The modern day success of female racers in the sport of drag racing has a very deep-rooted foundation. Pioneering that evolution within motorsports was central California’s Shirley Shahan, (now Shirley Bridges) whose racing moniker “Drag-On-Lady” and a series of terrific Mopar® drag cars both became legendary during the 1960s.
Initial National Acclaim The very first major recognition for females involved in drag racing may have happened in 1959. That year, at the age of 27, Shirley Shahan entered her first major drag racing event – during the first ever Fuel & Gas Championships held at Bakersfield. She came away the winner of that event (Super Stock) in defeating a field of 40 male drivers, which included the likes of drag race legends Don Nicholson, Arlen Vanke and Hayden Profit.
First on the List 2016 marks the 50th Anniversary of Shirley’s win at the NHRA Winternationals (February 1966). Recognized as the first ever win by a female racer in NHRA drag racing history, Shirley won driving a 1965 Plymouth. She won what was then known as the Top Stock category, effectively ending the myth that drag racing was for men only. Her win received extensive exposure nationally for the sport, as it was a centerpiece to ABC television’s “Wide World of Sports” Winternationals event coverage.
Many Mopar cars! During her career, Shirley was behind the wheel of a series of “Drag-On-Lady” themed Mopar cars tuned by her then husband, H.L. Shahan. That included three SS/BA classed cars; a ‘65 Plymouth, a ‘67 Dodge and a ‘68 Dodge all powered by 426 HEMI® engines. “The ‘65 and ‘68 models were both limited edition from the factory,” Shirley said. “I think my favorite was the ‘65 because that got me an awful lot of press!”
Reflecting Back Shirley retired from active drag racing in 1972. “I really enjoyed racing and working with the people at Chrysler Corp. and AMC,” Shirley said. “My experience in drag racing was fantastic and is something I will never forget. With all of the records being broken by lady racers today — I’m proud that my career may have helped pave a path for a lot of what has happened.”
Deserved Recognition In 1997, Shirley was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. In 2005 she was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from NHRA. To this day, she remains a coveted speaker and guest at Hall of Fame ceremony and reunion events.
Family Involvement Shirley’s drag racing DNA has some continuum. Her son Robert does have a replicate “Drag-On-Lady” ‘68 Dodge Dart that makes appearances at drag strips and car shows. Her other son Steven is a Baja off-road truck racer and her daughter Janet’s husband Clarence is involved in tractor pulling circuits racing a machine that has four HEMI engines.
Retirement is Good Shirley retired from business in 1992. Now she and her husband Ken spend a lot of time exploring the U.S.A. in their RV. They remain active supporting different resorts including Yellowstone National Park, Ponderosa Ranch, Mancos Valley Stage Line and See’s Candy resort. She is also a charter member of Tulare County Women’s Trade Club and volunteers for both the World Agricultural Expo and Calvary Chapel Church Motor Sports Show (Tulare, CA). “At last count we have 16 grandchildren and 26 great grandchildren,” she laughed. “With most living in the local area and that keeps us busy!”