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Starting in 1961 an attractive, petite and fiercely competitive young woman began tearing up Colorado drag strips in a 1961 fuel injected Corvette. When Judy Lilly and her ‘Vette showed up at Continental Divide Raceway, she was the one to beat—and the one that usually won. Throughout the early ‘60s Judy dominated the drag strip in her class at CDR, NHRA Division 5 tracks and at National events.
At the end of 1966 at the World Finals in Pomona, Judy was approached by Dale Reckor of Mopar. He told Judy that Mopar was ready to sponsor her if she could find a local dealer to get onboard as well. Judy pounded the pavement, wasn’t afraid to hear, “No,” as an answer and worked over the winter until she signed up a Chrysler dealership as part of the package. In 1967 Judy began winning rounds and races in her new Belvedere I 426 Street HEMI 4-speed race car. Without even knowing it, Judy Lilly had become the first racer to be officially sponsored by Mopar.
The marketing folks at Mopar decided to capitalize on Judy’s racing success and soon Judy Lilly was known far and wide as, “Miss Mighty Mopar,” which she was indeed. Whether it was in her Belvedere, or later her Barracuda, when Judy showed up in her HEMI race car with “Miss Mighty Mopar” emblazoned on the sides, all of the racers knew who they were going to have to beat at some point in the race if they wanted to win Super Stock. At the behest of the factory, Judy switched to a Duster in 1974 with a 360 Wedge motor. But even though Judy was now launching first with the headstart in SS races, instead of launching second and chasing down her competition, she continued to win races and represent Mopar with plenty of glory.
Judy Lilly won, and she won a lot. She won so many Division 5 championships she can’t even recall exactly how many. “About a half dozen,” she said. She won the Winternationals, the Gatornationals, the Spring Nationals, the Popular Hot Rodding National in Michigan, and on and on. She said they just lived on the road, win or lose they packed up and drove to the next race. So many races, so many wins that it’s just hard to recall it all.
We got to sit down for lunch with Judy Lilly on the Friday of the 2014 NHRA Mopar Mile High Nationals. The following day we met her at her old stomping ground, Bandimere Speedway on the outskirts of Denver. Thanks to the generous hospitality of Mopar, after we wandered around the pits and chatted about racing then and now, we sat in the air conditioned comfort of the Mopar suite right behind the starting line and watched qualifying with Judy.
Judy Lilly remains a strong and confident woman. After she left drag racing she remained involved with horses, only instead of hundreds at a time under the hood, it became one living one at a time beneath her as she competed in barrel racing and became a horse breeder. The strength and determination that propelled Judy Lilly to dominate the drag strip is still very present and evident today.