NHRA's Troxel wins sportswoman of year award

Updated: October 16, 2006, 6:14 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Drag racer Melanie Troxel, the world's fastest female at 331 mph, got an early start hanging around the race track.

Her father, the late Mike Troxel, was a Top Alcohol dragster world champion in the late 1980s.

"There are pictures of me in my footy pajamas in the winner's circle, pictures with my dad when he'd get done at midnight," Troxel said.

These days, Troxel needs little more than four seconds to reach her top speed. On Monday, she slowed down enough to accept the Women's Sports Foundation's individual sportswoman of the year award. Pro beach volleyball players Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh were selected in the team category.

Troxel is the first motorsports athlete to win the award, outpacing finalists Annika Sorenstam and Amelie Mauresmo.

"I kind of thought I was a longshot," Troxel said. "For drag racing to be recognized with other mainstream sports, it's a little different for us. Even among other motorsports, we kind of feel like we're a separate entity."

Tennis great Billie Jean King participated in a breakfast ahead of Monday night's annual gala. Sheryl Crow is to perform at the event featuring more than 100 athletes.

The Women's Sports Foundation, founded by King, is marking its 32nd anniversary. The awards dinner raises more than $1 million annually for education and grant programs for girls and women in sports.

The 33-year-old Troxel hit the highest speed for a woman in May at Atlanta. In February, she became the sixth woman in NHRA history to capture a Top Fuel event by winning the season-opening NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. Two months later, she picked up another win in Las Vegas, becoming the first driver to advance to the final round in the first five events of a season.

But Troxel had to be patient to start her profession, waiting until the minimum age of 16 to compete. So she worked on the family car and studied mechanics before she began street car racing against high school kids.

"At the time, there was no opportunity to do any racing when you were young," Troxel said. "Now they have junior dragsters for the 8- and 9-year-olds. I just decided at 16 that this was what I wanted to do for a living. I had no idea how you got to the point, just kind of set out to make that happen."

Troxel held the NHRA top fuel points lead through the first 12 events of the season in her Don Schumacher-owned dragster and is currently fourth in the standings behind leader Doug Kalitta. To honor her father, who died of cancer in 2000, she races under his old number, 507.

Shirley Muldowney was the last woman to win the title in 1982, and Troxel wants to match it someday.

"Right now the goal for us is to move up a spot," said Troxel, who has two races left in a 23-event season. "A top-three finish this season would still be considered a great finish."

The No. 1 team of May-Treanor and Walsh won eight of 10 AVP tournaments from April through July. In international play, they have won twice in four events on the FIVB World Tour this summer.

The duo, who have played together for seven seasons, expect to defend their Athens gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"The other teams split up because it may not be working or sometimes because of personalities, but that's what has made Kerri and I a stronger team," May-Treanor said. "We started out together young, had our ups and downs, but we pushed through it."

Inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame were: Diana Nyad (long-distance swimming) and Shane Gould (swimming), Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer (basketball) and Nawal El Moutawakel (track).

Nyad completed a 102.5-mile swim from the Bahamas to Jupiter, Fla., in 27 hours, 38 minutes in 1979, a world record that stood for 18 years. She wanted to start in Cuba, but had visa problems.

"The Bahamas were good -- same sharks, same Gulf Stream," Nyad said. "You never look forward, because all you're going to see is depressing horizon."

Gould won five Olympic swimming medals, including three golds, at the 1972 Munich Games.

Stringer led Cheney State (1982), Iowa (1993) and Rutgers (2000) to the Final Four, the first coach to lead three different teams to the NCAA semifinals.

El Moutawakel won gold in the inaugural women's 400-meter hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, becoming the first Arabic African female to do so. She grew up in Casablanca, with a mother who played volleyball and a father involved in judo.

"It was a very tolerant family, very open-minded, who allowed me to pursue my dreams of excellence," she said. "It was a really great surprise for international opinion to see for the first time this Arab, Muslim and African woman competing."

El Moutawakel got a scholarship at Iowa State and became an All-American and NCAA champion in the 400 hurdles. She has organized a race for women in Casablanca that has grown from a few hundred participants in 1978 to 25,000.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press