After lung cancer diagnosis, Shirley Muldowney rides again to ‘miracle’ victory

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Legendary drag racer Shirley Muldowney has made thousands of rides down a drag strip in her racing career, but nothing comes close to the ride she has undergone in the last week.

Muldowney, who became the first woman to win a national event race as well as becoming the NHRA’s first female champion (3-time Top Fuel champ), is expected to be released Tuesday from a Charlotte area hospital.

But that’s only the back story.

Muldowney was admitted into the hospital a week ago today, prepared to have her right lung removed last Wednesday, having been diagnosed with Stage 2 lung cancer. Only about 30 percent of Stage 2 survivors live another five years after surgery.

That’s when nothing short of a miracle happened.

When the five-hour surgery began last Wednesday, doctors quickly discovered that while there indeed was a tumor in Muldowney’s right lung, the entire lung itself ultimately did not require removal – just a small portion of it, including the tumor.

Then, when doctors examined the tumor, they found that while it was severely infected, it did not appear to be cancerous. A biopsy of the tumor after it was removed confirmed its benign state.

“The decision to remove only part of her lung happened during the surgery when they saw that the lower lobe was in good shape,” Muldowney’s agent, Rob Geiger, told MotorSportsTalk.

“Apparently, because the tumor was so infected, it presented itself as cancerous by exhibiting all the signs of cancer, i.e. it ‘glowed’ during the scan they do.

“They tried twice to get a piece of it to test tissue, but because the tumor was attached to her windpipe, they had to be extra careful and eventually elected to just leave it alone. Either way (if it was or wasn’t cancerous), it had to come out.”

Now, Muldowney is heading home to recover, but her outlook and prognosis is nothing short of outstanding.

“It’s a miracle, this whole thing the way it’s turned out,” Muldowney said, according to Geiger. “To go from hearing a cancer diagnosis and having an entire lung removed to the actual operation and the doctor sees it’s not as bad as they thought.

“I still have part of my right lung and the tumor was just severely infected, not cancerous. I’m so glad it’s over and the pain is over. The infection was so bad I would have died pretty soon if we didn’t do this. I’m lucky, very lucky.”

Geiger relayed a message Muldowney had for her fans:

“The fans and all of the friends I’ve made over the years have really been something,” Muldowney said. “I have received so many flowers my room is overflowing.

“I asked the nurses to distribute them around to other patients so they can enjoy them as well. Plus, I told them to put some on the nurse’s station for them to see.

“I’ve gotten so many cards and messages on the Internet and email, I’m going to have to live another 20 years to answer them all!

“The staff here … these people here are angels. The absolute best in the business. They are so wonderful and attentive. It’s been as good as it can be.

“I can’t wait to get home and see the dogs. They miss their mama, I’m sure.”

Muldowney, who had to cancel two appearances at upcoming NHRA events due to last week’s surgery, is hoping for a quick recovery. It’s not clear when she may return to public appearances, but Muldowney is ready to start working in that direction.

“I need to stay active,” she said. “I need to keep up and walking around. The doctors want me walking up to two miles a day by the time I hit eight weeks, so I need to stay on it.”

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Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)