Story of the Week

Posted: 08.18.2012
Shirley Shahan: Wynn's Drag-on Lady
By: Robert Tate
Shirley Shahan is known as one of the most famous ladies in automotive drag racing history. Shirley was born and raised in Visalia, California where she developed an early interest in automobiles. At the young age of 10, she learned to drive the wheel of her father’s 1934 Ford pickup truck. Shirley was the oldest of four children and became her father’s mechanic helper during his own racing days.


During 1959, Shirley Shahan gained national acclaim as the only woman to compete in a field of nearly 40 male drivers for the super stock class title at the 1st annual Fuel and Gas meet in Backersfield, California. Shirley ended up winning the Backersfield competition which set a precedent and ended all myths that drag racing was only for men.

Besides drag racing, Shirley was also mother of three and married to H. L. Shahan, a former driver and one of the best mechanics in automotive drag racing. During 1960-64, Shirley decided to place drag racing on hold and return to her responsibilities as a mother and housewife. Shirley returned to compete in the spectacular Hot Rod Meet at Riverside where she defeated other drag race competitors and was runner-up for top stock eliminator. Several weeks later at Raceway Park near Honolulu, Hawaii, Shirley won a best 2 out of 3 series against the competition tuning a 127.11mph top speed in 11.90 seconds. Later that August, she grabbed the NHRA miles-per-hour-record for the S/SA class with a 127.30 run at the Palmdale, California.


In 1965, her top speed and elapsed time to date was also achieve when she ran and won in a fuel-burning (nitromethane-alcohol) contest hitting 147mph in 9.72 seconds. Shirley Shahan closed her 1965 racing season in high gear by being the first women to receive national ranking in the Drag Racing polls. She was also the only woman ever to have gained a national place among the first top 10 stockers in the quarter-mile motor sport racing.

The Wynn Oil Company, located in Azusa, California, offered Shirley Shahan sponsorship as the, “Drag-On Lady”. Shirley agree and became the latest addition to the company’s growing racing team back in the 1960s. Mr. David L. Blackmer, Wynn's manager of racing, announced the sponsorship that followed Shirley's debut of her new 1967 Dodge Coronet at the Carlsbad Raceway.

Shirley, now known as, “Wynn’s Drag-on Lady”, traveled throughout the United States appearing at various drag strips and had personal appearances on behalf of the Wynn Oil Company and its distributors. In 1969, Shirley also raced the AMX Super Stocker, which was a spectacular crowd pleasing record setter at Irwindale Raceway.





In 1972, Shirley decided to retire her helmet on her 19 year driving career and devote herself to her family. Today, Shirley still attends many drag racing shows and has left behind many trophies and broken records that will always be a part of drag racing history. Shirley quotes, “It was a good life and I’m proud of what I've accomplished".


A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection (NAHC) of the Detroit Public Library. For further information please visithttp://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/ or email nahc@detroitpubliclibrary.org .

Please do not use any photographs without the permission of the National Automotive History Collection. For further information contact Robert Tate at btate@motorcities.org. If you have a story that you would like to donate to be featured as a MotorCities Story of the Week, email Lisa Ambriez atlambriez@motorcities.org.


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