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