MELANIE TROXEL’S DIVERSE AND SUCCESSFUL CAREER HELPED OPEN DOOR FOR 100TH FEMALE WIN IN NHRA
TOPEKA, Kan. — Melanie Troxel has accomplished a number of firsts throughout her standout NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series career. In becoming the first female driver to win in both Funny Car and Top Fuel, as well as becoming the first female to win in four different classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Modified, Top Alcohol Dragster), Troxel certainly displayed remarkable talent.
But Troxel also noted another important factor that led to her diverse accomplishments.
“It occurred to me that my tenacity is probably my biggest strength or attribute,” Troxel said. “Once I start something I keep after it. I struggled in the beginning with each car, but I always stick with it until I got it. I get asked for the biggest piece of advice I can gave someone and I always said persistence and taking advantage of every opportunity. I struggled a lot with each car at the beginning, but I always had persistence.”
Troxel has claimed seven career wins, including four in Top Fuel, which makes it possible for the historic 100th win by a female to take place at this weekend’s 26th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka. Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car) and Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event that will be televised nationally on ESPN2. For the first time since 2006, the race moves back to Memorial Day weekend, one of the most celebrated weekends for motorsports each year.
Female competitors currently have 99 NHRA victories with Troxel’s wide-ranging and accomplished resume playing a big part in that current total. At Heartland Park Topeka, all eyes will be focused on Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders-Stevens, Alexis DeJoria and Courtney Force in Funny Car, and Leah Pritchett and Brittany Force in Top Fuel as the landmark 100th win by a female will be within reach.
It’s a feat that doesn’t surprise Troxel, who has enjoyed the acceptance of women racing in the NHRA as well as the immense success they have achieved.
“I think the great thing about drag racing and the NHRA is it has had women involved for such a long time, and not just involved but also winning,” Troxel said. “Women are here, we’re winning and that’s what it is. (100 wins) is an impressive number and it’s great pointing it out, but a female winning has happened so often within our sport it’s the norm here. We’re not waiting for our first big win by a female and I think that shows people outside the sport what a difference there is as far as our diversity.”
Within the sport, Troxel has displayed an incredible prowess for succeeding in just about every type of car. After winning twice in Top Alcohol Dragster, Troxel jumped to the Top Fuel world in 2000 and experienced a breakout season in 2006.
She started the year by advancing to the final round at the first five races, breaking the Top Fuel record that continues to stand. Troxel won twice that year and two more times in 2007 before moving to Funny Car the following year. Just two races after Ashley Force Hood became the first woman to win in Funny Car, Troxel made her own history, winning in Bristol to become the first female to win in both Funny Car and Top Fuel.
“I take pride in that, being one of 15 drivers to be able to do that,” said Troxel, who won for the first time in Pro Modified in 2010. “To win in four different classes, that’s a point of pride for me. Having the opportunity to race a lot of different cars certainly stands out. To get that opportunity to race in Top Fuel was huge, but the big thing to me was to know that people had confidence in me and my driving.”
Troxel added to her legacy with each victory, but it is one that might not yet be complete. Troxel hopes to race again in 2015, hopeful she can continue to display the assortment of talents that has made her a star driver in the NHRA.
She also lauded the work of female pioneers in the sport like Shirley Muldowney, and praised the NHRA Summit Junior Drag Racing League program for continuing to help bring females into the mix.
“Shirley came in and kicked the door wide open and made it easier for girls like myself to do this,” Troxel said. “She sped up the whole process where women weren’t just competing, they were winning championships. You need to have sheer numbers of women aspiring to do something and I think you see that in the junior drag racing series. There’s more involved at an early age and that’s a good thing.”
In Funny Car, points leader Robert Hight comes to Heartland Park Topeka on an incredible streak, advancing to the finals in six straight races, posting three straight wins. Hight is also a two-time Topeka winner. His chief challengers include a host of heavy hitters including teammate John Force, the reigning and 16-time champ in Funny Car, who has an NHRA-best nine wins in Topeka. Other top competitors include four-time event winners Cruz Pedregon and Ron Capps, Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr., DeJoria, Matt Hagan, Atlanta runner-up Courtney Force, Del Worsham, Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca III.
Doug Kalitta, who won at Kansas in 2006, is the points leader in Top Fuel and has posted four final round appearances in 2014. Antron Brown, who has two wins this season, is still searching for his first win in Topeka, while other Top Fuel standouts include Langdon, who knocked off Brown’s Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher a year ago en route to the world championship, Spencer Massey, who is the most recent winner in Atlanta, Steve Torrence, defending Auto Club of Southern California Road the Future Award winner Brittany Force and J.R. Todd.
A third victory for defending event winner Coughlin won’t be easy against a loaded Pro Stock field. Coughlin’s teammate Allen Johnson also has two career wins at the Kansas Nationals and both will be trying to get their Dodge Darts to victory lane for a third time. Las Vegas winner and K&N Horsepower Challenge winner Erica Enders-Stevens leads the Pro Stock points and is looking for an eighth career victory and first at the Kansas Nationals. Jason Line, Vincent Nobile, V Gaines, Shane Gray and Dave Connolly and Chris McGaha also figure to be major factors.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, May 23, with sessions at 4:30 and 7 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, May 24, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 25.
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