Nightmare at a Drag Strip BY STEVE SPENCE July 2005 It will likely go down in history as the most freakish, nightmarish accident in drag-racing history. One top drag-racing official with 40 years' experience told the media he'd never seen or heard of anything like it. On the first Saturday in April, Michelle "Shelly" Howard, a 59-year-old registered nurse and mother of three who had been drag-racing for 27 years, took her Top Alcohol Dragster for a 10 p.m. practice run at Tulsa Raceway Park as part of a late-night event. Howard, the wife of a Tulsa physician, had huge experience—she'd won the Division 4 title twice and was a three-time national event winner. Top Alcohol is just one notch below drag racing's ferocious 8000-hp Top Fuel class, where these rails rip to 100 mph in less than a second and at least one has turned the quarter-mile at 335 mph in 4.4 seconds. Howard got off to a good start, but what happened next will have drag-racing people shaking their heads in disbelief for years to come. About halfway down the quarter-mile course, the nose of her dragster got airborne, lifted straight up into what is called a "blowover wheelstand," and while continuing to roar down the track standing on its tail, turned 180 degrees and came down with tremendous force, now facing the starting line. It is likely Howard was knocked unconscious. Although the dragster was pointed toward the start line and the wheels were spinning in that direction, the tremendous momentum continued to send it backward, toward the finish line, which it passed, astonishingly, at 115 mph with a time of 6.633 seconds. This rearward travel finally ended about 1500 feet past the finish line, with Howard unconscious and the dragster's throttle still at full tilt. Then the rear wheels sent the dragster headed back toward the start line, careening off the spectator and tower lanes as it gained speed, and crossing the line where it had started the race just seconds earlier, at perhaps 250 mph. Adding an element of tragic, numbing shock, Howard's husband, Paul, was watching all of this, helplessly, from the stands, while their son, Brian, 36, was in the back of their chase vehicle about 125 feet behind the start line. The dragster next plunged into the chase vehicle, killing mother and son instantly. The force of this bizarre collision sent the dragster and chase vehicle 225 feet through a rear burnout wall and into an open field and stream, according to a report posted on the Internet. Besides her husband, Shelly Howard is survived by two daughters.