THE LAST DRAG RACE CAR PILOTED BY "THE FASTEST WOMAN ON WHEELS"
by Randy Paddock with ClassicMusclecars.com
Classic Muscle Cars Inc. is pleased to announce the acquisition of one of the most significant race cars in female drag racing history- The 1971 Datsun 1200 B/Modified Compact campaigned in the 1975 NHRA season by Paula Murphy, also known as "Miss STP" and "The Fastest Woman on Wheels". This vintage drag car is still in the original race trim, complete, running and driving. Paula raced this vintage Datsun after a long recovery from serious injuries in a jet car crash. Her final runs down a quarter mile drag strip were logged in this classic hot rod. At the conclusion of the 1975 season, she sold the car and retired from drag racing. Her only additional major motorsports ventures after that season were a U.S. Bicentennial Global Record Run in conjunction with Pontiac and National Car Rental, and another NASCAR track appearance.
Throughout the history of the sport of drag racing, numerous "Best Of" lists have been assembled. The experts often disagree on their nominees, balancing track accomplishments with personal preference. Every list would include the superstars of the sport, household names such as John Force, Don Garlits, Warren Johnson, Don Prudhomme, etc. The list of female racers is smaller, but had no less impact on the sport. Modern day enthusiasts are aware of the Force sisters, Angelle Sampey, Erica Enders, and Alexis DeJorgia. Of course, the most recognizable of the ladies, past and present, is Shirley Muldowney. There is one woman, however, that is overlooked in many of these "Best Of" conversations. This female racer not only competed in multiple NHRA classes, but also participated in more forms of automobile racing than any other person, male or female, with the exception of possibly Mickey Thompson. Her name is Paula Murphy.
Paula was an Ohio native that moved to California with her son in 1956. Her father followed later. Here she began her racing career in her mid twenties, running primarily ladies' Sports Car Club events. Track and road racing stimulated her passion for competition. The success of this early era of her career included an overall win at Riverside, and her various rides included a 1954 MG-TF, Alfa Romeo, Porsche RS, Birdcage Maserati, and a Ferrari. A big break came her way in 1963, an offer to co-drive in a coast to coast speed rally sponsored by Studebaker. This venture was the also her introduction to Andy Granatelli, who prepared the car. The chance meeting was the beginning of a long and successful association with Andy, and later STP Oil Treatment. The rally set four transcontinental speed records.
RACING FULL TIME
1963 and 1964 offered non-stop activity for Paula, in a wide range of automobiles and race classes. She returned to the sports cars for a class win in an F Production Lotus. However, her association with Granatelli and STP would propel her into bigger and better opportunities. One week in 1963, at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Paula was involved in a crew that established 360 production car speed records, in a range of new Studebakers, including Hawk, Lark, and Avanti. A trip to the Brickyard followed. At Indianapolis, Murphy became the first woman to drive solo, in a supercharged Studebaker Novi, achieving speeds of over 100 MPH in test laps. She returned to Bonneville in 1964, setting a women's land speed record of 161.23 MPH in a Paxton Supercharged Studebaker Avanti. The highlight of that year also occurred at the Salt Flats. With no previous experience, Paula climbed into Walt Arfon's jet dragster, "The Avenger". She became the first woman to pilot a jet car and set a women's land speed record average speed of 226.37 MPH, with a top speed of just over 243 MPH.
Paula added NASCAR to her resume, first in 1971. That year, behind the wheel of Freddy Lorenzen's STP Dodge, she set a NASCAR women's closed course record. She returned in 1976, at Alabama International Speedway. Driving Richard Petty's STP Dodge Charger, she reset the record at 172.33 MPH. Again, as in most runs, there were no long practice sessions or shake down runs. Paula basically arrived at the track, jumped into the cars, and raced. Her uncanny ability to strap into a race vehicle of any type, "cold turkey", and establish records sets her apart from the majority of race drivers, both male and female.
The last venture in the storied career of Paula Murphy was the U.S. Bicentennial Global Record Run, in 1976. Pontiac and National Car Rental, in conjunction with USAC, participated in a round the world rally. Paula, along with her team, completed the race in a Pontiac Sunbird in 104 days.
MISS STP IN DRAG RACING
Although these accomplishments surely propel Murphy into the elite of automotive competitors, the petite lady is best known for her exploits on the drag strip. Nicknamed "Miss STP", she barnstormed the nation from 1965 until 1975, in several NHRA classes, from Stock to Jet Car. She was a quiet, humble, person that let her accomplishments speak for themselves. She may not have grabbed all the headlines, but at the track Murphy got the job done.
Dick Landy first put her behind the wheel of his Modified 1965 Oldsmobile 442. Sponsored by General Motors and Guy Martin Oldsmobile, the 442 was a regular on the NHRA circuit in 1965 and 1966. Not satisfied, Paula applied for and received a Fuel Funny Car license. Don Garlits and Tom McEwen signed off on it. Not long after, the gender biased NHRA rescinded the license, as they deemed it an unsafe category for women. Pressure from STP and Granatelli resulted in her reinstatement a few months later. Flying the STP banner, and under the watchful eye of super promoter Granatelli, Murphy embarked on a successful funny car career. The first flopper was a Mustang Fastback, which she affectionately nicknamed "The Powder-Puff Mustang". Several cars followed, including a Barracuda and a Duster. The STP team was even invited to the United Kingdom in 1973, participating in a tour that included an exciting match against Don Schumacher at Santa Pod Raceway.
Paula's luck fizzled in 1973. She was headlining a show at the former Sears Point Raceway, now known as Sonoma Raceway. She was scheduled to dazzle the crowds in the cockpit of Ky Michaelson's "Pollution Packer" jet dragster. Murphy lamented in a later interview that something didn't feel right when she slid into the cockpit. Following a successful high speed run, everything went south. The throttle stuck open and the parachutes ripped off, taking a section of the rear frame with them. As the fans watched in horror, the jet rail careened off the end of the track and rolled end over end. Paula was lucky to be alive, but seriously injured with cracked vertebrae, essentially a broken neck. A long recovery was required, and Miss STP was noticeably absent from the drag scene for an extended period. article continued on next page
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