Lewis Griswold

Griswold: Visalia 'Drag-On-Lady' honored for racing milestone

Retired drag racer Shirley Shahan -- whose moniker was "The Drag-On-Lady" -- has been inducted into the Mopar Hall of Fame.

Born and raised in Visalia and now living in Tulare, she was the first woman to win an NHRA national drag race in 1966.

"That was a big deal back then," she said. "I was before women's lib."

Her professional racing career extended from 1966 to 1972.

"I still can't believe that people remember me, remembering what I did," Shahan said. "I feel humbled and honored."

Along with eight others at a banquet in Carlisle, Pa., home to big car shows, she was inducted this month into the hall of fame named after the motor parts division of Chrysler. She's already in Don Garlits' NHRA Hall of Fame (1997) and was named to Super Stock magazine's Hall of Fame the same year.

She learned about cars growing up because her dad raced jalopies.

"I was just naturally mechanically inclined," she said.

In the 1950s, she cruised Main Street in Visalia.

"We used to drag (race) off the stoplight," she said.

An official drag race involves two cars racing a quarter-mile straightaway. The first to cross the finish line wins.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Visalia Vapor Trailers hosted drag races at the Visalia airfield and she'd go out there.

"It was proving your skill, that you really were fast," she said.

Married at 17, she and her husband H.L. Shahan raced Chevys in Orosi, Santa Maria, Madera and elsewhere.

Her big break came in 1959 at the first March Meet in Bakersfield. She won first place in a field of dozens of entries, including drivers from Los Angeles who were surprised that a woman was behind the wheel and winning.

Shahan went pro in 1966, racing top-of-the-line factory super stock cars from Chrysler -- Plymouth hemi, Dodge hemi, Dodge limited hemi -- and later AMC cars, such as the AMX.

During that time, she appeared on "Hollywood Squares" and "To Tell the Truth" -- "Bob Cullen guessed who I was," she said -- and raised a family of three children.

After her racing career, she went back to work for Southern California Gas Co. in Hanford and Visalia, where she was office services manager in the customer services department.

She's now married to Ken Bridges, retired fire chief in Tulare, and goes by Shirley Bridges.

SCHOOL MASCOT: The Mt. Whitney High school cheer squad in Visalia last week unveiled a new school mascot uniform showing a fellow in a coonskin cap.

The Mt. Whitney mascot is The Pioneer, but this is believed to be the first mascot uniform in school history, said cheer adviser Vicky Lopez.

He'll appear at football games and events.

Until now, someone would wear a buckskin coat or other garb, but there was never a full mascot uniform, she said.

The Mt. Whitney Booster Club covered the $1,500 cost using a donation from insurance broker Bruce Busby and Farmers Insurance.