CHARLOTTE (April 20) -- Drag racing legend Shirley Muldowney appeared on BBC World News today, speaking with Ben Bland about comments made by Formula One Group Chief Executive Bernie Ecclestone that women couldn't handle an F1 car.
Muldowney is a three-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion who paved the way for female drivers in the sport. Her comments were heard in 192 million households worldwide.
Here is a transcript of the interview:
Ben Bland: A Facebook viewer wrote, saying, there are a number of sports women don't undertake because they lack the physical ability, F1 being one of them. They should remain in sports they are comfortable doing. Shirley, your thoughts?
Muldowney: My thoughts are, in our form of motorsport -- and I must disagree with (past F1 test driver) Susie (Wolff) only because I might be a bit partial -- the 10,000-horsepower cars that we drive, fueled by nitromethane, are in fact the fastest race cars in the world and the most demanding and the most challenging. And she mentioned several times, using the word performing. Well that's fine, you can go out there and perform for the crowd, but my motto is, not performing ... winning. That's the bottom line. That's why I'm out there. I'm not out there because I'm a woman, I'm not out there because I am trying to prove anything, and I'm not out there because I want to prove Mr. Ecclestone to be a bonehead, but winning is the bottom line. That's what it's all about.
Bland: I know this has generated a lot of emotion, but we should probably keep the language a little tailored.
Muldowney: Oh, well that's not bad language. Here in the States, that just pretty much signifies a knucklehead, someone who says some of the things I read that he said. It's pretty degrading, really. I'm a 50-year veteran in the sport of NHRA drag racing. I've won four championships (three NHRA and one AHRA) and I've had the pole position 18 times in my career, and to listen to this man just degrade everything that any other woman has done out there, myself included, is a little bit of a put-down.
Speed Sisters Director Amber Fares, who has made a documentary about the first all-woman race car team in the Middle East: There's a whole racing scene happening in the Middle East, and they are encouraging women to come out and race with them, and I'm thinking that if it can happen in the Middle East, then couldn't it happen anywhere else in the world?
Muldowney: It already has happened. It happened back in 1971 when the NHRA, the first to accept women on an equal basis, allowed me to come into the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis and get my feet wet. And I'll admit, I missed qualifying by .02 of a second -- that's a lot in our sport -- but I dug in and scratched my way from the bottom right up through the ranks and reached the pinnacle. I reached the top of our sport.
I wanted to go out there and teach them the right way to do it, show the fellas the way home, and no one gave me a quarter. I did it all by myself, with good people. Well, I didn't do it all by myself, I need to retract that, but with great crewmembers, and I always had my own equipment. I was the boss, and it kinda looks like I called the right shots when you look at history.
Bland: Shirley, I would be interested to hear you and Jutta (Kleinschmidt) compare your experiences in racing and the attitudes you encountered in racing.
Muldowney: Wooo, attitude? Come on over here and I'll show you some attitude because we have some very intense drivers over here. Most of them are not just drivers, they don't just show up with their helmet in one hand and a first-class boarding pass in the other. They come with their own equipment, they build their cars and engines, they maintain things, they tune it, and they drive it. They are kinda like a one-man band, and what a great job our drivers do. That's the foundation of the NHRA. You must start at the bottom and work your way on up to the top.
We have several ladies out there that are getting the pole position, they are winning the big races. This weekend we have the Four-Wide Nationals. That's four Top Fuel cars racing at once; that's 40,000 horsepower. It is really a sight to see, and the women that are competing know what they are doing.
I started with the sport in its infancy and I grew with it. I was the first woman, and they hated me. They did everything they could to outwit me, to make life difficult, but you know, I didn't go to the corner and cry, I just got even. And I'll tell you where I got even: right on the starting line and on the finish line. That was my taste of glory, and I dwell on it. I love the way I did it because if I had done it any other way, I would not have made the grade.
Bland to Jessica King, 18-year-old from the UK also on the line: Jessica, you have the opportunity to get advice from two very inspiring role models on the line, Ms. Shirley Muldowney and Jutta Kleinschmidt; is there anything you want to ask them?
Jessica: How did you do it? What benefits you? How can I get to where you are?
Muldowney: I'll raise my hand. When you said "program" earlier, I assumed you meant sponsorship programs. (Yes) That's the hardest part, to be able to secure the funding to go out there and buy the right parts and pieces and the right components and be able to afford the people who really know what they are doing. You cannot do this all on your own. I suffered from day one with finding the money to race, but I was able to keep my head above water for 33 years in nitro racing, which is unheard of, to be able to run these cars and compete on a national level. Between personal appearances, souvenir sales, guaranteed appearance money, and winning, that is how I did it for three decades. My biggest problem always was sponsorship.
One thing you need to do is build relationships in this industry with everyone. Cater to the press; you don't pass on interviews, you don't not show up. These are the people who vote for Hall of Fame positions, and that is something you can take to the bank, a Hall of Fame position. I'm in 11 Halls of Fame and I'm pretty proud of that, and those where all voted by the media, so you must treat them the way they deserve to be treated.
Also, you might want to have rich parents or be in the right place at the right time. It's a hard thing to do, and I can't tell you exactly how to do it because that is something I was never able to achieve except with one company, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, and I had a wonderful relationship with them for 45 years. In fact, I am very proud that I was (friends with) the world racing director for Goodyear, a man named Leo Mehl. They asked me to be his presenter when he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame, and I was just blown away. I was so excited and so impressed and I thought, "I have finally made it."