Unlike any other sport, throughout the history of drag racing, women have been able to go toe-to-toe with men at every level. From the earliest years, women like Shirley Shahan and the legendary Shirley Muldowney have helped lead drag racing to be considered by some the most diverse sport in the world.
There have been a number of years in the not too distant past that have seen a plethora of women in all ranks of drag racing. Sometimes a quarter of the field in Top Fuel or Pro Stock Motorcycle would have females filling the elimination ladder.
Although there’s been a dip of sorts recently, which I queried on this past summer, about a handful of women were competitive at every event this year. Here’s a list of six female racers who have traveled the quarter-mile (or 1,000 foot as it were) in 2013 and are positioned as the current standard-bearers for women drag racers. They’re listed with number one having the best points total overall.
6. Leah Pritchett (Pruett) – A former Nostalgia Funny Car champion, the 25 year old Californian drove a limited Top Fuel 2013 schedule as a rookie for the underfunded Dote Racing, yet Leah managed to be competitive. She won a meet last year while driving a Pro Mod. Her best effort in 2013 was a semifinal at Topeka, while also winning rounds at Arizona and Charlotte. Leah is working hard to bring enough sponsorship to Dote Racing so they can run a full season in 2014.
5. Angie Smith – She didn’t run every race this year but has been a competitive rider in Pro Stock Motorcycle for over a decade. The 34 year old North Carolinian hasn’t won a meet yet, though her husband Matt won his second Pro Stock Motorcycle title this year – they’re building quite a race team. Angie will likely once again be racing in 2014.
4. Brittany Force – She was able to earn NHRA Rookie of the Year honors this season as a Top Fuel pilot. The 27 year old Californian ran in the pro ranks for the first time this year with a new team built from scratch by her father John Force. The team struggled at times, especially in the first half of 2013, but Brittany finally made a semifinal at the World Finals at Pomona to end this season. Expect more improvement next year as her team becomes more competitive.
3. Alexis DeJoria – In her second full season driving a Funny Car, the 36 year old Californian finished just outside the Top 10. The daughter of famed Billionaire John Paul DeJoria and wife to custom motorcycle builder and personality Jesse James, DeJoria appears as the more edgy of all the women drivers. However, the Californian from Venice – the only mother in this group – has a calmer demeanor than the tattooed Funny Car driver first impressions look outwardly. She showed signs of emerging as a contender this season but her team wasn’t able to be as consistent as needed. Expect improvement and a possible win next year.
2. Courtney Force – The second-year Funny Car driver from California finished seventh overall in 2013 with two wins under her belt. The 25 year old created somewhat of a storm off the track when she posed for ESPN’s Body Issue. Regardless, the young up-and-coming superstar was a legitimate contender for the title this season and should be regarded as one of the favorites next year.
1. Erica Enders-Stevens – Arguably one of the most successful female racers in drag racing over the past several years, the 30 year old from Texas had one of the more unusual seasons in Pro Stock. She started off 2013 very competitive and was in the top five for the first part of the year before their sponsor abruptly pulled the plug on funding, leaving the team without the investment to continue. However, she was able to garner a late season sponsor and barely made it into the playoffs, yet finished sixth overall. A trailblazer in her own right, Erica has made a lot of history in the Pro Stock ranks and barring any more problems with sponsorship, she should be one of the top contenders for the championship in 2014.
The sport has moved beyond Shirley Muldowney and there are a healthy if somewhat shrinking group of women, who will lead their way into the future of drag racing.
Additional sources: NHRA