Baytown: Round four preview

KAREN STOFFER MAKES INCREDIBLY QUICK RECOVERY FROM FREAK ACCIDENT IN TIME TO DEFEND BACK-TO-BACK VICTORIES IN HOUSTON BAYTOWN, Texas - The evening of Oct. 23, 2005 seemed innocuous enough to Karen Stoffer. The rider of the Geico Suzuki was ...

KAREN STOFFER MAKES INCREDIBLY QUICK RECOVERY FROM FREAK ACCIDENT IN TIME TO DEFEND BACK-TO-BACK VICTORIES IN HOUSTON

BAYTOWN, Texas - The evening of Oct. 23, 2005 seemed innocuous enough to Karen Stoffer.

The rider of the Geico Suzuki was packing up her trailer after a first-round loss at the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals, a routine task she's done many, many times before.

In one terrible instant, however, her life was turned upside-down.

While raising the loading ramp on the back of her trailer to allow another truck to exit, the ramp suddenly and inexplicably gave way, crashing down on her with devastating force.

As she reached up to stop it, the ramp crashed down across her hand, head and face, and then her hip as she fell to the ground under its weight.

When the dust had settled, in addition to a pretty bad headache, Stoffer had suffered multiple injuries, including fractures to her pelvis and left hand and a laceration to her face.:

In short, this was a time to reflect on things like being alive or simply walking again. Riding a motorcycle, much less riding one competitively, was pie-in-the-sky stuff.

But with a torrent of support from every direction - and the sensational work of her doctors - Stoffer proceeded to make a miraculously quick recovery.

Just three-and-a-half months after the accident, Stoffer was cleared to race with one final note from her doctor: "He said, 'You're fine to race ... just try not to fall off (the motorcycle) ... "

So on Feb. 8, 2006, Stoffer was back on her Geico Suzuki, preparing for Pro Stock Motorcycle season. This week she'll try to earn her third consecutive victory at the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil at Houston Raceway Park. The $1.7 million race is the fourth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

"I was really fortunate," said Stoffer, a two-time defending champion at the O'Reilly Spring Nationals. "I had so much support from family and friends and fans, I couldn't do anything but get better. It was really pretty mind-blowing."

Joining Stoffer in the winners' circle at the 2005 O'Reilly Spring Nationals was a star-studded cast that included two-time defending POWERade Series Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher, 2005 Rookie of the Year Robert Hight in Funny Car and six-time POWERade Series world champion Warren Johnson in Pro Stock.

Through the first three events in 2006, Schumacher has three No. 1 qualifiers in his U.S. Army dragster, but he's yet to find the winners' circle. Still, he's a favorite at any race he enters. He'll receive stiff competition from Don Schumacher Racing teammate and series points leader Melanie Troxel (Skull Gear/Torco Race Fuels dragster) as well as Hot Rod Fuller, who drives the Valvoline dragster for Houston-based homebuilder David Powers.

In Funny Car, Hight already has one win in 2006 in his Auto Club Ford Mustang and he'll be a driver to watch along with three-time Houston champ Tony Pedregon (Q Racing Chevy Monte Carlo) and Hight's team owner, John Force (Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang), who counts among his NHRA record 119 career victories a track-record seven wins in Houston.

This race has produced a different Pro Stock winner in each of the last four seasons and with the way the year has begun for the 200 mph doorslammers, that pattern may hold true. Through three events in 2006, there have been three different winners: The current Pro Stock dynasty (three-time defending world champ Greg Anderson) won the opener at Pomona; the former Pro Stock dynasty (six-time champ Warren Johnson) won at Phoenix; and Tom Martino won at Gainesville. Look out too for Houston native Erica Enders, who has qualified No. 2 at the first two events and is coming off of a runner-up finish to Martino at Gainesville.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, the threat to Stoffer's dominance in Houston will likely come from the hard-charging Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidsons of Andrew Hines and GT Tonglet. Other top contenders will be looking for their first win of the season, including three-time POWERade Series world champion and 2006 points leader Angelle Sampey (U.S. Army Suzuki) and Ryan Schnitz (Team Muzzy Buell), who led the category in 2005 with three victories.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on March 31. Qualifying continues at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on April 1. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. on April 2.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 19th annual O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil. Call Houston Raceway Park at (281) 383-RACE (7223) for ticket information, or check online at Ticketmaster.com.

ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage of the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals at 8 p.m. (ET) on April 1. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise three hours of final eliminations coverage at 4 p.m. (ET) on April 2.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Tom Martino , Karen Stoffer , Melanie Troxel , Ryan Schnitz , Andrew Hines , GT Tonglet , Don Schumacher , David Powers , Robert Hight , Rod Fuller , Angelle Sampey