January 27, 2023


Still car-crazy after all these years

Della Woods shared driving chores on this match bash Dodge Polara with her brother

Bernella Dodge Polara Funny Car: Della and Bernie Woods

Della Woods needs no introduction, as she established herself as a first-class funny car driver over the decades she competed. She got her start with the Bernella Polara funny car.
Della and Bernie Woods campaigned this Dodge Polara funny car
Della and Bernie Woods shared the driving chores on the Bernella funny car. Note the healthy crowd on hand for Detroit Dragway's Midwest Championships. (Instamatic Photo by Tom Bonner)

Last time we looked at Bonnie Anderson’s Chevelle funny car. There was another women funny car driver on hand at Detroit Dragway’s 1967 MidWest Championships, although I not sure if she actually drove that day.

Della Woods needs no introduction, as she established herself as a first-class funny car driver over the decades she competed. In 1967, Della’s brother campaigned the Bernella Speed Shop Dodge Polara A/FXer on the UDRA circuit. Bernie actually shared the driver’s seat of the Polara with his sister, although most Della Woods biographies indicate she started driving a flip-top Charger in 1968.

I can’t recall whether it was Della or Bernie at the wheel that day, but I remember the Polara quite well. I liked the look of the ’65 Dodge Coronet, but I thought most of the other Dodges of the era were rather dull, including the Polara models. I thought they looked like they were designed by a committee, with curves and angles tossed together with little consideration of design. Somehow, Bernie and Della Woods transformed that ugly duckling Polara into a great looking funny car.

I don’t know how much input the Woods had in the Polara’s construction, but whoever built that car knew what they were doing. The car looked mean, in a good way. The brown stripes and trim contrasted well against a dark yellow base color. Combined with chrome wheels and big slicks, there was no doubt this race car meant business.

I know at some point the Bernella Polara was equipped with a supercharger. In early 1967, most match racers still relied on injectors, and I can’t remember what induction system the car carried that day. It is hard to tell from the photo, but that shiny object in front of the windshield could be a blower hat.

The Bernella name is obviously a combination of Bernie and Della’s first names. I’m not sure how large the speed shop was or how involved Della was with the shop operation. Within a few years. Della was campaigning the Funny Honey Dodge Charger funny car. I saw her run many times and had a chance to bench race with her on occasion.

Della did not get as much ink as some other female racers, but her efforts on the track speak for themselves. According to the Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame website, Della Woods was the first woman to run in the fives in a funny car, the first woman to clock over 220mph, the first to run over 230 and the first to 240mph.

She qualified for several national events and was the first woman to reach the semi-finals in funny car eliminator at a national event.

Of course all that was in the future in 1967. The Bernella Polara was just another entry at the Midwest Championships, but everyone knew that bright yellow Dodge was there.

Tom Bonner