Back Home in Denver, Melanie Troxel Ready For 1,000-foot Track, Improving Performances Returning to her hometown of Denver brings back a lot of memories for NHRA Funny Car driver Melanie Troxel. "I lived a majority of my life there," said...
Back Home in Denver, Melanie Troxel Ready For 1,000-foot Track, Improving Performances
Returning to her hometown of Denver brings back a lot of memories for NHRA Funny Car driver Melanie Troxel.
"I lived a majority of my life there," said Troxel, who now calls Avon, Ind., home. "I still have a lot of family and friends in Denver that, quite honestly, with the schedule we keep and the limited amount of off-time we have, I don't get to see very often," Troxel said as she prepared for the 29th Mopar Mile-High Nationals at venerable Bandimere Speedway in nearby Morrison.
"It brings back a lot of memories when I race at the track where I got my start. I literally grew up at Bandimere."
In the early years, she was there watching her late father, Mike Troxel, race, and it was at this race track that she ultimately developed the competitive racing instincts she carries today.
"I have a lot of memories of my dad racing," Melanie said, "but even more than that, Morrison is where I grew up. Even when I wasn't paying attention to the racing, I hung out at the race track during the weekends with the other racers' kids who were my friends."
Troxel, meanwhile, has developed a large following of fans during her successful racing career, many of whom still reside in the Denver area. This weekend, they will be seeing her for the first time in the ProCare Rx Dodge Charger R/T, as she enters the second half of her first POWERade Series season in the full-bodied, nitromethane burning Funny Car class.
She has adapted to the nuances presented by these cars and fared well in this highly-competitive category, winning at Bristol, Tenn., in just her eighth race. That victory made her the 14th driver -- and the first female driver -- to win national events in both Funny Car and Top Fuel. Her husband, Tommy Johnson Jr., also is in the select group. Overall, Troxel has five wins in nitro cars, including four in Top Fuel, and she has two Top Alcohol Dragster national events wins.
And there are more challenges ahead.
First, of course, is the debut here of the first NHRA Top Fuel and Funny Car races to 1,000 feet. The temporary mandate that lopped 320 feet off the traditional distance was made last week as the drag racing community searches for ways to make the cars safer following the tragic loss of Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta last month.
"I haven't thought about it yet," Troxel says of the shorter track, "but it will be something I will be thinking about as I get into the car. You have to remind yourself that you only have to go 1000 feet. It doesn't take a lot of thought, but it would be real easy to drive it farther than necessary."
Second are the traditional altitude problems the cars and their tuners face in the oxygen-deprived atmosphere.
"I think we have seen the car make consistent improvements for many weeks now," acknowledged Troxel. "Sometimes it is just a small gain, but as long as we can continue to improve, we are definitely going in the right direction. We have a fairly consistent race car. It will be interesting to see what the adjustments for the altitude will do for our tune-up this week.
"We are moving in the right direction . . . although, quite frankly, with the way we started the year there was nowhere to go but up, and we've continued to do that. Even though we aren't in the top 10 (she's 14th), we are moving in that direction.
"Really, our goal is to hit our stride coming into the last quarter of the season."
Third, this is the beginning of the grueling three-race Western Swing that includes stops at Seattle (July 18-20) and Sonoma, Calif. (July 25-27) before the Indianapolis-based team can return home.
"Three races in a row are always really tough on everybody, especially the guys on the crew," Troxel said. "They are on the road for two-plus weeks this month.
"A lot could change in the next three weeks and this kind of sets you on a course to see which way your season is going to go. If you do well, you pick up momentum that seems to carry on through (races in Brainerd, Minn., and Reading, Pa.) to Indianapolis (the U.S. Nationals, Aug. 29-Sept. 1). On the other side, if you really struggle, it makes for a really long three weeks. Sometimes it's hard to break out of that slump.
"It is going to be important for us to not let the grind drag us down."
One thing missing from Troxel's Bandimere resume is a Top Fuel or Funny Car victory. A visit to the winner's circle Sunday would provide a solid momentum boost to the ProCare Rx team as they return to sea level for the Seattle race.
Kudos to Bandimere Speedway
Troxel complimented the Bandimere Family for "the way the Speedway has transformed over the years," she said. "I can remember very vividly when the pits were at the bottom side of the track and they had a round (announcing and race staff) tower. Some camping was about all there was on top."
All that changed when the track was completely remodeled and updated in 1988. Spectator seating was tripled and a press/corporate suites tower was added. This year, the racers will have a new, all-concrete racing surface.
"They have done an incredible job of keeping the facility up to date. They are constantly making improvements to the track. I know the altitude is kind of tricky for the tuners, but I still think it is one of the facilities that the racers look forward to coming to."