Phoenix: Round two preview

TROXEL LOOKING TO KEEP HER WINNING WAYS GOING AT PHOENIX CHANDLER, Ariz. - Top Fuel driver Melanie Troxel, winner of the season-opening NHRA Winternationals in Southern California, is perhaps best known as the quickest and fastest woman in NHRA...

TROXEL LOOKING TO KEEP HER WINNING WAYS GOING AT PHOENIX

CHANDLER, Ariz. - Top Fuel driver Melanie Troxel, winner of the season-opening NHRA Winternationals in Southern California, is perhaps best known as the quickest and fastest woman in NHRA history.

While the title has a nice ring to it and it's an accomplishment she's very proud of, there is one other title she wants even more: NHRA POWERade Series world champion.

Troxel, 33, hopes to ride her current wave of momentum and score her second consecutive Top Fuel victory at the 22nd annual Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals presented by Castrol at Firebird International Raceway, Feb. 24-26. The event, which will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD, is the second of 23 races in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Series. Tony Schumacher, John Force and Allen Johnson are the defending winners of the $1.5 million race.

By winning the Winternationals she became the sixth woman to win in Top Fuel and the eighth woman to win in an NHRA professional category. However, she says the fact that she won shouldn't be a surprise to many, given NHRA's diversity and history of women winners.

"It gets media attention to say I'm the 'Xth' number female to win a race, but those of us in the NHRA know that it's no big deal because we've had lots of female winners, especially when you compare us to all the other motor sports," said Troxel, one of 39 women to win an NHRA national event in all categories. "I'm thrilled there were women before me to pave the way but really we just want to be the best team out here, regardless of me being female."

After finishing strong last season and with the positive start to the '06 campaign, Troxel is very optimistic about her chances for a strong run at the title.

"It's the first time I've ever had any kind of continuity, to be able to carry on from the strong season that we had last year and hopefully carry that over to 2006 and even improve on it," said Troxel, who joined Don Schumacher Racing full time at the event in Denver last July after competing in limited schedules for other teams during the past six seasons. "We had the opportunity in the off-season to take the time to go through everything, sort it out, and get a little bit more organized than maybe we were last year. Last season we had to put everything together in such a hurry. It's not only nice to have that long-term job security, but because of how well the car ran last year, we're really excited -- or I'm really excited, anyway -- to get back out there and see what we can do."

The car ran so well from the start last season that Troxel became the first woman to break some important performance barriers. She was the first in the 4.4-second range (4.458 seconds) and the first to power a car to a 330 mph run (330.31 mph), and as a result became the quickest and fastest woman in NHRA history. She will certainly try to improve her performance numbers this season with crew chief Richard Hogan calling the shots, but the primary mission is to win, win, win.

"While being the fastest and quickest female driver in NHRA history is an interesting and noteworthy item, I'm more excited that the car is running so well," said Troxel, who outraced David Baca for the victory at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona last weekend. "Our big goal is to be the best team on the track and win some races, and, with any luck, be in the chase for the championship at the end of the year."

Should she reach that goal by the end of the season, she knows she may have to defeat her teammate - defending world champ Schumacher - to claim the title.

"I think that being teammates with Tony is a very good yardstick to try to measure up to," said Troxel, who defeated Tony in the second round at Pomona en route to her victory. "I think it just makes you try harder to be a better team. I certainly want to be a better driver, and whether we were teammates with the U.S. Army team or not, obviously we would be competing against them on the track. But, being a little bit closer to them than just another competitor, it definitely makes you want to be better. It's a good opportunity to keep you motivated to make everything perfect all the time."

Another motivation for Troxel is her husband, veteran Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr., who pilots the Skoal Chevy Monte Carlo for NHRA legend Don 'The Snake' Prudhomme. Although they don't compete in the same category, the two are still competitive for family bragging rights about who's got the better performing hot rod.

"It's nice to have somebody who's as passionate about it as you are, and it's never a problem with all the demands on my time," Troxel said. "He completely understands what I'm going through, because he's going through the same thing. It's also nice having somebody who knows when to leave you alone. When you're trying to get ready to race, get your game face on, he knows when you're in that kind of zone and gives you some space. If you've had a bad day, he knows when to kind of leave you alone."

In Top Fuel, Schumacher has driven his U.S. Army dragster to three victories in the last six years at FIR and will be more determined than ever to keep his winning ways going in '06 as he tries to become only the second driver in NHRA history (also Joe Amato) to win three consecutive Top Fuel world championship titles. He will be challenged by Brandon Bernstein, who powered his Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster to back-to-back victories in '03-'04. Cory McClenathan, Larry Dixon and Doug Kalitta are all past FIR winners who should contend during the weekend. Like current series points leader Troxel, rookie Hillary Will, who posted an impressive 4.483 second performance during pre-season testing and qualified fourth in her KB Racing dragster at the season-opener, is hoping to give the men a run for their money in '06.

Force has dominated Funny Car competition at FIR in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, winning eight times since 1994. He will try to add another trophy to his shelf in his quest to regain his world championship status. Defending POWERade Series champ Gary Scelzi and his teammate Ron Capps, who finished second in the '05 point standings and won at FIR in '03, will be major threats in their Don Schumacher-owned Dodges. Points leader Robert Hight will try to win his second race in a row in his Auto Club Mustang. Other top contenders in the category include Tony and Cruz Pedregon and Checker Schuck's Kragen Chevy Monte Carlo driver Del Worsham, a two-time winner of the event.

Johnson was on his game last year when he used a holeshot victory in the first round and a very fast Dodge Stratus in the final three rounds to power past the competition for the Pro Stock victory. He will try to repeat this season, but will be challenged by defending POWERade world champ Greg Anderson, a winner here in '03. Anderson is already off to a fast start in '06 in his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO after qualifying No. 1 and winning the Winternationals. Warren and Kurt Johnson, both two-time winners at Phoenix, will try to add to their career win totals at the event. Others to watch in the 200 mph category include Jason Line, Erica Enders, Dave Connolly and Pomona runner-up Mike Edwards.

* SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Feb. 24, and noon and 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 25. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. on Feb. 26.

* TICKETS: For tickets, call Firebird International Raceway, at (602) 268-0200. Tickets are also available at Ticketmaster, ticketmaster.com.

* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying at 8 p.m. (ET) on Feb. 25. ESPN2 will broadcast NHRA 2Day, a 30-minute weekly news magazine show, at 6:30 p.m. (ET) and televise three hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET) on Feb. 26.

* ON THE WEB: Quick access to NHRA media relations department press releases, electronic images and other information is available on the Internet at http://media.nhra.com <http://media.nhra.com/> .

-nhra-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , David Baca , Cory McClenathan , Melanie Troxel , Brandon Bernstein , Allen Johnson , Don Schumacher , Robert Hight , Hillary Will , Dave Connolly , Mike Edwards , Tommy Johnson Jr.