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Sherman was wrong and so is Shirley
I have a lot of admiration and affection for Shirley Muldowney, as a racer, as a person and as a champion, but she just can’t seem to exorcise the demons that cause her to feel it is Shirley against the world and the world against Shirley.
She has had success as a racer that only a few in the history of our sport have. She has legions of loyal fans. There are times, when she is feeling secure and confident, that she allows the “mom” in her to come out. That’s Shirley at her best -- wearing a big smile and charming everyone; the sincerely caring Shirley who cooks for and fusses over her crew and friends. That’s the Shirley I like to think of as a friend.
But there is another Shirley, the one who defends her turf and clan with a fierceness that can be intimidating. The one who can give you a withering glare or a phone call that melts the wiring in the phone if she feels you have crossed her.
Over the years I’ve had some of those calls, which usually begin with Shirley saying, “Jeff, Shirley Muldowney here. I’d like to talk to you about that story!”
What usually follows is a dressing down that would make a Camp Pendleton Marine Corps drill sergeant proud. (I’m prepared to get one of those calls after she reads this column.)
One certainty about Ms. Muldowney you can always depend on: you never have to wonder for a second where she stands on an issue. And she isn’t shy about using whatever means she has available, including the press, to express or defend her views and opinions. When Shirley feels she has been slighted or wronged, she lets people know about it and in no uncertain terms.
She is legendary for telling race officials, track owners, journalists, other racers, and even sponsors where to get off the bus.
Being a military history buff myself, she reminds me of the West Point-trained, Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman, a General is known for his devastating “March to the Sea” from Atlanta to the Atlantic Ocean. He had a mission and he was going to get it done.
Going into the 50th annual NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, apparently Ms. Muldowney and Pro Stock Bike star Angelle Sampey believed they had a deal with the National Guard to sponsor a Top Fuel team. When the deal didn’t come to fruition Shirley went ballistic and went public, telling her story to freelance journalist Susan Wade. The story has appeared in Competition Plus and in the National Speed Sport News that I know of and may have run in other publications.