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Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Muldowney: 'Thrill is gone' from NHRA

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

Shirley Muldowney wants everyone to know she still loves drag racing more than 30 years after she made history as the first woman (and still the only woman) to win an NHRA Top Fuel championship.

But Muldowney has some issues with how the NHRA does things. She's mad as heck about some of the recent changes made in the NHRA.

Shirley Muldowney
Toughness was not lacking in Shirley Muldowney, shown here getting helped from her wrecked racer after a 1984 accident in Quebec.

"As far as I'm concerned, the thrill is gone from the sport I love," Muldowney said in a phone interview. "I just hate what they've done to the sport."

Muldowney dislikes the Countdown playoff format. The NHRA went to a playoff plan in 2007. The last six events decide the title between the top 10 drivers in the standings in each pro category.

"The Championship Countdown is a complete joke," Muldowney said. "Yes, I'm annoyed. I'm truly disgusted with it."

Jerry Archambeault, the NHRA's vice president of communications, chuckled a bit at Muldowney's complaints. The two of them are longtime friends, but he has had many debates with her in the past.

"Shirley is old-school, and she has her opinions," Archambeault said Monday. "I'm cool with that. But we do believe the Countdown has been good for the sport and has created excitement in the fall months of the season. We're excited how it has worked out for us."

Muldowney feels the Countdown was implemented to mirror NASCAR's Chase playoff, which started in 2004.

"The NHRA had a wonderful format," Muldowney said. "It was carved in stone. There wasn't a hint of NASCAR or IndyCar in it. They should have stayed original. It's not broke, boys, so don't try to fix it."

Muldowney also railed against the move last season to shorten the distance of the races.

"Now we have the fastest to 1,000 feet," she said. "It diminishes what I did, what I was able to accomplish. It's gut-wrenching. I just don't go now so I won't get so angry at it and what they've done to it."

The NHRA shortened races in Top Fuel and Funny Car from a quarter-mile (1,320 feet) to 1,000 feet as a safety measure after Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed on a qualifying run at Englishtown, N.J., last season.

"We realize racing at 1,000 feet is a mixed bag," Archambeault said. "Some fans want us to go back to a quarter-mile, and some think we should stay at 1,000 feet.

"We still believe this is the right course of action while we look at ways to reduce the power of the cars. We have to solve that first. After we've done that, we will make a decision about whether we should go back to a quarter-mile or stay at 1,000 feet."

I don't like how the drivers kiss and hug each other at the end. You don't hug the guy who just blew your doors off.

-- Shirley Muldowney

Archambeault pointed out two good things that have resulted from the change.

"We have seen some great side-by-side racing at 1,000 feet," he said. "It's almost commonplace to see someone win by a thousandth of a second.

"And another by-product of the change is it has saved teams money. They are able to use parts longer. That's also a good thing, especially in these economic times. So there are clear benefits.

"As for Shirley, I understand that she raced under different rules for many years."

Muldowney, 68, was the first woman to win a major racing championship. Her first Top Fuel crown came in 1977. She also won the title in 1980 and 1982.

No other woman has won an NHRA championship in Top Fuel, Funny Car or Pro Stock. Angelle Sampey won three consecutive NHRA titles in Pro Stock Motorcycle from 2000 to 2002.

"I still love the cars," said Muldowney, who lives in Michigan. "I've always loved the cars and the competition. But right now [in Top Fuel] they have eight good cars and eight leakers. It was unlimited fuel dragsters. Now they place so many limits on it."

Muldowney also doesn't feel the competitors are as fiery as they were in her heyday.

"I don't like how the drivers kiss and hug each other at the end," she said. "You don't hug the guy who just blew your doors off."

Muldowney realizes her comments will cause some controversy.

"I'm blunt, and I tell it like it is, so I know I'm not the most liked person in the sport," Muldowney said. "But I really don't give a darn. I don't care."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Terry can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.