Drag racing pioneer Bunny Burkett

Maybe you've heard of her or maybe you haven't, but Bunny Burkett is one of the early pioneers of women's drag racing for sure—and one of the most successful.

Carol 'Bunny' Burkett's career in drag racing started in the mid '60s, winning races on a regular basis at the tender age of 20. This is incredible when you consider her young age, her success and the fact she was a woman in a man's sport as there were very few female racers at that time. Actually, her first race was at 15 years of age.

Pay the bills

Drag racing during that era wasn't exactly easy or glamorous. Unless you think it's glamorous having sponsors ask you to prance around in hot pants … at the races. Drag racing costs money, always has and the '60s and '70s were no different. So if she wanted to keep racing, she did what she needed to do. By the way, women back then drove with a special license stating 'Ladies Driver Permit' - a man's license just said Driver Permit. Yes, it was a different era indeed.

If you're wondering where she got the name of 'Bunny', yes, she worked a year or so for a Playboy Club - whatever would pay the bills.

Her success allowed her to move on to Funny Cars in the '70s. She did her fair share of match racing and over time, she would become a prolific winner in Alcohol Funny Car. She won the IHRA Championship in '86, cementing her position in drag racing history as the first woman Funny Car champion.

She's been a fan favorite for a very long time. But not all has gone well for Bunny. She has had multiple bouts with cancer, a broken a leg, hip replacement and a terrible accident that nearly killed her about 15 years ago. She still has rods in her back.

'Never dreamed'

Many tough years of mending after accidents and health issues, Bunny was still making appearances until recently. As she says: "But the fact that I have been able to stay in the sport with the amount of money and all that has to be spent today and still be here today - I never dreamed I would get to do this."

She will also state clearly that she's lucky to have come up in Shirley Muldowney's shadow but she unquestionably established her own acclaim as the first lady of Funny Cars.

Bunny Burkett is truly one of the early women drag racing pioneers of our time - we're lucky to have this living legend still among us.

Sources - BunnyBurkett.com, IHRA, NHRA, Drag Race Central

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Updated Thursday, Aug 11, 2011