Pioneering NHRA female racer Barbara Hamilton died April 23. She was 78.
Hamilton’s place in NHRA history was assured when she became the first woman licensed by NHRA to drive a supercharged vehicle in 1964. Hamilton often said she wasn’t interested in making history; she merely wanted to race her Willys coupe, which was powered by a blown 271-cid small-block Chevy.
After she obtained her license, Hamilton won the C/GS class at the following Springnationals and set a NASCAR national record when that group also sanctioned drag racing.
She and close friend Nancy Leonello raced all over Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan as well as each year at the U.S. Nationals in Indy. The struggle was sometimes tough as she was among four women whose licenses were subsequently revoked by NHRA just prior to the 1967 Nationals. Several months of pressure from Hamilton and Paula Murphy helped persuade NHRA to reinstate the four existing licenses, and grant a fifth to Shirley Muldowney.
During the winter of 1967, Hamilton built a new, bigger 295-cid engine, replacing the 4-71 blower and Hilborn two-port injector with a 6-71 and four-port. That summer, the team headed for California and raced at the Lions and Irwindale strips they had heard so much about. In 1968, Hamilton reached the class final at the U.S. Nationals. She moved up to B/GS before her retirement in 1972 and marriage in 1973 to Dick Advey.
Hamilton has owned her Willys for more than four decades, and it has been beautifully restored and on display at the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing for many years. She was inducted into the International Drag racing Hall of Fame in 1992 and in 2014, was named the winner of the Pat Garlits Memorial Award, which recognizes the female sportsman racer whose dedication, determination, and passion for the sport of drag racing embodies the spirit of Pat Garlits. She was a semi-regular guest at NHRA events and always thrilled to talk to today's fans.
Look for a detailed story on Hamilton's career Friday in the Dragster Insider column.