Legendary NHRA driver Shirley Muldowney to undergo cancer surgery

Photos: Getty Images
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Shirley Muldowney has received cheers for more than 50 years for her drag racing exploits.

Now, the three-time Top Fuel champion needs cheers – and prayers – more than ever.

Muldowney, 75, will undergo surgery Wednesday morning at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, after being diagnosed with Stage 2 lung cancer.

“The fans have always been what’s kept me going and I’m sure people will be concerned about me now,” Muldowney said in a statement issued by her agent, Rob Geiger. “Well don’t be; I’ll be fine. There’s still a lot of things left I want to do.”

MORE: A fighter her whole life, Shirley Muldowney faces biggest battle yet

Renowned thoracic/cardiac surgeon Dr. Harold Howe will remove Muldowney’s right lung in what is expected to be a five-hour surgery.

“I’m a fighter, always have been, and I’m going to fight this as best I can with everything I got,” Muldowney said. “Dr. Howe is the No. 1 guy in the business and he’s as ready as I am to get this thing out of me.

“I’m ready for the pain to stop. It’s been getting worse the last few weeks as they did biopsies and the pre-op stress tests to make sure I was strong enough to have the surgery. Everything is good, so we’re getting it done.”

Shirley Muldowney, at the height of her NHRA drag racing career.
Shirley Muldowney, at the height of her NHRA drag racing career. Photo: Getty Images.

 

Earlier this year, Muldowney established the Shirley’s Kids charity (ShirleysKids.org) to help kids in need. Four children have already received donations from Muldowney’s charity in conjunction with NHRA national events this season at Gainesville (Florida), Charlotte, Houston and two weeks ago at Atlanta.

Backed by corporate support, Shirley’s Kids conveys 100 percent of donations to needy children. Muldowney has asked that in lieu of flowers or cards, donations be sent to her charity to further its work and efforts.

“The most joy I’ve had in years has come this season working with our little team at Shirley’s Kids,” Muldowney said. “If people can find it in their hearts to make a donation, that would brighten my spirits immensely because I know where all the money in this charity goes — right to the kids that need it. And believe me we have changed some people’s lives for the better.

“Thank you in advance for all the love and prayers. It all helps. My sister (Linda Roque) and niece (Betty Peek) along with Stan and Sheila (close friends Stan and Sheila May Holt) are here with me so I’m in great hands.”

Because of the surgery and post-op recovery/rehabilitation time, Muldowney has understandably cancelled upcoming appearances at Englishtown, New Jersey, and Bristol, Tennessee.

Updates on Muldowney’s condition and when she will resume appearances will be on ShirleysKids.org.

As she prepares for surgery, Muldowney gave a valuable public message to her fans and others:

“I urge everyone to keep up with their health and get chest x-rays as often as possible to make sure they are okay,” Muldowney said.

Long known as the “First Lady of Drag Racing,” Muldowney has long been one of the most popular and colorful drivers in the sport. She began racing in the 1950s near her hometown of Schenectady, New York, became the first female to earn an NHRA professional license and became the first female to win an NHRA pro race (1976 in Columbus, Ohio).

She then went on to extensive Top Fuel success, including winning championships in 1977 – the first female driver to earn a major motorsports championship – as well as 1980 and 1982.

She also the Top Fuel championship in the rival American Hot Rod Association in 1981, giving her four championships in six years.

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