Heart Like a Wheel (1983)

Heart Like a Wheel (1983)

“The only thing I do fast is drive.”

Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney (Bonnie Bedelia) battles discrimination and personal heartache as she becomes the top female drag-racer of all time.


  • Beau Bridges Films
  • Biopics
  • Bonnie Bedelia Films
  • Car Racing
  • Dick Miller Films
  • Feminism and Women’s Issues
  • Sports

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, Bonnie Bedelia turns in an “Oscar-worthy performance as drag-race champion Shirley ‘Cha Cha’ Muldowney,” the first woman to break the gender barrier in drag-race competitions. Director Jonathan Kaplan wisely avoids trying to hit all the “key points” in Bonnie’s life; instead, he takes the time to develop a three-dimensional character with real-life goals and heartaches. Shirley is portrayed as a strong, independent, driven woman who “finds disappointment in her relationships with men” yet continues to strive “for triumphs in her profession.”

Redeeming Qualities:

  • Bonnie Bedelia’s excellent, natural performance as Shirley
  • Beau Bridges as Connie Kalitta, Bonnie’s “unfaithful lover”

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended.


One thought on “Heart Like a Wheel (1983)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see, mostly of interest to racing fans or those who like stories about women rising above in professions dominated by men.

    It’s somewhat standard as a biopic (but not bad as such) – and Bedelia is notable in the starring role.

    Also of note is Hoyt Axton as her dad (the sequence involving his passing is rather poignant); seeing him here reminded me of how much fun he is in the following year’s ‘Gremlins’.

    There’s an interesting moment when Bedelia’s Shirley is watching tv – the Billie Jean King ‘Battle of the Sexes’ match with Bobby Riggs. The film of that story wouldn’t be made until 2017.

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