BAYTOWN, Texas (March 28, 2006) - Melanie Troxel is a savvy, smart competitor. She doesn't give an inch when it comes to racing in the premier category of the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. And, after reaching the final round in each of the four last Top Fuel events, including the first three of 2006, winning once, and leading the points standings by 73 points despite a 25-point penalty for oildowns, she's wise enough to know that hot streaks can cool down.
This weekend's O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway brings her again to a venue she hasn't competed on in several seasons. This is one challenge she'll face here in her first full season of Top Fuel competition since rejoining Don Schumacher Racing midway through 2005. Another is as a target for other Top Fuel racers to aim at as they attempt to topple her off the podium.
The Colorado native who drives the Skull Gear/Torco Race Fuels Top Fuel Dragster was disappointed at losing the last event, in Gainesville, Fla., until reality set in and she realized that, despite a runner-up finish, she had made a stunning leap in the points standings, from 14 ahead to 73 ahead.
"It's kind of funny," she says. "Regardless of how things are going, when you don't win in a final round, you have that natural instinct to be disappointed for a while about it. But you really have to take a reality check and let that disappointment wear off and appreciate the fact that we are leading the points, we're running very consistently, and we're going a lot of rounds.
"When we said earlier in the year that our goal was to have a legitimate shot at the championship late in the year we couldn't have asked for a better start to the season. The consistency of going rounds is way more important than winning any one individual event.
"I think it would be unrealistic for me to say that we can keep going to every final round for the rest of the year. I'm sure we will have those weekends where we go out first round. We're bound to have those. But I certainly think that we have something going right now, whether it's chemistry within the Skull Gear/Torco Race Fuels team or a really good handle on the tune-up that (crew chief) Richard Hogan has right now. I certainly expect to continue that in Houston.
"I think we have a great race car and we will continue to go rounds, barring one of those inevitable bad weekends that you have here or there. I think right now we have the best race team on the circuit."
As for Houston Raceway, "It's a place where we've seen big ETs and big speeds," she says. "That's always exciting. The facility and the track surface are great, so we're looking forward to seeing what the performance of the car will be and what we can do with it."
SCHEDULE: On Friday, March 31, professional qualifying sessions are at 3 and 6 p.m. On Saturday, April 1, pro qualifying continues at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. On Sunday, April 2, final eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
TELEVISION: Saturday, April 1, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 8 p.m. (ET). Sunday April 2, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will broadcast NHRA 2Day, a 30-minute weekly news magazine show, at 11:30 a.m. (ET). Sunday, April 2, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise three hours of final eliminations at 4 p.m. (ET).
SATELLITE: Friday, March 31, 10-10:30 p.m. (ET) - Galaxy 11 / Transponder 13K (downlink freq: 11960, MHz horizontal) Saturday, April 1, 10:30-11 p.m. (ET) - Galaxy 11 / Transponder 13K (downlink freq: 11960, MHz horizontal) Sunday, April 2, 8-8:30 p.m. (ET) - SBS 6 / Transponder 17K (downlink freq: 12117, MHz horizontal)
MELANIE TROXEL QUICK FACTS: * Top Fuel points leader by 73 points after Pomona win and runner-up finishes in Phoenix and Gainesville, Fla. * Won her first national Top Fuel event in Pomona, Calif., Feb. 12, 2006 * 2006 is her first full season of Top Fuel competition * 33 years old, born Aug. 31, 1972 * Born in Littleton, Colo., lives in Avon, Ind., with husband and Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. * Two national event wins in Alcohol Dragster in 1999 (Seattle and Topeka) * Has four runner-up finishes in Top Fuel: in 2000 (Dallas 2), 2005 (Pomona 2), Phoenix 2006, Gainesville 2006 * Two No. 2s are her best qualifying efforts so far (Dallas '05 and Pomona 2 '05) * Drove limited schedule for Don Schumacher Racing in 2000, her first year in Top Fuel * Rejoined DSR in the 13th event of 2005 (Denver) * Runner-up in Alcohol Dragster points in 1999 * Ran limited Top Fuel schedule in 2002 and 2003 * Career quickest elapsed time in Top Fuel is 4.458 seconds, set in 2005 in Dallas * Career fastest speed is 330.31 mph, set in Dallas '05 * In 2005, in 11 races, Troxel had eight round wins * Troxel is the quickest and fastest female driver in NHRA history, after clocking the 4.458-second pass and 330.31-mph speed in Dallas '05.