Next weekend, during the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tenn., drag racing pioneer Shirley Muldowney will be inducted into The Legends of Thunder Valley at Bristol Dragway. Track officials will place her name high above the track, on the grandstand suite fascia, alongside the other members of the esteemed group of 20 male members.

As she has done so many times in her career in other instances, Muldowney is the first female inducted into The Legends of Thunder Valley. Muldowney, 83, is the 21st inductee.

 “I’m overly excited,” Muldowney said. “I’ve always looked up at those names and wondered, ‘Hey, why isn’t my name up there?” 

“Well, it’s been a wish of mine for a number of years, and every time I go to Bristol, those names stare me in the face. Not that I’m putting myself in a class where I may not belong, I don’t know. But because I’ve never won Bristol. It’s one of the top things on my list to accomplish. I’ve always loved that place.” 

“Shirley Muldowney has meant so much to the sport of drag racing and her fire and will to compete carried her to a hall of fame career,” said Jerry Caldwell, president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway and Bristol Dragway. “She has competed many times at Bristol Dragway over the years and won over the fans from around our region. They truly love her and cheered her on every chance they got. Her world record speed of 302 miles per hour set here in 1997 stands out as one of her best performance accomplishments at Thunder Valley. We are so excited to induct Shirley into the Legends of Thunder Valley for all that she has meant to the sport of drag racing and Bristol Dragway.”

To think, the first time Muldowney came to Bristol to drag race, she was told she couldn’t race her B/Gas Dragster. 

Ironically, it was Muldowney's first national event, and it just happened to be in Bristol for the 1965 NHRA Springnationals. She was told she couldn’t race by NHRA officials and while they gave other reasons, the iconic drag racer will always believe it was because she was female. 

“That was the old regime back in 1965, and they wouldn’t accept me,” Muldowney told in a 2023 interview. “I wasn’t pre-entered, but there was room for more cars; I just wasn’t one of the ones they picked. Needless to say, I went home very unhappy.”

Muldowney knew, back then, the value a female drag racer could have on ticket sales. 

“Back then, they just didn’t get it, and it’s kind of funny how it all turned out,” Muldowney said. “They realized that [female racers] bring the people in, and we can fill the seats, fill the stands. It worked out real fine for me.”





Because of Muldowney’s persistence in those days for inclusion into the “good ol’ boys club,” drivers such as Melanie Troxel, Alexis DeJoria, Erica Enders, and Angelle Sampey were all able to celebrate NHRA national event victories at Bristol Dragway. Even more female racers have been able to earn multiple victories and series championship titles since Muldowney forged a trail of success in the 1970s and 1980s, including three NHRA Top Fuel world championship titles, 18 career NHRA national event victories, one AHRA Top Fuel world championship crown and tons of match race victories from coast to coast.

More than 60 female drivers have raced in the NHRA’s professional divisions and countless others in the sportsman ranks. The defending NHRA Pro Stock champion Erica Enders is the top female drag racing winner with 49 national event victories. 

More than 60 women have raced in the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series, and even more have raced in NHRA Sportsman classes. Enders has won the most Wally trophies among women, 47, and is followed closely by Sampey, a 46-time winner in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Muldowney still holds the record for victories among women in Top Fuel at 18, two ahead of two-time series champ Brittany Force’s 16.

Muldowney holds the distinction of being one of only a few drivers to compete in Bristol under all three major sanctions: the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA), and the American Hot Rod Association (AHRA). She claimed two IHRA runner-up finishes and set one IHRA national speed record at 302.08 mph in June 1997.

In the Top Fuel category, Muldowney certainly blazed the trail. She was the first woman to get a Top Fuel license (1973), the first woman to advance to a Top Fuel final round (1975), the first woman to win a Top Fuel race (1976), and the first to qualify No. 1 in Top Fuel (1976).

Muldowney’s official induction will take place during pre-race ceremonies on Sunday at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

2024 – Shirley Muldowney, Top Fuel
2023 – Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel
2022 – Don Prudhomme, Funny Car/Top Fuel
2021 – Scotty Cannon, Pro Mod / Funny Car
2019 – Ted Jones, promoter / drag racing visionary
2018 – Mark Oswald, Funny Car / Top Fuel
2017 – Doug Herbert, Top Fuel
2016 – John Force, Funny Car
2015 – Carl Moore, Bristol Dragway founder and Connie Kalitta, NHRA pioneer
2014 – Don Schumacher, NHRA team owner / Funny Car pioneer
2013 – Warren Johnson, Pro Stock
2012 – Gene Fulton, Engine Builder
2011 – Jeff Byrd, Bristol President and GM / RJ Reynolds marketing
2010 – Shirl Greer, Funny Car
2009 – Dale Pulde, Funny Car
2008 – Ronnie Sox & Buddy Martin, Pro Stock
2007 – Bruton Smith, Speedway Motorsports / Bristol Dragway owner
 Wally Parks, NHRA founder
 Don Garlits, Top Fuel
 Larry Carrier, Bristol Dragway founder
 Rickie Smith, Pro Stock / Pro Mod