I now pronounce you ... adversaries.
This year, driving for opposing Funny Car teams, husband and wife NHRA racers Tommy Johnson Jr. and Melanie Troxel will test their 4-year-old marriage on the quarter-mile, with their second outing of the year this weekend at Firebird International Raceway near Chandler.
Are the prospects good for continued marital bliss?
“I’ve learned how to be a good husband,” Johnson said.
Take that as a “yes, dear.”
But they know there will be new, special challenges to their relationship, particularly if the competition between this competitive couple gets down to the winner-take-all finals.
“It will be a tough situation,” Johnson said. “Boy, I’m going to be racing my wife. You have to put it out of your mind.”
“You have to focus on your own car and your own lane,” Troxel said.
At least if both made it to the finals, one spouse had a great weekend and the other a pretty good weekend.
“Everybody assumes the conflict will come when we race head-to-head,” Troxel said, but it would be worse, she said, if one of them lost in the first round and the other made it to the finals.
“The person having a bad weekend will want to be left alone. The person having a great weekend will have to meet in the middle,” said Troxel, who moved over Funny Cars this year after driving a Top Fuel dragster for six seasons.
In other words, celebrate, but quietly.
At home, talk has always turned to racing, with Johnson and Troxel driving different classes.
But now, driving in the same class with different teams, their conversations are at times halting.
Teams have secrets, so this couple now keeps secrets from each other.
“We keep team stuff to ourselves,” Johnson said. “It’s sometimes guarded conversation. Sometimes you have to shut it off.”
So far they don’t have any rules when it comes to being lovers and adversaries.
“I don’t even know what kind of ground rules we would set,” Troxel said.
That comes from being around drag racing — and each other — for so long. Both grew up in drag racing families and knew each other as teenagers.
“I used to hang out with his little sister, well over 20 years ago,” Troxel said.
Troxel was 14, too young to drive. Johnson was 18 and a big shot family-owned Alcohol Funny Car driver.
“I had a crush on him,” said Troxel, but he didn’t know it at the time.
Competitive as she is, Troxel remembered those crush days and made him work “extra hard” to win her over, she said. He’d ask her on a date, and she’d leave him hanging. He finally won her over and they married on a New Year’s Eve.
They enjoy a marriage of competitive compromise.
“We are competitive on and off the track,” Johnson said. “That’s been one of our hurdles.”
She wanted a housekeeper for Christmas. He got her a robot vacuum cleaner that does its job overnight.
She finally agreed to let him drive when they ride together around town, a big concession.
“I’m a terrible backseat driver,” he said.
They share the same profession and know the commitment it takes.
“We’ve both had relationships in the past where people don’t understand the commitment to do this. We both understand what it takes,” Troxel said.
“We’re living our dreams,” she said. “That’s the nice part about it. The last thing we want to do is hold the other person back.”
CHECKER SCHUCK’S KRAGEN NHRA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 24th annual Checker Schuck’s Kragen NHRA Nationals presented by Castrol, the second of 24 events in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship. Professional competitors in three categories earn points leading to 2008 NHRA POWERade Series world championships.
WHERE: Firebird International Raceway, Chandler, Ariz. Track is located off Interstate 10 from the north at exit 162A (Maricopa). From the south, take exit 162 (Maricopa). Follow the signs.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, Feb. 22-24
PURSE: Cash and contingency awards of more than $1.5 million
FRIDAY, Feb. 22 (Qualifying Sessions 1-2)
Pro Stock: 1:30 p.m., 4 p.m.; Top Fuel & Funny Car: 2 p.m., 4:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, Feb. 23 (Qualifying Sessions 3-4)
Pro Stock: Noon, 2:30 p.m.; Top Fuel & Funny Car: 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m.
SUNDAY, Feb. 24 - Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.; Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Sunday, Feb. 24, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise 90 minutes of qualifying highlights at 2 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, Feb. 24, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 12:30 p.m. (ET)
Sunday, Feb. 24, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of final eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. (ET).
Rod Fuller, Top Fuel; Tony Pedregon, Funny Car; and Kurt Johnson, Pro Stock.
Top Fuel - 4.430 sec. by Tony Schumacher Feb. 2007; 333.74 mph by Brandon Bernstein, Feb. 2005.
Funny Car - 4.636 sec. by Robert Hight, Feb. 2007; 330.88 mph by Tommy Johnson Jr., Feb. 2007.
Pro Stock - 6.634 sec. by Jason Line, Feb. 2007; 209.49 mph by Greg Anderson, Feb. 2007.
Top Fuel - 4.428 sec. by Tony Schumacher, Nov. ‘06, Pomona, Calif.;
336.15 mph by Schumacher, May ‘05, Columbus, Ohio
Funny Car - 4.659 sec. by Tony Pedregon, Feb. ‘07, Chandler, Ariz.;
333.66 mph by Jack Beckman, Nov. ‘06, Pomona, Calif.
Pro Stock - 6.536 sec. by Greg Anderson, March ‘07, Gainesville, Fla.;
211.69 mph by Jason Line, March ‘07, Gainesville, Fla.
TICKETS: For tickets call Firebird International Raceway, (602) 268-0200. Tickets also are available at ticketforce.com.
GENERAL ADMISSION (includes pit pass) - Friday: Adult, $33; Junior (6-12 years), $15. Saturday: Adult, $46, Junior (6-12 years), $15. Sunday:
Adult, $48, Junior (6-12 years), $15.
RESERVED SEATS (includes pit pass) - Friday: Adult, $43-55; Junior (6-12 years), $25; Child (5 years-under), $20. Saturday: Adult, $56-80; Junior (6-12 years), $25; Child (5 years and under), $20. Sunday:
Adult, $58-85; Junior (6-12 years), $27; Child (5 years and under), $22.