Shirley Muldowney didn't get to be the most iconic and trailblazing drag racer, who just happened to be female, by not having an edgy nature of toughness. 

Muldowney continues to be a trailblazer for female drag racers. On Sunday, she will become the first of her gender to be inducted into the Legends of Thunder Valley during the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. 

Her latest visit to the picturesque drag strip carved out of the eastern Tennessee Mountains in the mid-1960s is far different than the first time she visited in 1965 as a budding superstar with a gasoline-burning dragster she ran in Comp Eliminator.

The first time Muldowney came to Bristol, she cried. It was not because she lost a race. NHRA wouldn't let her race. Race officials told Muldowney it was because she didn't pre-enter. She believes to this day that it was because of her gender. 

"Me and Jack Muldowney and [son] Little John towed our ghastly looking trailer down to Bristol, hoping they would let me in so I could run my little B/Gas Dragster," Muldowney recalled. "And that was my first face-to-face introduction to the NHRA."

Muldowney said the mandate came directly from someone other than race officials. It came from the wife of a division director. In those days, the wives primarily handled all the credentialing. 

Muldowney recalled that the entry refusal came after some time.




"They left me hanging for two days, two full days," Muldowney said. "There was no place [for me]. I sat down on the ground and waited patiently for them to call my name. They used the excuse, 'There's no room in the pits. It's a tight race." 

"They kept saying, 'There's no room." 

"I mean, there's this little trailer. It was funny because John put all the bolts in from the inside to hold the thing together, if you will. They weren't letting me in. So it came down to Saturday at 4:00, and they called off the names, and mine wasn't one of them. And I sat there, and I cried."

Muldowney was careful not to let the male counterparts witness the rare occasion of emotions. 

"I was so disappointed," Muldowney said. "We left. Didn't stay there. We left with our tail between our legs, and we went on our way home. We stopped at a place in [York] Pennsylvania, York, Pennsylvania, and we hung out. I remember being on the other side of this chain-link fence and just looking through the fence, like not here, lady.

"It was a very sad time for me. And, of course, this was a Sunday race at York, and they did not let us in, and we went home."

Legend suggests Muldowney followed Wally Parks from the track to protest her treatment. Another suggests Larry Carrier approached Muldowney afterward to tell her she'd be allowed to race next year. 

Time heals most wounds, and it healed her with NHRA. Muldowney points out that if she has one regret, former Bristol Dragway GM and Winston executive Jeff Byrd couldn't share the induction with her. 

"It is sad for me that Jeff Byrd is not here to see this," Muldowney said. "I adored him. He was one of the ones that held me up, kept me from throwing punches. I did make a lot of friends down there, but still, it just didn't come as fast as I wanted it to. But all of that is over. It's a new day. I'm very happy today."