It is a homecoming of sorts for Cindy Shirley, first year crew chief of the U-1 Miss HomeStreet/Miss Madison H1 Unlimited hydroplane.
As a 10 year-old growing up in the Ohio Valley, Shirley loved to go to the hydroplane races in Evansville, Ind. and Madison, Ind. Her family would spend vacations going to hydroplane races.
This weekend Shirley returns to the Ohio River for the 68th annual Midwest Tube Mills Indiana Governor’s Cup except this time she returns as the of the hometown race boat, the Miss HomeStreet/Miss Madison hydroplane, –one of the world’s fastest.
Shirley was named crew chief of the Miss HomeStreet/Miss Madison in the off-season, a start of a new chapter in the team’s storied history. She is the first female crew chief of a turbine hydroplane and the first full-time crew chief in the modern era.
When Shirley first got involved with the City of Madison’s Miss Madison H1 Unlimited hydroplane team, she was just hoping she’d get a chance to wash the boat after races.
Nearly 20 years later she’s in charge of the four-time defending National High Points Champion Miss Madison racing team.
Her career in racing started in the 1990s when she did administration work for the unlimited lights series. She started volunteering for the Miss Madison team, which had Oberto as its sponsor until the end of the 2015 season. Over the years, she has been in charge of driver-safety systems, general cockpit maintenance and communicating with the team and drivers.
Shirley has done a little of everything, from mixing glues to installing safety systems over her career in boat racing. But now, Shirley has the biggest job there is and has a chance to stamp her name on history in the process.
“It’s exciting. It’s scary, but also exciting,” Shirley said with a laugh.
“I don’t fit the traditional mold of being the wrench person or the tech person that knows all the specifics,” Shirley said. But she’s catching up on some of those specifics.
“It was a no-brainer really,” said Charlie Grooms, president of Miss Madison Inc., himself a former crew chief for the team. “The team got together and they made it clear that they wanted Cindy to lead them. She has the experience but, more importantly, she has the team’s trust including our driver Jimmy’s (Shane) trust. And that’s important.”
“In the past couple of years Cindy has helped build a strong team that really values camaraderie,” driver Jimmy Shane said. He said she is doing an outstanding job.
Shirley credits Dan Hoover with much of the team’s previous success and said that’s something she hopes to emulate as the season progresses. Hoover unexpectedly passed away earlier this year.
This weekend at the 68th annual Madison Regatta she will have the pressure of defending the team’s national championships and experiencing another pressure other teams don’t have to worry about. She will have many of her bosses, the citizens of Madison on the shoreline paying attention to every race lap critiquing her every strategy.
Her team is the only community owned race team in motorsports.
“It’s always harder to stay on top than it is to get there,” she said
Originally from Louisville, Shirley currently resides in Everett, Washington, where she is the director of the Office of Research at the University of Washington.