"I had no respect at all for the car the first time I got in it. We took the car to an abandoned airstrip near where we lived, and since neither of us had ever driven one of these cars, we didn’t know a whole lot about what to do. I was so nonchalant and relaxed that when I stood on the gas, a half-second later my head snapped back and I realized this wasn’t your grandma’s car. I found that respect pretty quickly."
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the sport of automotive racing was dominated by talented male drivers. Nellie Goins’ first ambition wasn’t to change all of that. Her aspirations were more modest. Nevertheless, by 1971 she was driving a race car at 215 miles per hour, making her the first African American woman to succeed in the world of Funny Car racing.
Nellie Louise Goins was from Gary Indiana. She was a teenager when she first met her future husband, Otis Goins. Funny car racing was Otis Goins’ passion, and it quickly became Nellie’s as well. When they learned that Otis wasn’t eligible to drive, due to a health condition, Nellie offered drive the race cars. With that, she opened a door for black women in motorsports.
Ms. Goins drove great looking funny cars from Plymouth Barracudas to Challengers and later Mustangs. Nellie’s first funny car was called the Goins and Goins “Conqueror,” a 1968 Plymouth Barracuda. She traded it in for a sleek new 1970 Dodge Challenger body which was admired by many drag racing fans across the country.
Ms. Goins wanted to become more competitive in the sport of automotive racing. In 1971, she and her husband commissioned chassis builder Lee Austin to build them a new car. Austin delivered a fiberglass Ltd 1971 Mustang body. The car debuted on August 29, 1971. The Goins used nitro-injected fuel to improve the vehicle’s performance. Nellie Goins hit 215 mph, made racing history, and earned the nickname, “Nitro Nellie”.
During this era, it was very difficult for African Americans to secure sponsors that would help fund the sport. Ms. Goins noted, “We never were able to get a sponsor of any kind”. The Goins had to save much of their hard-earned money to support their racing program. Otis was a big part of Nellie’s racing team. In addition, as the Goins’ children became old enough, they also became a part of Nellie’s drag racing crew.
In 2014, Nitro Nellie Goins was named as an inductee into the 13th annual Drag Times Hall of Fame. This was truly a great honor. Nellie said in a speech in her Hall of fame acceptance lecture “Remember it is not just your ability to do something but your availability to get out there and try. Live your dreams.”
"Nitro" Nellie Louise Goins was Born
Nitro Nellie marries Otis Goins
Nellie races 1968 Plymoth Brarricuda, "Goins and Goins Conquerer"
Nellie became the first African American woman when she passed in the Goins and Goins "Conquerer" injected nitro funny car at 215mph. She then earned the title "Nitro Nellie".
"Nitro Nellie" and Otis updated their funny car to a Fiber Glass LTD 1971 Mach 1 Mustang body, which debuted at the US 30 Drag strip in Hobart, Indiana.
"Nitro Nellie" raced her last race.
"Nitro Nellie" was inducted into the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame