‘I don’t fit the traditional mold of being the wrench person or the tech person,’ said Shirley, who has been with the team for 15 years.
When Cindy Shirley first got involved with the Miss Madison unlimited hydroplane team, she was just hoping she’d get a chance to wash the boat after races.
Fifteen years later, she’s in charge of the whole team.
Earlier this month, Shirley, who calls Everett home, was named crew chief for the U-1 HomeStreet Bank team. She is the first female crew chief in unlimited hydroplane racing in the turbine era.
Shirley sees herself as a crew chief that’s there for her administrative prowess.
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“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’s like drinking from a fire hose right now,” she said.
Last year, she was the boat chief, which meant she assigned duties to the crew. Shirley replaces Dan Hoover, who died in February. A meeting in Pasco a week after his death made it clear who should be in charge.
“It was a no-brainer, really,” Charlie Grooms, president of Miss Madison Inc., and a former crew chief, told The Madison Courier. “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 and (driver) Jimmy’s (Shane) trust. And that’s important.”
When she’s not boat racing, Shirley is the director of the Office of Research at the University of Washington-Bothell.
Shirley’s fandom of the sport started when she was 10 years old growing up in Kentucky, not far from the defunct Evansville, Ind., race site. Her family would spend vacations going to hydroplane races.
Her career in racing started in the 1990s when she did admin work for the unlimited lights series. She started volunteering for the Miss Madison team, which had Oh Boy! Oberto as its sponsor until the end of the 2015 season, 15 years ago. Over the years, she has been in charge of driver-safety systems, general cockpit maintenance and communicating with the team and drivers.
“In the past couple of years, Cindy has helped build a strong team that really values camaraderie,” Shane said in a statement. “I know she will do an outstanding job and lead us to another championship.”
HomeStreet Bank has a four-year streak of National High Point Championships and the team has won eight titles over the past 10 seasons (Steve David won four before retiring in 2013).
The start of the season is a little more than two months away. The six-race season starts June 22 at Guntersville, Ala., where the unlimiteds are returning for the first time since 1965.
HomeStreet Bank will have a new boat this season. The team bought the former Miss Budweiser shop in Tukwila and former Madison crew chiefs Mike and Larry Hanson are building it, Shirley said. It’s still unknown at what part of the season the boat will be ready.
Shirley is understandably excited about the new boat and using it to keep the team’s win streak alive.
“It’s always harder to stay on top than it is to get there,” she said.