Twenty-eight of Europe’s fastest motor racing men were all set to contest a blistering Bank Holiday battle-royal amongst themselves.
Then an ultra-fast, ultra-chic American lady jetted in to challenge them all.
Drag racing, the world’s fastest motorsport, is one of very few sports in which women compete directly with men, and Melanie Troxel is a blue-chip American drag racing superstar.
The 28 gents are Europe’s elite Pro Modified drag racers preparing to compete in The Main Event (28-31 May) at Santa Pod Raceway, near Wellingborough, the opening round of the FIA European Drag Racing Championship. None will have expected the last-minute arrival of a major team flying in from America.
The elegant Ms. Troxel, 38, grew up in the sport, the daughter of a well-known racer, and has carved her own career as one of the world’s most accomplished female racing drivers, winning major races in three separate NHRA classes.
In 45 years, only 14 drivers have won NHRA national events in both Top Fuel and Funny Car categories; Ms. Troxel is the only woman among them.
At the wheel of a Top Fuel Dragster in 2005, she hit a career-best speed of over 332 miles per hour. Her successes earned her election as the Women’s Sports Foundation’s 2006 Sportswoman Of The Year, a distinction shared with past winners such as Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and golf’s Annika Sörenstam.
Last year she turned her hand to driving Pro Modifieds for team owner Roger Burgess, the founder and proprietor of one of America’s largest private healthcare corporations.
A drag race is an acceleration contest between two vehicles from a standing start over a measured quarter-mile. After qualifying against the clock, competitors are paired in a series of head-to-head, instant-knockout matches. The winner of each match advances to the next round; the loser is eliminated. The process continues until a single winner remains (think of Wimbledon tennis – quarter-finals, semi-finals, final, etc.). Vehicles are highly developed for this purpose and include the fastest racing cars on Earth. Top Fuel Dragsters and Funny Cars routinely exceed 300mph.
America’s National Hot Rod Association was founded in 1951 as the organised sport of drag racing began to emerge out of efforts to transfer illegal, ‘hot rod’ racing activities away from public roads to safer, legal confines such as disused wartime airfields. NHRA’s first national drag racing championship was held in 1955.
Today it is a huge organisation, licensing tens of thousands of racers and hundreds of tracks across the USA and Canada. The 23 ‘national events’ it currently conducts each year are considered the most prestigious drag racing series in the world, the sport’s equivalent to Formula 1 Grands Prix.
Pro Modified is a spectacular drag racing class that has become highly popular in recent years, having originated in America in the 1980s and come to Europe soon after.
Pro Mods are pure-bred racing machines bearing a (slender) outward resemblance to road-going cars. Colourful, composite-material bodyshells cloak racing chassis and hugely powerful engines. Body styles range from the 1930s to the present day. Pro Mods can cover the quarter-mile in 6 seconds at over 230mph. Last year Sweden’s Mats Eriksson hit 5.988sec/241.59mph, the quickest and fastest yet achieved on European soil.
Earlier this month, another Swedish Pro Mod racer, Michael Gullqvist, created drag racing history as the first European driver to win an NHRA national event in America. In a previous race in Florida, Gullqvist had clocked astonishing performance figures of 5.82sec and 248.84mph in his US-based team car owned by Roger Burgess.
Ominously for Melanie Troxel’s opponents this weekend, this is the car now airfreighted to England for her to drive at Santa Pod.
FIA EUROPEAN DRAG RACING CHAMPIONSHIP
Europe’s international drag racing series is sanctioned by the FIA, world motorsport’s official governing body. The European season begins with The Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway, near Wellingborough, over Spring Bank Holiday weekend. Pro Mod is one of five FIA classes in competition and is also the designated class of the MSA British Drag Racing Championship. MSA Round 2 is contested concurrently with FIA Round 1.
With 29 Pro Mod entrants, qualifying will be a brutal business. Four sessions against the clock will select the quickest 16 for Bank Holiday Monday’s head-to-head, instant-knockout eliminations. Thirteen will pack for home on Sunday night.
The FIA Main Event takes place over Spring Bank Holiday weekend, 28-31 May. Friday is reserved for Sportsman-only qualifying; all classes qualify on Saturday and Sunday; eliminations are completed on Bank Holiday Monday.
For further information about Melanie Troxel’s visit to The Main Event this weekend, please contact Caroline Day (Marketing Manager) at Santa Pod Raceway.
Telephone: 01234 782828
Santa Pod Raceway, Airfield Road, Podington, Nr. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire NN29 7XA.