Getting Dragged: Exclusion Of Shirley Muldowney By New England Auto Racers Hall Of Fame Is A Bad Look 

Shirley Muldowney (Photo: From

(The article below is a RaceDayCT column – The views expressed in this column are solely the opinion of the writer)

It doesn’t matter if it involves motorsports, football, baseball, wrestling or playing chess, when it comes to discussions of Hall of Fame credentials or inclusion, it’s typically a topic that can spark heated debate. 

And that fact stands true even for the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame. 

The New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame is genuinely a treasure of the Northeast racing scene for what it does in recognizing the deep and rich history of motorsports in this area of the country. 

And in most cases, if there are individuals who absolutely positively belong being inducted into the Hall of Fame, and are eligible for it, the Hall of Fame committee typically doesn’t miss getting them in. 

But the omission of drag racing legend Shirley Muldowney from the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame is a glaring gaffe by the organization, and raises the question of whether or not consideration of competitors for the Hall of Fame is gender based. 

It’s hard to imagine how any person who is part of the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame selection committee could offer any reasonable explanation why there have been 25 Hall of Fame induction classes since 1998 and Muldowney has not yet been recognized by the organization. 

Muldowney, a Burlington, Vermont native, is a legend in the realm of top level drag racing. And not just a legend of female competitors, a legend, period. Her standing as a groundbreaker in motorsports is obviously without question, but her status as a legend in drag racing doesn’t need to be qualified by mentioning her gender. 

In 1973 Muldowney was the first female driver to be granted a Top Fuel license by the NHRA. In 1977 she became the first driver to win three consecutive NHRA national events. She ended the 1977 season as the NHRA’s Top Fuel champion, becoming the first female to capture any major motorsports championship in the world. She went on to win three NHRA Top Fuel championships. She was actually the first person – male or female – to win three NHRA Top Fuel titles.

The now 83-year old Muldowney won NHRA Top Fuel championships in 1977, 1980 and 1982. During that time when she was winning titles, she wasn’t just the best female in the sport, she was one of the best competitors in the sport, again, without needing any qualification of gender to put her on that pedestal. She went on to win 18 NHRA national events driving a Top Fuel dragster.

And she accomplished those feats and rose to the top of her game while fighting a good portion of the drag racing industry trying to keep her out because of her gender. Muldowney was active in organized drag racing from 1958 to 2003. 

When the NHRA celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary in 2001 the sanctioning body ranked Muldowney fifth on its list of the top-50 drivers of all time. 

On the surface, Muldowney’s exclusion from the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame smacks of sexism. That may sound harsh, but there seems to be no other argument for why someone with her resume in motorsports could somehow go 25 years without being recognized by the organization. 

No female competitors have been inducted into the New England Racers Hall of Fame. Only two women have been inducted into the New England Racers Hall of Fame. Former Seekonk Speedway owner Irene Vendetti was part of the class of 2012 and Bertha Small, a car owner from the 1950’s, was inducted by the veterans committee in 2009. 

Muldowney’s exclusion from the New England Racers Hall of Fame is clearly not because the organization is not welcoming of the those in drag racing. While the list of inductees into the New England Racers Hall of Fame is very oval track heavy, there’s no shortage of men there because of their efforts – fully or partly – in drag racing. 

Bob Tasca, a renowned car builder and team owner in drag racing, was inducted into the New England Racers Hall of Fame in 2014. Jack Doyle, a longtime drag racing competitor and team owner – who also oversaw operations of New England Dragway in Epping, N.H. for well over a decade – was inducted into the New England Racers Hall of Fame in 2019. Other inductees who had involvement in drag racing include engine builders Rollie Linbland (Class of 2009), Joe Fontana (Class of 2015), Nat Chiavettone (Class of 2022), team owner Tom Dunn (Class of 2017), competitor, team owner and track owner Red MacDonald (Class of 2015) and competitor, team owner and tire manufacturer Marvin Rifchin (Class of 1999).

Any argument that Muldowney is not in the New England Racers Hall of Fame because she was involved in drag racing is negated fully by the list of individuals involved in drag racing who have been welcomed. And understand that none of those individuals came close to matching the personal achievements at the national level of drag racing that were achieved by Muldowney.

Muldowney was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2004. It’s a place where she shares the distinction of induction with names like Bill France Sr., Roger Penske, Jackie Stewart, Enzo Ferrari, Niki Lauda and Richard Petty just to name a few. She was the first female inducted into the Eastern Motorsports Press Association in 2018.

It seems unfathomable that those who operate the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and the Eastern Motorsports Press Assocation see fit to celebrate Muldowney’s achievements with some of the biggest names in motorsports history, but the New England Racers Hall of Fame doesn’t see her as worthy to share the same celebrated distinction within their organization. 

Unfortunately, with each year that passes without Muldowney being inducted into the New England Racers Hall of Fame the message being sent to female competitors in motorsports in New England is that induction into the New England Racers Hall of Fame is an unattainable feat for them no matter their achievements in the sport. And that certainly is not a good look for the organization. 

Throughout her career Muldowney fought for gender equity, not just in motorsports but in any endeavor. How ironic then that the woman who fought so hard for equal inclusion seems to be unfairly blocked from achieving that inclusion by the New England Racers Hall of Fame.  

RaceDayCT Poll: Do You Think Shirley Muldowney Should Be In The New England Auto Racers Hall Of Fame? Click to vote.


  1. Fast Eddie says

    Great article Shawn! I must say I’m rather embarrassed to find out she’s from Vermont. I ate, slept, and breathed drag racing back then, but all of the info about her started with her street racing days in the albany NY area. I thought that’s where she was from. That being the case, I am astounded that she wasn’t in the NEAR Hall of Fame at least 10 years ago!! She wasn’t the first female drag racer, but she broke through all the barriers and stereotypes in the 60’s to get licensed in a gas dragster, which was flat unaccepted back then. Women could run in Stock and Super Stock, but anything faster was off limits. From there she moved up to nitro Funny Cars and eventually Top Fuelers in the 70’s. Big Daddy Don Garlits, one of her harshest critics and certain she’d fail miserably, ended up being one of the people signing off on her dragster license! You’re not going to get any higher credibility than that! One of her earliest events in a Funny Car was at an 8-car match race at New England Dragway early in ’70 or ’71 I think. I have pictures from the pits at that race. She was a teammate to Connie Kalitta and the “Cha-Cha” nick name was first starting up.

  2. chevelledude says

    I totally agree with you Shawn, it’s like she is going thru it all over again 50 years later. ‘”Heart like a wheel” was a great movie about her. I would recomend any drag racing fan to make sure they see it. She got burned up pretty bad in a funny car. Connie”s car I believe. She deffinitly belongs to be in. That is just so wrong!! Aso can’t forget Ontario either. She’s a proven winner and paid her dues along the way. The first lady of drag racing.

  3. Never would have thought of Muldowney as a New Englander. Always thought of her on a more national level. Timely commentary at it’s best.
    Geeze big guy that’s the second tearing them a new one directed at NEAR the first being the Arutes.
    Wasn’t convinced the wait for the Arutes has been too long but man you make a great case on this one. And for sure you better have all your ducks in a row this is going to ruffle a lot of feathers.
    Gotta mention Connie Kalitta as well. It was he the recognized Muldowney’s talent, they made a great team.
    Might be time for another watch of Heart Like a Wheel it’s been too long.

  4. I remember when women weren’t allowed in the pits, let alone drive. Put her in, break the ice!

  5. Put her in, she was at new England and Connecticut dragways in the late 60s,early 70s

  6. Well said, Shawn. Like Fast Eddie I have to admit I didn’t realize where she hails from. I’ve been a NHRA fan for a long time, Shirley was a little before my time but she certainly paved the way for today’s women in the sport. Would we have Enders, the Force sisters, Pruett, Sampey to name but a few? Her exclusion is definitely disappointing.

  7. Very surprised to read this. I would have thought she went in a long time ago. She was truly an icebreaking legend.

  8. I know I’m too old and that Cha Cha in retrospect was all wrong and that Muldowney hated it more as time went on. But as a marketing tool at the time it was brilliant. Fact is she was super hot in her hay day. An attractive woman actually driving and beating the boys was a unicorn. Cha Cha splashed across the side was an attention magnet then you see her and a new fan was born. The sponsorships fall in line, she becomes more independent with her own brand and a star is born sans Cha Cha.
    Give whomever came up with the “Cha Cha” deal it served it’s purpose at the time.

  9. Penny Aicardi says

    Very thought provoking article Shawn!

    A few things to say before I respond: No, I do not work for the NEAR Hall of Fame, but I am a recently joined member — not a voting member. I also worked in motorsports for nearly 20 years. I began my journey in the industry at a time when female representation was scarce, and respect had to be earned rather than easily granted. It was a gradual process to establish my credibility, but I did… among many of the people that are involved in NEAR today. Honestly, I never felt that people didn’t want me to succeed. I was lifted up by many more than the ones who wanted to tear me down. Of course, I wasn’t a driver either.

    The NEAR Hall of Fame undoubtedly serves as a crucial outlet for recognizing the contributions of individuals who have made indelible marks on the motorsports world. Your article prompted me to reflect on the fact that many, including myself, were unaware of the Vermont roots of Muldowney. I like to think that this lack of awareness might extend to the voting members who play a pivotal role in determining inductees.

    With that said, perhaps this article is a nice springboard for the voting members to change that. Knowledge is power after all. I am hoping that by what you have written, it prompts NEAR to consider the remarkable achievements of women in motorsports, ensuring they receive the accolades they undeniably deserve.

    Penny Aicardi

  10. Ken Wilcox says

    I didn’t read the article because promoting somebody from New York for the New England Hall of fame is just silly. No minimizing her amazing achievements but as much as New Yorkers wish they were part of New England, they are not.

  11. Ken Wilcox,
    Maybe you should have read the article and then you would know she’s from Burlington, Vt. Quick geography lesson for you. Burlington, Vt. is actually part of New England. And I guess by your logic, you don’t think Richie Evans should be in there, or any of the others that have been inducted who are not New England natives and never lived in New England.

  12. The only piece we’re missing here is the reasons why she has not been voted in. There’s over 20 people on the selection committee. Don’t know much about most but Sid DiMaggio and Dr Dick Bergren are well known and well respected what say you? Care to check into our humble forum and get on the record. We do tend to have a herd mentality on some of these issues, the credibility of the committee is taking a beating so how about we get the other side?
    There has to be some logic for Muldowney being a nominee but never getting the votes.

  13. Crazy in NY says

    The web site list 275 inducted members into the NEAR HoF. Of that number how many of them are NON oval trackers? Of course I recognize many of them I hardly can ID them all. Are there other drag racers there?

  14. Crazy in NY,
    You apparently didn’t actually read the column.

  15. I always take the crazy one’s points as likely correct because more often then not they come from a place that’s informed. In this case however simply look at the N.E.A.R Creed. There’s no mention of oval track racing. Moreover they purposely keep it very broad to encompass all racers and anyone that has furthered the sport of racing in the region. Ms Muldowney certainly qualifies on that score.
    Tic toc N.E.A.R governing and selection committee. The entire purpose is to engage with the racing fan base. Hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass is a bad look.

  16. Crazy in NY wrote, “The web site list 275 inducted members into the NEAR HoF. Of that number how many of them are NON oval trackers? Of course I recognize many of them I hardly can ID them all. Are there other drag racers there?”

    Get someone to read the column for you, and explain it to you, and answer all your questions for you.

    Who peels your grapes for you?

  17. Crazy, I’m far from an expert, but I was all in on dragracing from the 60’s through the 90’s before getting more into circle track. I took a look at that list for NEAR HoF people from the drag racing world and I see only four; Bob Tasca, Jack Doyle (one of the originators of Sanford and New England Dragway), Rollie Linblad (THE area dragracing tube chassis guy before he went more to circle track), and Marvin Rifkin of M & H Racemaster (THE area drag slick place). There’s more than a few names I could come up with that should be on that list. King & Marshall, Al Segrini, Kosty Ivanoff, and Don Roberts would be a good start.

  18. Suitcase Jake says

    BOSTON SHAKER …. and not in the Hall…. It’s an Oval Track Hall for the most part really….I don’t think they were focused on Shirley of Vermont… Hopefully this will help drive membership of drag racers to join up and start nominating Local Drag Racing Legends in the RANKS of NEAR… Great Job Shawn on putting this in the spotlight….

  19. Rafter fan says

    Do we have any statements or quotes from NEAR HoF officials re: Muldowney’s absence from the Hall?

  20. Fast Eddie says

    Suitcase, agree big time! I thought it was just for circle track untill I found out Jack Doyle got in. There were a number of drag racers back in the day that were championship contenders from New England on the professional as well as sportsman categories, and some current sportsman racers that should be in it down the road. Funny you mentioned the Boston Shaker, I used to get chased away from his gas station by Kosty Ivanoff on occasion when he decided I hung out too long in the 60s and 70s, probably once a week or so.

  21. Surely Shirley!!!

  22. Please put her in while she is still here to appreciate it. It’s just wrong not to include her. Great lady, great racer, and still involved. She’s still attending functions all over the Country and people love seeing her. I know we do.
    Jim and Marcy Elmer…Clarkdale, AZ.

  23. Capt. Mike Qbvious says

    One thing I find interesting in this is that not only did so many people not realize Shirley Muldowney is from Vermont, but that apparently she chose or allowed herself to be promoted as being from New York throughout her career. It’s almost as if she didn’t want to be associated with Vermont/New England, at least on a professional level. I don’t know if that means anything, but I find it interesting.

  24. Saw the vice president of NEAR was on Facebook crying about this article and saying Raceday was picking on NEAR. And then if you go to his Facebook page most of the posts on there are making jokes about other people or picking on other people. Looks like Rich Goucher can dish it out but can’t take it. Look at his post on Facebook on Sept. 12, a picture of a woman in a body cast in a hospital bed with a caption that said “So just to be clear, you’re not cooking dinner then?” That’s pretty much all you need to know about Mr. Goucher’s feelings about where women belong, which obviously is not in his Hall of Fame.

  25. Goodness I wish you hadn’t mentioned Goucher’s Facebook page that was painful.
    Applications for a membership go to Vermont how ironic.
    Maybe the organization is what it is, a club. People that have been associated with racing that want to enjoy each others company dedicated not to the regional racing fan base but to those that they feel have earned the right to be part of their club. Having get togethers to share war stories, give out awards and generally celebrate each other. They sure do like giving out awards not just to outsiders but to themselves.
    Reading their creed once again it is more about themselves and their goals for themselves. Our roll is to join the club for $25 if we like to help it financially and to appreciate the information they provide. Unless we are a member of their leadership it does not entitle us to an say on who is honored. The club doesn’t want the Arutes or Muldowney in for whatever reason, it’s their club. If we that are not a part of their club leadership assume there’s some kind of expectation of fairness maybe it’s we that aren’t understanding their reason for existing.
    Hmmm, now that I’ve resolved to think of it as a private golf club I’m feeling less conflicted. Give it some thought it may work for you as well.

  26. This Goucher guy is a piece of work. NEAR should maybe think about not having him representing them. This guy has the obsessed advanced far right conspiracy theorist master class kit going on his Facebook page. He’s got the racists posts about the Obama’s, the homophobic posts, the post calling the president’s black press secretary a cocaine addict, the posts saying the CIA and FBI are behind school shootings. He’s hitting all the bases. This guy is a full-on lunatic. Dear NEAR, maybe having a racist, homophobic, sexist, conspiracy theorist as your vice president is not a good plan.

  27. Great reveal, Bethany.

    Well, perhaps we don’t want Shirley Muldowney to be inducted in to NEAR.

    I wouldn’t want to see her associated with that club.

  28. Fast Eddie says

    WOW!! Bethany, thanks for the update! Shawn, can I please have all my posts relating to getting Shirley or anyone else in this “club”? I’d hate to have more people read them and have anyone get a wrong and very deranged impression of me because of it. That’s not a place I’d root for anyone to be in anymore, that’s for sure!!

  29. Fast Eddie says

    Geez, got so concerned about this from the “new to me” info, I missed typing the most important word: deleted! But my above post hopefully gives anyone my current view. The internet has a lot of false info on it, HOWEVER, it can also give you a more complete picture of a person as well. My apolgies for my inital posts, as apparently I gave more credit to NEAR being reputable than I should have.

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