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On This Date: The First Woman to Drive a Jet-Powered Car

The day is November 13th, 2020, and 56 years ago, this date was a turning point for motorsports. It became the day that the first woman drove a jet-car, and since then, there have been many great women drivers. In a sport predominantly ruled by boys, this was a significant turning point for women drivers and for the racing industry.

Her name was Paula

You’ve heard of female racing legends like Danica Patrick, but chances are you’ve never heard of another icon in women’s racing. Her name is Paula Murphy, and on this day, 56 years ago, she became the first woman to drive a jet-powered car. While this was just one of the many notable accomplishments in Murphy’s extensive racing career, it was a turning point for the world of racing and women’s place in motorsports.

A jet-powered car taking off in a drag race
A jet-powered dragster takes part in The Fast Show performance car event | OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

The Avenger

The jet dragster was named The Avenger, and it wasn’t a toy to be tested. It was a 10,000-horsepower drag car powered by a jet engine. This wasn’t the first time Murphy sat behind the wheel of a race car either. In 1956 she purchased her first car — though she admitted to stealing her moms earlier on — and begun racing in women-only races. While she isn’t the most well-known woman in racing history, her career is both extensive and inspiring.

In 2017, Paula Murphy was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. She was noted for her success in motorsports and pioneering a place for women in the world of racing, a sport dominated by male drivers. She is described as talented and composed.

A jet-powered dragster takes part in The Fast Show performance car event held at the Santa Pod Raceway near Wellingborough, central England | OLI SCARFF/AFP, Getty Images

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Records held, and records broken

Paula Murphy wasn’t just the first woman to drive a jet dragster, either, she also held the record for women’s land speed record. The record was initially set by Murphy at an astonishing two-way record of 226.37 mph, according to 365 Days of Motoring. She then broke her own record by hitting 243 mph. Among her long list of achievements, she was also employed and sponsored by a company you’ve probably seen plenty of: STP.

A jet-powered dragster prepares to take part in The Fast Show performance car event held at the Santa Pod Raceway near Wellingborough, central England | OLI SCARFF/AFP, Getty Images

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In 1976 Paula Murphy retired from racing to pursue a career as a buyer for Rocketdyne, but the mark that she left on the racing world lived on.