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First lady of drag racing remembers early days of Lucas Oil Raceway as oval track marks 60 years

By Lindsay Doty

This fall, Lucas Oil Raceway will celebrate 60 years of drag racing. Throughout the decades, the oval track located in Brownsburg has served as a memory maker for fans, drivers and trailblazers in motorsports.

Legendary drag racer Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney calls her 1982 Top Fuel win at LOR her most memorable racing moment. (Photo provided by Shirley Muldowney)

Like Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney, who is also known as the “First Lady of Drag Racing.” Her earliest memory at LOR was in 1970 when she met Connie Kalitta and drove a dual-engine dragster in Top Gas.

“I remember thinking, ‘well, this is Indy. You’re racing with the big boys now,’ and I was more determined than ever to do well,” recalls Muldowney, who turned 80 this year. “I went on to work with Connie until 1977 until I figured out his game. Little did I know at the time, I’d win that race one day, the largest event in drag racing.”

Muldowney is the first woman to receive a license from the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) to drive a Top Fuel dragster.

She won at Lucas Oil in 1982 in Top Fuel driving a pink racer.  A moment she calls her “single biggest achievement in racing.”

“It took me 12 years but I won it,” said Muldowney.

The drama-packed Top Fuel win was gender-barrier breaking and drama-packed when she went up against her former crew chief and partner Connie Kalitta – and beat him.

“The best part was I put Connie on the trailer in the final and the crowd went crazy. It was a helluva race. At the time it was the quickest and fastest side-by-side race in history,” she said.

“The facility has hosted so many historic events, with legendary participants and we look forward to highlighting those moments both on-site and online,” Kasey Coler,  raceway general manager, said. “I was 8 with my dad the first time I came here. It was US Nationals and the place seemed like it was larger than life.”

The past few months have come with challenges for the sport and the raceway amid COVID-19 cancelations and closures. LOR made a return to motorsports in July with two back to back weekends of NHRA races. This weekend, the raceway will host the Dodge Nationals which was originally planned for Colorado but was canceled because of the pandemic.
The raceway’s Carb Night Classic weekend, the race before the 500, is still happening despite the Indianapolis 500 running without fans for the first time in history.
“We are still on as scheduled with reduced capacity,” Koler said.
Lucas Oil Raceway leaders are also on going ahead with plans for their biggest weekend, the 66th NHRA US Nationals scheduled for Sept. 3.
“We take everything day by day here and look at local and statewide guidelines,” Koler said.

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