Car movie of the day: ‘Heart Like a Wheel’

It’s the story of Shirley Muldowney, first woman to race Top Fuel

Editor’s note: Car guys, and even car girls, can take only so much of those Hallmark holiday movies that fill the airwaves and cable systems this time of year. As an automotive alternative, we’re offering our own suggestions of our favorite car movies for your viewing pleasure. Check out more of our favorite car movies here.


There’s no arguing that Shirley Muldowney is one of the most significant women in auto racing history and the 1983 biopic Heart Like a Wheel tells her story.

Well, sort of.

The film is accurate in that Muldowney (played by Bonnie Bedelia) started her racing career in Schenectady, New York, with the help of her husband, Jack. It’s also true that she entered National Hot Rod Association competition in 1966 and, later, became the first woman to race in Top Fuel and win an unprecedented three NHRA Top Fuel Dragster world championships in 1977, 1980 and 1982.

Bonnie Bedelia stars as Shirley Muldowney in Heart Like a Wheel | 20th Century Fox

Bonnie Bedelia stars as Shirley Muldowney in Heart Like a Wheel | 20th Century Fox

But then Hollywood steps in. It’s true that Jack left Shirley because he didn’t want to partake in her racing activities, but the romance between her and Connie Kalitta seems to have been dreamt up.

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In Muldowney’s words, “No, the movie did not capture my life very well at all, but more importantly, I thought the movie was very, very good for the sport.”

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