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With fading of pink, end of an era

Pink. It has always been easy to pick out Shirley Muldowney from the crowd at an National Hot Rod Association drag race. She's the one in the pink driver's suit with the pink parachutes slowing her 8,000 horsepower, nitromethane-burning Top Fuel dragster.

We'll miss her when they're gone. And she is going. Muldowney has pioneered a path for women in motorsports. She was the first woman to obtain an NHRA Top Fuel license and parlayed that into becoming the first and so far only woman to win an NHRA championship in 1977.

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She won two more titles, in 1980 and 1982, and was the first person - not woman, but person - to win the Top Fuel title more than once. Last season, she ran a career-best 4.585 seconds at 322.34 mph during a first-round elimination run against Kenny Bernstein.

They made a movie about her life in the 1980s, Heart Like a Wheel, and, like her, it was a rare movie, a very good movie about auto racing.

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She's 53 now, with 18 race victories to her name. And she's had enough. Enough travel. Enough hotels. Enough restaurant food.

"I am very comfortable with retirement," she said during a question-and-answer session before this weekend's 49th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. "I don't plan to homestead anybody's pit."

She has always been matter-of-fact. Once, over dinner in a fancy French restaurant in Washington, after having recently broken up with a longtime boyfriend, she said, "You can put perfume on a pig, but you can't make a gentleman out of him."

There was no time for lingering emotions. She had races to run and win. This weekend, she was to have five qualifying runs in attempting to make today's field for the Nationals. It's the third of a six-race schedule in this, her final season. She'll wind up her career in Pomona, Calif., Nov. 6-9.

"We had a ball in the '70s and '80s," she said. "We've always had a good team with good people. If someone wasn't good, they didn't stay long."

Muldowney said the only time she plans to reappear at the track is to spend time with her husband, Rahn Tobler, who is also her crew chief and who will continue to work in the series when she quits.

"I will miss driving the car and trying to make it happen, getting results, being on your game, seeing the guys smile when they get the numbers they're looking for," she said. "I'm going to miss the speed, the fan reaction - I like all that. I won't miss putting that suit on when it is 90 degrees."

But we'll miss seeing her in it.

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Curtain coming down

Today will be the last Labor Day race at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, a tradition that goes back to 1950 and the earliest days of NASCAR.

"That's about like eating hot dogs and apple pie, I think," said 1988 Winston Cup champion Bill Elliott. "I think that's the way people know it to be. Whether they can change or not, I don't know. I guess that will be the test of the sport. That was a surprise even for me when they ended up moving that date."

Elliott's first thought when the Southern 500 is mentioned is 1985, the year he won the Winston Million (dollar bonus) by winning there. That victory, plus the money, earned him the nickname "Million Dollar Bill" and put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

"Moving the race [to Nov. 14] will help the drivers because it'll be cooler," said Elliott. 'There's no doubt about that, but you've got everybody programmed to go over there Labor Day weekend. Whether it can change or not to live with that new, November date, I don't know. "That will be a very key question here pretty shortly."

Hornish surprise

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So funny. Nearly everyone thought two-time IRL IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. was going to go Winston Cup stock car racing. What else were people to think when he made statements like, "One day you want to be a legend."

He'd be a legend if he continued his success in stock cars. But then, Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time CART champion Gil De Ferran made it known he was retiring from Penske Racing after this season, and all at once it became clear.

Hornish, 24, was joining the Penske team, where legends have been made in open-wheel racing.

"The opportunity to drive for the most successful open-wheel team in history and to follow in the footsteps of the organization's remarkable driver lineage, including Gil, is an honor," said Hornish.

You want to be a legend in open-wheel racing, you go with Penske. The most successful team in Indy-style racing history has 118 race wins, including a record 13 Indy 500 victories and 11 season championships.

Stock cars? Who cares?

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Other side of coin

After the Bristol race last week, Kevin Harvick was asked why people would boo Kurt Busch.

Harvick, who has experienced his own share of boos for being arrogant and aggressive on the track, said, "Because he's a cocky, arrogant punk. That would probably be my guess. Great racecar driver. He just has a really, really bad attitude.

"Sometimes he just spins people out, runs into them and drives like an idiot, but he can wheel a racecar, there's no doubt about it."

Tearing it up

Most drivers who assemble at Hagerstown Speedway on Saturday will wind up with totally demolished cars. It's the ever-popular 16th Annual Tommy Thompson Memorial Demo-Derby. The last car running will win $500. Also on the card is the 100-lap Championship Enduro Classic, the Hoosier Tires Mid-Atlantic late model sportsman race and the 20-lap Ernie's Salvage Yard pure stock fall championship. The enduro race will feature amateur drivers. More than 50 cars will compete. There will be no cautions, just racing. The winner of the enduro will take home $800. Entries are still being accepted for both the demo-derby and the enduro. To enter, call 301-582-0640.


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