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Racing Pioneer Muldowney Retires

After decades of breaking racing barriers, Shirley Muldowney has decided it's time to slow down.

The first woman to win a major motorsports championship ended her long and storied career Sunday with a loss in the second round of the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway.

Muldowney, a three-time Top Fuel champion, lost to Corey McClenathan, completing her last run in 4.70 seconds and 317.12 mph. Kenny Bernstein earned his 69th career victory, beating Scott Kalitta in the Top Fuel final.

People stood and cheered as Muldowney deployed her famous pink parachutes and drove slowly past the grandstands waving to her fans for the last time.

"It was very heartwarming and very rewarding," Muldowney said. "It was a nice way to go out."

Her penchant for speed was equaled only by her drive to break into the testosterone-filled world of drag racing, where Muldowney not only became a pioneer among women drivers but a fierce rival who enjoyed beating the boys at their own game.

But at age 63, Muldowney said she has become tired of crisscrossing the country for National Hot Rod Association events where often she has hundreds of people waiting in line for an opportunity to meet her. She doesn't have any immediate plans to make public appearances around the drag racing circuit except to watch her husband, Rahn Tobler, work as a crew chief.

"I long for him to have an easier day," Muldowney said of her husband, whom she hired in 1978. "I will support him and come to races occasionally. I'll saunter in when no one is looking."

She also has an interest in animal rights and said she might open an adoption home on her ranch in Michigan.

Muldowney spent more than 40 years in the racing industry and was the first female to obtain a Top Fuel license. She also was the first woman to win the NHRA championship in 1977, winning it again in 1980 and '82.

Her storied career was depicted in the 1983 film "Heart Like a Wheel," starring actress Bonnie Bedelia, and she'll be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame next April.

Muldowney's last NHRA final-round victory came in 1989 in Phoenix, where she beat Darrell Gwynn in one of the most dramatic drag races in history.

She nearly died on a race track near Montreal in 1984, in a horrifying crash that came during a qualifying run and left her legs and feet badly mangled. She returned to the sport after 18 months of rehabilitation.

By then she had become an icon to women racers everywhere, and on Sunday she had some advice for those who want to follow her into the sport.

"Know that your ability is going to get your there," Muldowney said. "Just hang in there and have someone by your side who knows and loves you and your car."

In other events Sunday, Del Worsham won the Funny Car competition, Greg Anderson was first in Pro Stock and Craig Treble won Pro Stock Bike.

Worsham earned his third Funny Car victory of the season and 14th of his career when Cory Lee crossed the center line.

Anderson picked up a record 12th victory of the season, outrunning Kurt Johnson.

Treble's seventh career victory and second of the season in Pro Stock Bike came when Angelle Savoie fouled at the start.