Denver: Mile-High Nationals preview

COLORADO NATIVE MELANIE TROXEL RETURNS TO NHRA'S FASTEST CLASS WITH DON SCHUMACHER RACING MORRISON, Colo. -- It's been almost two years since Melanie Troxel piloted a Top Fuel dragster in competition. Now she's set to make her return to the ...

COLORADO NATIVE MELANIE TROXEL RETURNS TO NHRA'S FASTEST CLASS WITH DON SCHUMACHER RACING

MORRISON, Colo. -- It's been almost two years since Melanie Troxel piloted a Top Fuel dragster in competition. Now she's set to make her return to the category as the ninth driver in the Don Schumacher Racing stable - and she'll debut her Torco Gear dragster in her home state.

Troxel, 32, began drag racing in the Top Alcohol ranks, where she earned two NHRA national event victories in 1999 for a second place finish in the point standings. She competed in 10 events in a Top Fuel dragster for Schumacher in 2000, earning one runner-up finish, and competed in select events in 2002 and 2003.

Then came a hiatus that was longer than Troxel expected, but despite her time away from driving, Troxel thinks her skill behind the NHRA's fastest machines will come back as soon as she stages for her first pass at the 26th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway, July 15-17. The $1.8 million event is the 13th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Troxel is excited to make her "re-debut" where she grew up in the suburbs of Denver, backed with the support of the largest team to compete in the NHRA series. Troxel's new teammate, two-time and defending Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher, is second in the point standings behind Doug Kalitta after 12 events. Tony, Don Schumacher's son, has three wins thus far this season.

"It's an incredible team," said Troxel, who will compete in the same driver's cockpit she used in 2000. "Just the talent and resources they have out there, there's nobody in the sport that can match that. Tony's team is tough. It's great to be a teammate of theirs and kind of go out and match the success they've had."

Troxel, who was recently released as a development driver from Don Prudhomme Racing, lives in Avon, Ind. with husband and Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr.

Don Schumacher Racing now includes nine entries: two Top Fuel dragsters driven by Tony Schumacher and Troxel; three Funny Cars driven by Ron Capps, Whit Bazemore and Gary Scelzi; two Pro Stock cars driven by Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Richie Stevens Jr.; and two Pro Stock Motorcycles driven by U.S. Army teammates Antron Brown and Angelle Sampey.

The bike duo dominated the two events before the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, with wins at Englishtown (Brown) and St. Louis (Sampey). Both will look to notch another win for Schumacher Racing at Brandimere in the highly competitive category that has sent seven different drivers to the winner's circle in seven events this season.

While Troxel makes her first bid for a win this season in Top Fuel, Budweiser-backed Brandon Bernstein is eager for victory No. 2 after snapping a 26-race drought with a win at St. Louis last month. Larry Dixon and Cory McClenathan are both two-time winners at Bandimere.

Drivers in the Funny Car class will look to gain ground on front man John Force, a 13-time world champion and fan-favorite, who with four wins on the season is leading the chase by 55 points ahead of rival Gary Scelzi. Scelzi has won two events in 2005 with his Mopar/Oakley Dodge Stratus R/T.

Pro Stock leaders include Greg Anderson and Jason Line, who sit atop the standings with three victories each on the season. "The Professor" Warren Johnson, a six-time Pro Stock world champion and drag racing guru who will retire from full-time driving after this season, is third in points.

* Coors, Kalitta Motorsports join to honor film "Smokey and the Bandit"

Fans will be transported back to 1977 when Scott Kalitta, defending and three-time Top Fuel winner at Bandimere, rolls up to the starting line in his Coors/Mac Tools/Jesse James Top Fuel dragster. Jesse James, host of the Disney Channel's Monster Garage and co-sponsor of Kalitta's ride, teamed up with Coors to design a special paint scheme for Kalitta's ride in commemoration of the company's involvement in the motion picture "Smokey and the Bandit."

"Jesse James recreated the car from the movie, West Coast Choppers-style," said Gerry O'Brion, of Coors. "Now the dragster brings his design to life in a car with even more horsepower."

Kalitta's adaptation of Burt Reynold's famed black Trans Am will be on display from 2 to 4 p.m. at Coors Brewing Company in Golden, Colo. and 5 to 7 p.m. at In The Zone Sports Bar on July 13.

"It should be a blast for us and the fans," Kalitta said. "This is a great opportunity for Coors and our Kalitta Motorsports team to bring the excitement of NHRA drag racing to the Rocky Mountains and beyond."

Kalitta has won twice this season -- at Pomona's Winternationals and recently at Joliet, Ill.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Richie Stevens Jr. , Warren Johnson , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Cory McClenathan , Scott Kalitta , Melanie Troxel , Brandon Bernstein , Jason Line , Don Schumacher , Angelle Sampey , Jesse James , Tommy Johnson Jr.