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They're Making Their Mark

Drag racing: Women drivers such as Anderson, Powell and Hartman get another chance to shine this week in Winternationals at Pomona Raceway.

January 27, 1998|SHAV GLICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anderson, 32, the highest-profile woman racing today, says she is constantly approached by young people, boys as well as girls, wanting to know how to get into drag racing, what it's like, and what she's like.

"From the letters, sometimes, I get the impression the kids think I'm some kind of a freak person," she said. "When I tell them I feel like any normal person, that I was a cheerleader, they don't seem to understand.

"I don't believe what I tell them is what they want to hear. I always impress on them the importance of finishing school. That's what my parents did. I didn't always think it was what I needed, but now I see the importance of it, and I appreciate what they did."

Although all of her competition is male, except on the rare occasions when she races Powell or Hartman, Anderson says she doesn't think about the male vs. female aspect.

"I like racing men, I get a kick out of it, but when I'm on the [starting] line, I never think of myself against Larry Dixon, for instance. I think of myself against the car in the next lane. It's not just me, or just Larry, it's one team against the other. It takes the crew chief, the mechanics, the owner, the sponsor, it takes them all to make a winning package."

Anderson, who could take apart and rebuild an engine as well as anyone before she became a driver, is well respected among her peers. She's also not afraid to pull a practical joke on the guys.

At last year's Autolite Nationals at Sears Point Raceway, she was seen carefully removing individual toothpicks from their cellophane wrappers, dipping them in hot pepper sauce and rewrapping them. Associated Press writer Anne Peterson asked her what she was doing.

"Do you know John Force's crew chief, Austin Coil?" she asked. "He has a good-luck deal where he has to have a toothpick to chew on every day before he goes to the line."

She giggled like a schoolgirl at the thought.

The Others

Melanie Troxel, of Littleton, Colo., is entered in an alcohol dragster, hoping to move up to top fuel in the next couple of years. She remembers her first drag races:

"When I was really young, I remember getting up at all hours of the morning, sleeping in the back of the Suburban on the way to a race track. Dad was racing before I was born and when I was 14 or 15, it occurred to me that I ought to be racing."

Her father, Mike, won U.S. nationals in 1987 and the NHRA top-alcohol dragster championship in 1988. Melanie drove her first alcohol dragster last year and this week will be driving for Jerry Darrien while her family-owned car is being completed.

"For the first couple of years I was racing, I decided when I got to be 25, I would either quit and finish college or forget about college and go racing professionally," she said. "I just turned 25, and right now, it's racing. I can't see myself doing anything else but racing. It's still a family project. My dad is my crew chief."

Troxel, who got a license at 18, says her friends in high school were oblivious to her career.

"I think they thought I was weird because I was never around on weekends, but it didn't bother me because the majority of my friends came from the racetrack," she said. "It was funny; one day in high school, someone found an article about me in National Dragster and posted it on the bulletin board. You can't believe how many people were surprised. Most of them didn't have a clue that racing was something I did."

The six other women at Pomona will be in sportsman classes.

Mary Ann Method, 48, of Kennewick, Wash., is the oldest of the group and Amanda Gillis, 18, of Chino Hills, is the youngest.

Method is a two-time national event winner who competes in stock eliminator with her husband, Cal. The first race she entered was at Pomona in the mid-'70s.

"My husband was racing before we met," she said. "We'd been married six years and I was going to all the races with him when a driver who was supposed to race with him didn't show up. It was the '75 or '76 Winternationals, I can't remember which.

"I just took over the entry. I went out to Irwindale to learn how to drive, and raced the next weekend. You couldn't do something like that now, but it was OK back then.

"I went four rounds, one more than my husband. It was just dumb luck. I hadn't learned yet how many ways there are to lose. All I was worried about was cutting a light and getting to the other end."

The Methods will be in '70 Chevy Novas this week.

"I don't know if it's the genes or living around race cars, but our daughter is talking about going bracket racing," she said.

Gillis, beginning her third season in racing, drives a big-block, Chevrolet-powered super comp dragster.

The other entries are Kristine Johnson, 45, of Eatonville, Wash.; Kerri Angeles, 23, of Fountain Valley; Julie Horton Jordan, 40, of Modesto, and Martha Thompson, 34, of Temecula. All are in the stock eliminator class, drag racing's entry level.

Johnson, who began racing in 1991, won the Winternationals stock eliminator title in 1996. She will drive a '78 Oldsmobile Delta 88. Jordan, a CPA, was runner-up to Johnson, and will be in a '79 Plymouth Volare.

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