MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Award-Winning Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Della Woods, Replicas West/Tom West, Drag Racing Hall of Fame
Published 3.13.2024

A 1963 Dodge race car Chrysler Archives RESIZED 1A 1963 Dodge race car (Chrysler Archives)

One of the most iconic female race car drivers in the world was Della Woods. For many years, Woods created great excitement in the world of funny cars and drag racing. She was a trail blazer. Her passion was always auto racing, and she demonstrated that on racetracks all over the country.

Early days of Della Woods working on an engine Chrysler Archives CROPPED AND RESIZED 2Early days of Della Woods working on an engine (Chrysler Archives)

Della Woods and her brother Bernie Woods were from Lake Orion, Michigan. Her racing career began during the 1960s. Woods was the first female driver in the five-second bracket in the funny car class, and the first female driver to compete in the semifinals at the NHRA National event.

Della Woods with her Dodge Challenger funny car News Dodge Garage RESIZED 3Della Woods with her Dodge Challenger funny car (News Dodge Garage)

For many years, auto racing historians called Woods the “Female Funny Car Pioneer.” She and her brother built their first nitro funny car, a great- looking Logghe chassis Dodge Charger-bodied car called “Bernella’s Funny Honey.”

Woods was one of the first female drag racers in the country. This was a time in our nation’s history when women were not welcome to participate in many things, including auto racing. For many years, Woods’ courage and dedication to becoming a skilled racing driver began to open the doors for many other women drivers across the country. Throughout her racing career, she had many fans in America, and she would always take the time to sign autographs.

A Dodge Charger on race track Tom West Replicas West 4A Dodge Charger on the race track (Tom West Replicas West)

In 1968, Woods and her brother Bernie built and started racing the great-looking 1968 Dodge Charger-bodied funny car with a popular 426 Hemi engine known as “Funny Honey” throughout the midwest and on the east coast, attracting many fans.

Della Woods drag racing her Dodge Omni NHRA Nationals Indianapolis 5Della Woods drag racing her Dodge Omni (NHRA Nationals Indianapolis)

Woods had competed at many racing events, including the NHRA Nationals in Indianapolis with her popular Dodge Omni funny car. In 1972, she became involved with De Nichols, a General Motors engineer and owner of a precision machine shop known as N&S Automotive. Later, Nichols would become Woods’ crew chief.

Dodge Fever with Della Woods Hot Rod and Custom Car Show at Cobo Hall 6Dodge Fever with Della Woods at the Hot Rod and Custom Car Show at Cobo Hall

During the 1990s, Woods began to run out of funding, and her racing career came to an end. She had beaten all the odds against her to express her passion in the field of auto racing. She was also a breast cancer survivor.

Della Woods with her Dodge Charger funny car Drag Racing Hall of Fame 7Della Woods with her Dodge Charger funny car (Drag Racing Hall of Fame)

The prestigious Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame honored Woods in 1999 for her racing career. Jim Hill, a racing historian, said, “During her racing career Della Woods not only broke through drag racing’s glass ceiling, she also blew away several speed barriers for female funny car drivers.”

Della Woods receiving an award East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame 8Della Woods receiving an award from the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame

In conclusion, Della Woods is a part of auto racing history and will be remembered by generations to come. She once said, “I’m grateful that I had the experience meeting the people that we met through the years that was an experience in itself to have all these friends all over the country.”

Bibliography  

Peters, Meg. “Della Woods on Life, Love and Her Real Passion.” The Citizen, August 12, 2015.

Hill, Jim. “Della Woods: Female Funny Car Pioneer.” East Cost Drag Racing Hall of Fame, July 1, 2016.

Hakim, David. “Women Drag Racers in History: Della Woods.” Dodge Garage, March 26, 2021.