Carol “Bunny” Burkett, an icon among women in the sport of drag racing, passed away unexpectedly in her sleep on Saturday at the age of 74. Born May 29th, 1945, Burkett’s racing career spanned half a century, wherein her infectious personality and smile garnered her generations of fans and friends and a host of prestigious driving accolades.
“It’s with great sadness that we share this news. Bunny passed away peacefully and unexpectedly in her sleep April 4th, 2020. The family plans to have a celebration of life later this year when it is safe for all to attend. We are sad that she made it to the finish line first, but we ALL know she’d have had it no other way. We will keep you all informed of our plans. Until then, remember, Bunny NEVER followed the beaten path … she made her own. God Bless you all and watch for those burnouts in the sky!” said her family in a statement.
“Bunny” as she came to be known, coined following her brief role as a hostess at a Playboy club in Baltimore, grew up impoverished in the hills of West Virginia. After her family moved to Virginia, Bunny met Maurice “Mo” Burkett — their first date was at the Old Dominion Dragway in Manassas, Virginia, and from there, the hook was set.
After Bunny and Mo were wed, Mo purchased her a 1964-1/2 Ford Mustang and later a 1967 Mustang that began her racing career.
In the late 1960s, as more women drivers became involved in drag racing, they formed an all-girl racing circuit known as the Miss America of Drag Racing that competed up and down the East coast.
In the 1970s, Bunny competed in a range of categories, from Super Gas to Modified, before eventually moving to the Pro Stock ranks in a 1973 Ford Pinto. Her Pro Stock career was short-lived, however, as she soon followed friend and fellow Miss America of Drag Racing alum Carol Henson into the Funny Car category, where she competed in booked-in match races around the country. In 1986, driving a brand new Chrysler Laser-bodied car, Bunny drove to the IHRA Alcohol Funny Car world championship, and finished fourth in the NHRA standings, as well.
Bunny returned to the match racing scene the following season, competing in occasional IHRA and NHRA national events throughout the remainder of her driving career.
In addition to her 1986 IHRA title, Bunny’s accolades include an NHRA Division 2 championship, induction into Super Stock Hall of Fame, East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame, Little Guy’s Nationals Hall of Fame, MIR Hall of Fame, York US 30 Legions of Honor, Drag Racing List/ Racin’ and Rockin’ Radio’s No. 1 Female Alcohol Funny Car Driver of All Time.
Bukett endured it all — she medically passed three times in the moments following a horrific crash in 1995 and battled through a year-long recovery, driven by her burning desire to race again. She twice defeated cancer, among a number of other ailments later in life that would have slowed those less ambitious as she continued to race and add to her legions of fans.
“I never dreamed that when I first started racing on that little rinky dink track in Manassas, Virginia in 1965 that I would still be here 48 years later,” Burkett has said. “But the fact that I have been able to stay in the sport with the amount of money and all that has to be spent today and still be here today – I never dreamed I would get to do this.”
“It is no secret that I have acquired the title of the Second Lady of Drag Racing and the First Lady of Funny Car, but Shirley (Muldowney) made the path and it was pretty narrow,” Burkett said. “All I did was help widen it. I don’t ever think of what I have done as being the first lady or being a lady in the sport. All I want is to be remembered as a good drag racer, a good driver and most of all a good person.”