From The Snake Pit MELANIE TROXEL VISTA, Calif. (March 29, 2005) -- If there's one thing that Don Prudhomme enjoys next to winning races, it's setting trends. With the announcement that Don Prudhomme Snake Racing has signed aspiring Top...
From The Snake Pit
VISTA, Calif. (March 29, 2005) -- If there's one thing that Don Prudhomme enjoys next to winning races, it's setting trends. With the announcement that Don Prudhomme Snake Racing has signed aspiring Top Fuel star Melanie Troxel to a developmental contract, it appears the Snake is again leading the way in the sport he has dominated both on and off the track. Troxel, a former cheerleader at Bear Creek High School in Colorado, grew up around straight line racing as her father, Mike, was a former Top Alcohol dragster standout. The elder Troxel won the 1988 NHRA TAD title and at the time, his daughter started getting actively involved in the sport. Troxel earned her Top Fuel license at Firebird International Raceway during the Phoenix test in 2000. Prior to that, she competed in the Super Comp, Competition eliminator and Top Alcohol dragster categories. She also raced a late model stock car at 3/8-mile Colorado National Speedway. Most recently, she drove the Western Rock Top Fuel dragster. With two NHRA national event victories (Seattle/Topeka 1999, TAD) under her belt, Troxel is itching to collect that first Top Fuel win. In this Q&A session, the former NHRA Division Six champion talks about what it's like being a female in a man's world, being married to a fellow drag racer, the frustration of not competing and what lies ahead for her.
Q: Were you the only female in your high school auto shop class?
TROXEL: There was one other girl. They had two or three levels of auto shop at my school. Rather than repeat the highest level of auto shop, we went to the student advisor and convinced him to let us take an independent study course. My mom gave me a small block Chevy engine for Christmas one year and we put it together and got course credit for that. We did it in one afternoon. It's just like drag racing, it doesn't take weeks to put an engine together, you can do it in a few hours. I used that engine in my first Super Comp car. I was about 17 at the time.
Q: How much of an influence did your dad have on your career?
TROXEL: I think the biggest influence he had was on my personality. Growing up around him is why I've gotten involved in the sport. The things about my personality and who I am, that comes from him. He was very meticulous and built his own cars. He did everything on the car himself. He was very organized and paid attention to detail. If I have half of those qualities, I'd be happy. He won the 1988 Top Alcohol dragster championship and that was about the time that I was turning 16 (years-old) and first started to get interested in the sport. I got to see all the hard work and effort that went into the race car, but I also got to see the rewards of that work.
Q: Has racing professionally has always been your lifelong goal?
TROXEL: I grew up at the track. I didn't really pay attention to the racing until my teenage years. Before that, I hung out with the other kids and didn't care about racing. As I got older, I started paying attention and getting involved. I would take out the spark plugs and the valve covers off. I was really interested in understanding how everything worked. That's why I signed up for my first auto shop class. At the time, you couldn't race until you were 16. I was counting down the days because we had a good high school drag racing series at Bandimere Speedway. When I tuned 16, I ran my first high school drag racing event. I didn't do well, but I knew at that point, that this is what I was going to do.
Q: Were you considered a tomboy growing up?
TROXEL: When I was younger I was definitely a tomboy. All my best friends were the boys in the neighborhood. I didn't fall into the normal girl activities. I mean, I was a Brownie and a Girl Scout, but I was better friends with the guys. That has never really changed. At heart, I guess I'm still a tomboy. At some point, when I hit the teenage years I'm sure I started trying to fit in. I was a cheerleader and on the high school dance team, but I never let that keep me from taking auto shop at the same time.
Q: Did you always want to race Top Fuel?
TROXEL: I assumed at the time that's what I would do. My dad had always run dragsters. I ran a Super Comp dragster and assumed that's the way it would go. I drove an altered in Comp. It had more power, a shorter wheelbase and it moved around and I liked driving it better. That got my mind going and thinking that I would drive Funny Cars. So, I got my Top Alcohol Funny Car license and thought I'd move towards that direction. But all the opportunities that I've had have been with dragsters. I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to drive either type of car.
Q: How frustrating has it been the past few seasons being a spectator?
TROXEL: It's really tough. On some level, I know I am fortunate just to have been able to drive at all. But to be honest, I really expect to be out there racing full time. Back when I started out, I set a timeline and told myself that I needed to reach this goal by the time I was 25. At 26 I was driving for Darien and Meadows. I hadn't quite reached my goal but I thought I was on the verge of it. It's more than five years later and I still feel like I'm on the verge. It's amazing how long it takes to come together. It's very frustrating. If you didn't love doing it, it wouldn't be worth it. I stick with it because this is what I want to do, it's what I've always wanted to do.
Q: Your husband, Tommy Johnson Jr., experienced the same thing in the late 1990s until he joined DPR before the 2001 season. Has he helped you through the down times?
TROXEL: He tries to offer advice and let you know that he's been there and made it through it, but I'm not sure there's something anyone else can do or say. You just have to learn to have patience and figure it out on your own. Nobody can give you some magic potion to make you feel better when you're sitting on the sidelines watching.
Q: As a female in a male-driven sport, why should people take you seriously?
TROXEL: I've paid my dues. I've come up through the ranks. I've worked on every car that I've driven. I understand the mechanics of these cars. I have confidence in my driving ability. People know that I'm a female, but they also know that I deserve to be here. Anyone that's in a position to run a car knows that.
Q: What do you say to those that say you're just another pretty face?
TROXEL: I can see that as a good opportunity on the marketing side, to use the female thing to work with or promote different sponsors that some race teams haven't been able to approach. Everyone involved in this operation, first and foremost, intends to win races. Don (Prudhomme) strives to be successful and if we can use the fact that I'm female for a specific sponsor's marketing plan, that's great. But the goal is to win races.
Q: Recently, you were compared to Anna Kournikova. How do you feel about that comparison?
TROXEL: I guess that I feel both good and bad about it. I'm flattered that people think of me as marketable and attractive. On the other hand, that's not what I want people to remember about me. I don't want anyone to confuse how we market this team, with our seriousness about being competitive. We fully intend for this to be a winning race team.
Q: Why did you choose to work for Don Prudhomme Racing?
TROXEL: I think this is really one of very few race teams that hires based on a driver's abilities, not on the sponsorship money they may bring. I see a lot of loyalty here. Having worked a few other places out here, I realize how important good chemistry is. Because of Tommy (Johnson Jr.), I've gotten to know everybody at DPR, and not only is this a first-class operation, I know that I get along with everybody here. Also, Snake gets me as a person, and he doesn't just see me as a marketing tool, he sees my potential as a driver. If I had my choice of anyplace to work, nothing else would even come close.
Q: What are your best qualities?
TROXEL: I am very focused on making this work. I take driving very seriously. There are a lot of things about driving that I want to work on when I get back in the car. I have a lot of ideas for quicker reaction times that I want to try. I have a lot of experience. I've driven a lot of different cars. I also think that I'm easy to work with. I understand the importance of the marketing side of this business, and I'm willing to put in the effort to make that work.
Q: Are you excited about the future?
TROXEL: This is a great opportunity for me and something that I've been waiting for. I've been fortunate enough to work with the team on a few things. The fact that they're willing to step up and commit to this is exciting to me, it's the best possible long-term scenario. For the first time in my Top Fuel career, I feel like I'll have a legitimate shot at winning races and a championship. Right now, I'm looking forward to getting back to work.
Q: What's it like being married to a fellow drag racer?
TROXEL: I think somewhere in my mind I thought that being married to somebody at the race track would complicate things, but it doesn't. Not only do we get to travel together, it's nice to have somebody that understands the racing mentality. You know when to leave them alone, when to talk and what to say at certain times, how you feel after a win or loss. It's also nice to have someone to share ideas about driving. I guess both growing up around racing and being consumed by it, we can really relate to each other.