INTERVIEW WITH MELANIE TROXEL, THE FASTEST AND QUICKEST FEMALE DRIVER IN NHRA HISTORY INDIANAPOLIS (Jan. 18, 2006) - Melanie Troxel joined Don Schumacher Racing for the second time in her Top Fuel career at the 2005 Denver event, the 13th of the...
INTERVIEW WITH MELANIE TROXEL, THE FASTEST AND QUICKEST FEMALE DRIVER IN NHRA HISTORY
INDIANAPOLIS (Jan. 18, 2006) - Melanie Troxel joined Don Schumacher Racing for the second time in her Top Fuel career at the 2005 Denver event, the 13th of the 23-event NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
In her whirlwind re-debut last year, in which a full team was put together in a matter of weeks, with Skull Gear/Torco Race Fuels coming on board as the primary sponsor and Richard Hogan as crew chief, Troxel demonstrated her talent on the track immediately. She qualified for that and every remaining event, steadily bettering her performance. By her sixth race of the year, the U.S. Nationals, she had already established a career-best elapsed time and top speed and was beginning to qualify in the top half of the field.
The 33-year-old Colorado native then wowed the crowd in Dallas at the Texas Motorplex by blasting to the end of the quarter-mile in a career-best 4.458 seconds. She had already established herself as the quickest female in NHRA history previously in Reading, Pa., with a 4.509-second lap. In Dallas, she surpassed legendary Shirley Muldowney and became also the fastest female driver in NHRA history with her 330.31-mph pass, and also became the first female NHRA driver to reach 330 mph.
Troxel claimed No. 2 in Dallas qualifying, then repeated that feat at the final event of the season in Pomona, Calif., where she qualified second to her teammate and three-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher. She advanced to her first Top Fuel final round of the season, the second of her career, but lost to her teammate.
Troxel, who is married to Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr., ended her 2005 season with one runner-up finish and a round win-loss record of 8-11 and 31-37 career. She returns to Don Schumacher Racing in 2006 in her first full season of competition in the Top Fuel class.
Born in Littleton, Colo., Troxel now lives in Avon, Ind., with husband Tommy Johnson Jr. She won two national events in Alcohol Dragster in 1999 (Seattle and Topeka). Her first Top Fuel runner-up finish came in 2000 at the second Dallas event, while driving for DSR. She drove a limited schedule for Don Schumacher Racing that year, her first season in Top Fuel. She also competed in several Top Fuel events for other teams in 2002 and 2003.
She was runner-up in Alcohol Dragster points in 1999.
We caught up with her after she returned from New Zealand, where she and "TJ" helped launch the new Lakeside International Dragway in Taupo, New Zealand.
MELANIE TROXEL Q&A
1. Q. YOU JUST RETURNED FROM NEW ZEALAND WITH YOUR HUSBAND TOMMY JOHNSON JR. HOW WAS THE TRIP?
A. It was our first trip to New Zealand and it was wonderful. It's summer down there so the weather was great and it was a beautiful place to visit. We went down for the opening of the new Lakeside International Dragway in Taupo and spent about a week with the people who are involved with the track and did some promotional events for them and some fund-raising events and helped them with their official opening, which was on Jan. 2. And then we spent another four or five days just traveling and visiting the rest of the country.
Most of what we did was with the people who are involved in drag racing and follow it down there. It was actually surprising how up they were on NHRA drag racing. There are a lot of people who really support the sport in New Zealand.
2. Q. YOU ARE NOW HEADING INTO YOUR FIRST FULL NHRA TOP FUEL SEASON WITH DON SCHUMACHER RACING. HOW EXCITING IS THAT?
A. 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. We have the opportunity in the off-season to take the time to go through everything, sort it out, 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.
3. Q. IN 2005 YOU BECAME THE QUICKEST AND FASTEST FEMALE DRIVER IN NHRA HISTORY. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU?
A. I'm more excited that the car is running so well. While being the fastest and quickest female driver in NHRA history is an interesting and noteworthy item, our big goal is to go out there and 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.
4. Q. YOU STILL HAVE A NEW TEAM, BUT YOUR PERFORMANCE IN 2005 AT SOME EVENTS WAS SECOND ONLY TO YOUR TEAMMATE AND THREE-TIME TOP FUEL CHAMPION TONY SCHUMACHER. ARE YOU AND YOUR TEAM READY TO COMPETE HEAD TO HEAD WITH TONY IN 2006 FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
A. Absolutely. I think we've got a great group of people. I have complete confidence in Richard's ability to tune the car. We've added a few new people, but, basically, we're coming back with that same group. We're very confident about our operation. The U.S. Army team (with driver Tony Schumacher) is tough and they've been together for a lot of years, so they're definitely always going to be tough competitors. We feel good about our operation and we think we're going to be equally as good this year.
5. Q. WHEN RACING TONY, DO YOU EXPECT TEAM ORDERS?
A. That's one of the first things that Don Schumacher said to me when we talked about the possibility of my coming on with the team - that there would be no team orders. To hear that upfront from the owner and know that you'll get to race heads up and have every shot possible to go out there and win races and the championship, is really good. It's good for the teams to know that and not to feel that there are any team orders to hold them back.
6. Q. DOES THE PRESSURE OF BEING ON THE SAME TEAM AS TONY SCHUMACHER AND BEING COMPARED TO HIM GET TO YOU SOMETIMES?
A. I think that being teammates with Tony is a very good yardstick to try to measure up to. 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.
7. Q. IS THERE ANYTHING NEW FOR YOUR SKULL GEAR/TORCO RACE FUELS TEAM IN 2006?
A. We did get a brand-new car in the off-season that we're going to take out and do some testing with and possibly start the year with, but we haven't decided yet. There are a few new guys on the crew and we have a new tractor-trailer. And, really, more than anything, we've had the opportunity to go back to the shop, regroup, kind of replenish our parts inventory and take the time that maybe we didn't have last year to get organized correctly.
8. Q. DOES BEING MARRIED TO A FUNNY CAR DRIVER HELP YOUR PERFORMANCE?
A. I don't know that it necessarily helps my performance, but I think one of the best things about it is having someone else who understands the pressures of what's going on out there, the traveling demands and everything else. 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. 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.
9. Q. DOES BEING TOGETHER 24/7 REALLY WORK FOR BOTH OF YOU?
A. We really do work well that way. We spend a lot of time together. I work from the house, Tommy's there all the time too. Actually, we spend less time together when we're at the race track. Really, both of us working out there at the races is like a must for us, because I don't think our relationship would work if one of us was taking off to go to the races and the other one was staying home.
10. Q. HOW COMPETITIVE ARE YOU AND TJ AND ARE YOU BOTH GLAD YOU'RE NOT RACING IN THE SAME CLASS?
A. I think we're both very competitive, as most drag racers probably are. And there's definitely the possibility that somewhere down the road we could both run in the same class. We joke that it's probably good for our relationship right now that we don't. It would just be an adjustment. It would be something that we would have to figure out how to deal with, running head to head like that. When I got started moving into the Alcohol ranks, that's the direction I wanted to head. I had my Alcohol Funny Car license first and was trying to move towards Funny Cars. And, really, the opportunities that came along for me were in Dragster, so that's where I ended up. Who knows, some day we may have that opportunity to race heads up and, if so, I think it would be an interesting opportunity and just be something that Tommy and I would have to adjust to.
When I went to Frank Hawley's school to get my Alcohol Funny Car license, I realized I liked the shorter wheelbase and thought, Hey, this could be something interesting. Actually, I feel fortunate to have any opportunity to race out here at all, so when opportunities came along for me, they've been in Dragsters, and I jumped at the chance. I've never really completely closed off that desire to race in the Funny Car ranks.
11. Q. YOU ARE PART OF THE HOSTESS "RACE DIVAS" PROGRAM THIS YEAR. WHAT TYPES OF PROMOTIONS WILL YOU BE INVOLVED IN?
A. We've just barely started this promotion and I haven't really gotten an opportunity to do a whole lot for Hostess yet, but we do have in the works some different personal appearances. We've heard a lot of different possible scenarios, from going to different race venues or just doing promotions for the Hostess corporate people. We don't have anything definite at this point. >From everything that we've heard, it sounds like it could be some different fun activities.
Hostess is coming out with recipes from each of us. I got to see my recipe the other day. It's a dessert called Melanie's Mud Pie. It sounded really good, actually. I said, Oh, I could go for that.
12. Q. YOU ARE AN ATTRACTIVE, ARTICULATE WOMAN, AN EXCELLENT SPEAKER AND A TERRIFIC REPRESENTATIVE FOR THE SPORT OF NHRA DRAG RACING. ARE THESE ASSETS AN ADVANTAGE OR A DISADVANTAGE FOR A COMPETITIVE RACING DRIVER?
A. I definitely think in this day and age, as competitive as it is out there, that to get sponsorship dollars you have to be able to work on every angle of the sport. Traditionally, we just think of driving and being competitive, but it takes a lot more than that to keep the teams and the sponsors and the rest of the team working properly. I definitely don't think it's a hindrance to be able to help your sponsors with the marketing side of things. As far as being a racer, what it boils down to is still being a good race-car driver and at the end of the day that's what we all want to be known for, is our driving abilities.
13. Q. WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH IN 2006?
A. I certainly think we are very capable of going out and winning several races. I don't want to come off as cocky, but I think the goal out there for us is to be a legitimate contender for the championship when we get three quarters of the way through the season. We'll just start out trying to go race by race and do the best we can and get a couple of wins and, who knows, come September, hopefully we're right there in the hunt.
14. Q. WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THE FUTURE?
A. I want to continue with Don Schumacher Racing. Any time you can have continuity and build on a long-term relationship with one team, you just get better and better. If we can keep this group together, especially being a part of Don Schumacher Racing, where we have all of the equipment, resources and people we need to go out there and win a championship, it'll be a major plus. And, that's what the next goal is, to win championships. If it doesn't happen this year, then that's what we'll continue to work on the next year.
15. Q. HOW DRIVEN ARE YOU TO BE THE BEST DRIVER IN TOP FUEL?
A. I think the drive it takes to get a ride and stay out here on the track - because it certainly isn't easy; it's tough to get the opportunities to be out here - is something that is always in your mind. You have worked so hard to get to this level and that just continues on. We're all constantly striving to do our best out here and we don't forget the fact that there are a lot of people who work very hard on this team, putting all their effort into making this race car go down the track. And when you go up to the starting line you certainly don't want to let them down. There are a lot of different things that go through your mind and a lot of pressure that we put on ourselves to be the best out there. We keep working at that, even if we have to take a step back - as I've had to do at least once last year - to not let a lot of that pressure get to you. You just kind of have to keep regrouping and figuring out what it takes to stay focused and do your best job out there. That's always at the front of my mind. I keep working at it and that's really number one. It may get lost sometimes in the cloud of other things that we're doing at the track, but that's certainly the number-one goal at all times.
16. Q. WHEN ARE YOU THE HAPPIEST?
A. Certainly at the race track. Definitely the best part of my year is when we're out there racing and part of the reason why I'm excited to get going again out here. Racing in general is a great opportunity. I love to be doing it. (I'm happiest) certainly when the car's running good and hopefully we will have a win coming up here soon. (I'm happiest) racing in general, but certainly when the car's running better. That helps.
17. Q. ANY CHILDREN IN YOUR FUTURE?
A. Tommy and I both love kids and we have discussed the possibility of having kids. We certainly haven't ruled it out. But right now we're both very focused on the racing and that's kind of where we leave it. So we'll continue to keep working on that. And if in the future it works out at some point that we can have kids, that's great. But right now the focus is just to keep working on our racing careers and being as successful at that as we can be.
18. A. WOULD YOU LIKE TO ADD ANYTHING?
A. We don't always get a chance to talk about the guys on the Skull Gear/Torco Race Fuels team. At the end of the track your adrenaline is pumping, you're trying not to forget any sponsors in your interview and still have something interesting to say. I haven't had the opportunity to give them the recognition they deserve. They put in a lot of hard work in the shop and especially at the track. They're the ones who make the car perform; I just get to go test it out for them. So, in case I don't get the opportunity at the end of the track, because you know I will never remember all of this, these are the guys who make it happen: Richard "Hogi" Hogan, Brian "Speedy" Shipman, Jimmy Higgins, Richie "Oz" Crampton, Brian "Shifty" Swift, and our newest guys: John "Big'n" DeFilippis, Brandon "Pork Chop" Green, and Ethan Carr. Thanks, guys!