Commerce: Husband vs. wife in Top Fuel

Husband and wife battle each other in Top Fuel category. COMMERCE, Ga. - There have been plenty of great rivalries throughout the NHRA's 52 years of competition. Snake vs. Mongoose, Shirley Muldowney vs. Don Garlits and John Force vs. the Funny...

Husband and wife battle each other in Top Fuel category.

COMMERCE, Ga. - There have been plenty of great rivalries throughout the NHRA's 52 years of competition. Snake vs. Mongoose, Shirley Muldowney vs. Don Garlits and John Force vs. the Funny Car class are just a few of the more competitive pairs. How about Wife vs. Husband?

Rhonda Hartman-Smith and John Smith wear many titles throughout their daily lives. When they are not at the track, they are simply a happily married couple who work for the family business. When they are near a quarter-mile drag strip, however, it is a little different story.

Rhonda and John are both Top Fuel drivers who race a full schedule of NHRA events. Rhonda pilots the orange FRAM dragster while John has the wheel of the yellow Prestone dragster. The first time the couple had to face each other in competition was in Reading, Pa., last season.

"I get nervous every time I have to race my husband," Rhonda said. "The first time we raced each other I was so anxious that I (fouled at the starting line) and gave John the win. We've had a chance to get used to racing each other, but I still get butterflies in my stomach when we pull into the staging lanes."

The couple has been in opposite lanes on the same run twice in the first four races of 2003. Overall, John has the 2-1 advantage. Rhonda will be looking to even the score if they face each other during the 23rd annual Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals presented by Pontiac at Atlanta Dragway, May 1-4. Larry Dixon, Whit Bazemore, Allen Johnson and Angelle Savoie are the defending winners in their respective categories for the $1.4 million race, the seventh of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

"John and I both have a competitive nature that really comes out when we were behind the wheel -- even when we race each other," Rhonda said. "Regardless of which driver wins the round and continues on to the next stage of competition, we stand by each other every step of the way. Its part of being a supportive spouse and good sportsman."

Rhonda and John have a 4-year-old daughter, Megan, who travels to each race. Being a parent is just one more reason they have a healthy competitive relationship.

"Rhonda and I make an effort to keep work at the track and enjoy our time at home together with Megan," John said. "We do sneak in a few racing comments here and there, but it's important to separate our roles as drivers, parents and spouses when were away from drag racing competition."

In 2002, Rhonda finished in the top 10 for the second consecutive season. John joined her in the top 10 last year and they are looking to make finishing in the top 10 standings a habit.

"The FRAM team had a great preseason start in Tucson and Las Vegas and then struggled a bit the first few races," Rhonda said. "We're now back on track making consistent passes and qualifying in the top half of the field. We made four passes in the 4.60s and I ran my career-best speed of 323.66 mph at the SummitRacing.com Nationals in Las Vegas. Our goal is to just keep increasing the level of performance."

Rhonda isn't the only one in the family to earn career-best numbers so far this season.

"It's been quite an exciting season so far for me and the Prestone team," John said. "We made our first semifinal round of the season and continued on to our first final round appearance of my career. I also posted a career-best elapsed time of 4.591-seconds at Phoenix in February. My goal is to work on my reaction time and to maintain a top five point standing position all season."

They have earned some career-best performance numbers, but now they are looking for their first national event victory.

"It would be the ultimate drag race if Rhonda and I were to race each other in a final round," John said. "The FRAM and Prestone cars would duke it out and one of us would make it to the NHRA winners circle for our first NHRA Top Fuel win."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Larry Dixon , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Rhonda Hartman-Smith , Allen Johnson