POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 6, 2005) - Melanie Troxel, driving the Skull Gear/Torco Race Fuels Top Fuel Dragster, ended the 2005 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series strong today by reaching her first final round of the season at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway.

She met her teammate, the No. 2 qualifier and reigning Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher in that final round, but lost to him when she fouled out at the start.

Troxel capitalized on her excellent No. 2 qualifying effort in the early rounds, defeating Doug Foley in the first stanza with an elapsed time of 4.473 seconds at 329.83 mph to Doug Foley's losing 4.607/315.64.

In the quarterfinal, the Colorado native disposed of Morgan Lucas with a winning 4.535/325.92 to Lucas' 9.342/94.89, and, in the semifinal, she easily dismissed David Baca with a 4.525/328.14 to his 4.622/310.70, but it cost her a trip into the sand trap without parachutes.

"We had a great race car," she said. "We put down some great runs in qualifying and ended up No. 2. That was the start of it. We had lane choice going into the day, and kept it going.

"This was the first time we knew going into Sunday that we had a chance to not meet Tony until the final."

Schumacher's 4.496/324.36 pass took the win. "I think the beginning of us losing in the finals was when we blew it up going through the lights in the semifinal and ended up in the sand pit," she explained. "We didn't hurt the car that much, and all the teams pitched in to get us ready. The Brut and Matco Tools guys were over here helping out, and the Army team gave us some parts to get the Skull Gear car back together," she said.

"I heard it blow up, but I didn't realize the fire was as bad as it was. I felt the parachutes hit and realized they weren't really doing as good of a job as they should have. I thought maybe only one 'chute had opened, which had happened to us earlier in the weekend. I got on the brakes and tried to stop it, but it became pretty clear that it wasn't going to stop. I figured the smartest thing would be to go ahead and go into the sand trap. I didn't think I was going fast enough to damage anything, and fortunately we didn't hurt the car too bad.

"We had a few little things that bugged us for the final. The injector wasn't quite right, the settings weren't right, and the idle wasn't right. Whether or not that made a difference with my red light, I don't know. Bottom line, it wasn't going to go down the track and run a 4.49 like the Army team did. They are tough and they didn't leave us any room for error. That's why they won the championship."

Troxel ended the year on a high note and looks forward to the 2006 season. "We've made a major step forward. We made it to the final round and have made improvements along the way. It will help carry us through the winter.

"The last two or three races we felt we had a car that could win a race. We were just waiting for all the pieces to fall into place. A win would have been nice to put an exclamation point on the year, but it's a sign we are moving in the right direction."

Crew chief Richard Hogan was also pleased with the team's progress. "Everything went good," he said. "I hoped we could have been in this position earlier in the year. With us qualifying No. 2 and Schumacher No. 1, hopefully that is something we can repeat. That's the perfect world for Don Schumacher Racing."

In Troxel's 11 races this year for Don Schumacher Racing in the brand-new Skull Gear/Torco Race Fuels dragster, she qualified in the top half of the field five times. She reached the quarterfinal three times, the semifinal once, and had one runner-up finish. She finishes the year with a round win-loss record of 8-11, and in her 39 career races she is 31-37.

She ended up 14th in the Top Fuel point standings.