Women buy 62 percent of all new cars sold in the U.S. and influence more than 85 percent of all car purchases. This, according to industry website Snapcell. What about collector cars specifically? It has been our experience at MaxMotive that the 85% number may even be on the conservative side. Even if a gentleman comes to the showroom by himself, the conversation usually includes “I’ll have to check with my wife.”
In the early days of the automobile, until about 1935, women were viewed mainly as passengers and not drivers. Back in the days of crank starts, manual chokes, spark levers, etc. driving and operating a car was dirty work, sometimes requiring a great deal of physical strength. Those factors are no problem for a modern woman, but back then it was perceived as “man’s work.” Yet it was clear that what women wanted became something that automakers had to consider. Dodge even marketed a car directly to women. It was called LaFemme. Not too successful, but in retrospect, while a good try, the car may have missed the mark of what women actually wanted in a vehicle. Into the 50’s, when cruising for fun really came into its own, the women were right there. Plus, it was about this time that drag racing “launched,” women were always a part of it, and their involvement would increase over the years.
I have always maintained that the worlds of drag racing and muscle cars fed off each other. The first NHRA national event was held in 1955. This just happened to be the year that Chevrolet brought out their iconic Bel Air. Corvettes and Thunderbirds were new to the scene as well. As the 60s rolled around, the factories discovered that buyers were interested in how their cars performed at the strip. The manufacturers produced purpose-built cars and parts and offered support to the racers running under their respective banners. The mantra was “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” It became a full-on horsepower war culminating in 1970 with such beasts as
SS454 Chevelles, Boss 429 Mustangs, and Hemi Chargers available right from the showrooms.
Shirley Muldowney is widely acknowledged as a Pioneer. She achieved championship success at the top levels of drag racing. She was the first 3-time Top Fuel Champion regardless of gender. Here she is in the early days of her professional career as a Funny Car star.
During this same era, there were some ladies who became star attractions at the races. Among them were Miss STP, Paula Murphy, The Drag-on Lady, Shirley Shahan, and of course Shirley “Don’t call me Cha Cha” Muldowney. When the opportunity arose for her to drive at the top level, she jumped at it. But once she proved herself, Muldowney was not interested in being a circus act or a sex symbol. So she eschewed the nickname “Cha Cha” that promoters had given her. She wanted to be known and respected as a serious racer. Well, she got her wish. By 1982 she was the first 3-time Top Fuel World Champion. She also paid her dues. In 1984, she suffered a devastating crash that nearly took her life. As it was, she was practically immobilized and unable to race for two years. But in true racer fashion, she got back in the saddle and continued her successful career.
Shirley paved the way for women in drag racing, and indeed motorsports as a whole. In fact, the reigning (2022) Top Fuel World Champion is Brittany Force. The reigning Pro Stock champion is Erica Enders. The world has taken notice. Notably, both Shirley Muldowney and Erica Enders have had movies made about their lives and their racing. (Shirley: “Heart Like a Wheel.” Erica: “Right on Track”)
Erica Enders is quite a phenomenon. While few women have ever even competed in
NHRA Pro Stock, Erica has become one of the category’s top performers with multiple World
Then there’s Linda Vaughn. No conversation about women in the car world would be complete without the “First Lady of Motorsports” Linda Vaughn. She rose to fame representing Hurst products in the 60’s as Miss Hurst Golden Shifter. In those days, appearance was everything, but more than just a pretty face, Linda knew all of the technical aspects of the products and helped Hurst become a leader in the aftermarket industry. And she has never stopped. She has appeared at virtually every major automotive event over the last five decades from car shows to conferences, and events in all major forms of auto racing. This just in: Fittingly, Linda Vaughn will appear at “A Tribute to Paula Murphy” at the Petersen Automotive Museum on May 24 th . Proceeds to benefit Women in Motorsports North America.
Linda Vaughn has earned the title “First Lady of Motorsports.” She has toured relentlessly as an ambassador of all major forms of auto racing for more than five decades! MaxMotive will be celebrating 5 years in business in 2023. During that time we have hosted and sponsored several car cruises and events including the Pittsburgh World of Wheels. Of course, we have seen strong participation from women as owners, club members, and cruisers.
Tammy Ray’s Goldigger 1933 Ford Phaeton won the prestigious Ridler Award at the Detroit
Autorama. This is one of the top awards in the show car world.
Pittsburgh’s own Gerry Kerna has owned several award winning cars, including her current star attraction, “Rebel A,”a radical custom 1930 Ford Model A. It won the prestigious Best Rod award at the 2022 Autorama in Detroit and Best in Show at the Buffalo Motorama. Gerry was the very first consignor at MaxMotive. Her full custom 1941 Willys coupe sold in 5 days. Next time we’ll focus on these local heroines of the hobby. Stay tuned.
Alexis DeJoria currently competes at the top pro level in drag racing in her 12,000 horsepower Nitro Funny Car. Here she is with dad John Paul DeJoria, owner of Tequila Patron and Paul Mitchell hair care products among many other enterprises. Bonus Video!: In her past is an encounter with MaxMotive’s Bobby Martin. See the video link. Alexis DeJoria vs Bobby Martin link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fNNGPVvlvw