- Bill Stephens
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The "second season" begins in a few days when the 26th Mopar Mile-High Nationals convene at Bandimere Speedway outside Denver, and the NHRA POWERade schedule charges back into action.
During the three-week breather, which teams in the four professional classes have enjoyed since the previous event in St. Louis, there have been some changes to lay of the land that will become readily apparent when the "Western Swing" commences in Denver.
Here's a list of the most significant.
Melanie Troxel will be making her first appearance in the Torco Gear Top Fuel Dragster after being hired by team owner Don Schumacher to drive a second car, which will accompany the U.S. Army machine of reigning POWERade champion Tony Schumacher. This will be Troxel's second tour of duty with Schumacher Racing after briefly driving a second dragster for the team in 2000.
Erica Enders, the 22-year-old Pro Stock rookie from Houston, will have the benefit of a three-race sponsor for the entire Denver-Seattle-Sonoma, Calif. swing thanks to a deal struck by her team owner, Victor Cagnazzi, and Bravo! Foods. Enders will by flying the colors of Slammers and Slim Slammers "Milk With An Attitude" over the three-race stretch -- the first incursion into NHRA drag racing for Bravo! Foods International.
Greg Anderson has taken delivery of the first race-ready 2005 Pontiac GTO and will debut the slick new machine this weekend. The GTO will replace the Pontiac Grand Ams that Anderson and other factory-backed teams have been campaigning this year. Other Pontiac teams, including that of Warren Johnson, will be switching to the GTOs as soon as the cars are completed. Anderson has been testing the new GTO extensively in preparation for its debut in Denver and has expressed tremendous enthusiasm over the early testing results.
Marshall Topping, who was severely injured in John Mitchell's "Montana Express" Top Fuel Dragster at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., in 1997, has been added to the Top Fuel entry list for this weekend's race in Denver. Topping, whose late father Tom was an accomplished drag racer throughout his life, made a brief NHRA comeback lat year when he qualified in Gainesville for the 2004 Gatornationals. Topping will be driving the Stevens Family dragster and there are reports that the team has planned to compete throughout the remaining 11 events of the season.
According to several sources, Lee Beard, who was released from Schumacher Racing last week as tuner for Whit Bazemore's nitro Funny Car, has accepted the crew chief's position for the Top Fuel operation owned by David Powers. The car is driven by "Hot Rod" Fuller and has advanced to two final rounds in '05. The team does not appear on the official NHRA entry list for Denver while an announcement on Beard's new deal is expected soon.
Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com.
When on-track action resumes this weekend in Denver, there will be several notable changes to the NHRA landscape.