• Female Athletes: The Asterisk

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    The Olympics are coming. Once again, the world will have an opportunity
    to learn that the best woman’s performance in track is at least
    10% slower than the best man’s. In strength events, nobody bothers
    to measure.

    The world will not notice this discrepancy. And, when I watch Marion
    Jones streak down the track, I will not notice either. That lady
    is fast! Nevertheless. . . .

    Women cannot compete with men in athletics. They will get beaten
    every time.*

    *There
    is an asterisk to this statement. An exception. A very odd exception
    that never was front-page sporting page news. But it sits there,
    challenging male chauvinist pigs such as myself. There may never
    be another, but there is this one:

    *Shirley
    Muldowney excepted

    For a decade, from the mid-1970’s to the mid-1980’s, Shirley Muldowney
    was in contention for the title: the best drag racer on earth. She
    was — sorry, I just cannot resist — the Drag Queen.

    Drag racing is not one of America’s headline sports. If it weren’t
    for ESPN’s gargantuan demand for something, anything to put on the
    air 24 hours a day, most people would not know about it. I daresay
    that few of my readers have ever been to a real-live drag race.
    I have. Once. In 1962. When you’ve seen one drag race, you’ve seen
    them all.

    Unless there is an accident. And then each one is horrifyingly different.

    A man — or one lone woman — sits in a tiny space at the back of
    a low-slung, long-nosed vehicle. He sits just in front of a huge
    engine filled with highly explosive fuel. This vehicle can attain
    a speed of well over 300 miles per hour in a quarter of a mile.

    A drag race lasts about five seconds. One slight mistake in steering,
    one engine bearing that goes bad, one unforeseen tire failure, and
    the vehicle can be catapulted into space, briefly, and then come
    to a bouncing, fiery halt.

    Kids, don’t try this at home.

    I have no idea what kind of emotional strength it takes to aim a
    needle on wheels at an invisible spot a quarter mile down a track.
    I have no idea what physical strength and reflexes are required
    to keep it aimed. What I do know is that if physical strength and
    reflexes are missing, fractionally, on any given day, the driver
    will go to the morgue.

    Shirley Muldowney in 1965 became the first woman licensed by the
    National Hot Rod Association to drive a gasoline-burning Gas dragster
    capable of going over 150 miles per hour.

    A decade later, she was voted to the 10-person (previously, 10-man)
    All-America Auto Racing team.

    In 1977, she was named Drag News’ Top Fuel Driver of the year, for
    the second straight year.

    In 1978, she was the top vote-getter in the 10-person All-America
    team.

    In 1981, she won the American Hot Rod Association World Championship.

    In 1982, she won the Winston World points championship, becoming
    the first person in drag racing history to win the title three times.

    Retirement beckoned. Retirement was rebuffed.

    This year, she won the Auto Fest’s New Year’s Eve race against her
    old rival, Don “Big Daddy” Garlits. (I first heard of Big Daddy
    when I was a sophomore in high school in 1957. He was already a
    legend.) This year, she was runner-up at the International Hot Rod
    Performance Parts Nationals.

    This year, she qualified number-one at the IHRA Nationals with an
    elapsed time of 4.74 seconds and a speed of 319
    miles per hour
    .

    And I sit here, winded, from walking my dog.

    So, whenever you hear about champion women athletes who could never
    compete against a man, keep this asterisk in mind.

    Rent Heart Like a Wheel. It’s not too bad as low-budget movies
    go. It tells her story. You even get to see the late Hoyt Axton,
    already ballooned but still marvelous, sing, “I’m built for comfort,
    not for speed.”

    September
    4,
    2000

    Note,
    2003: In November, 2003, at the age of 63, she
    retired
    .

    Gary North is the author of Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals
    Captured the Presbyterian Church, which is available free of charge
    as a downloaded text at www.freebooks.com.

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