Melanie the daughter of 1988 NHRA Alcohol Dragster world champion Mike Troxel, Melanie grew up at the races. While still in high school, Melanie received class credit for rebuilding the engine she would use in her first race car. Coming up through the ranks, she competed in 5 different NHRA sportsman classes. Her amateur career culminated in a number 2 finish in the NHRA national points standings for the Top Alcohol Dragster class with numerous event wins and track titles.
Who have you mentored, or/and did someone mentor you in this industry to help you get started?
Lyn St. James has always been a source of advice and encouragement for me during my career. She has done a lot to help the advancement of women in motorsports. Even if it hasn’t been anything specific, just having someone to bounce ideas off of has meant a lot.
As a woman what features are your favorites in a car?
I love GPS. I always joke that even though I race cars for a living, as a drag racer I drive an half mile then I pull over and wait for the team to come and get me. I’m defintley directionally challenged. Ergonomic controls are important too. I really miss having the room to carry a lot of stuff with me, my next car will be an SUV.
Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for females?
Just like any industry that has been male dominated, it takes time for the culture to change. I think because in the general public, women have not historically been interested in automotive subjects, it has taken longer to change those stereotypes. I feel like Drag Racing has been very accepting of females, at least to me. My challenge continues to be finding sponsorship. I don’t think things are easier or harder for women in my sport, we just face a different set of challenges.
Why did you want to work in the auto industry?
I grew up around the racing world, at a dragstrip in Colorado. My dad raced and my mom was always a big part of the operation, including working on the cars. We spent our weekends and family vacations at the race track. It has always felt like the natural place for me to be. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be a race car driver. When I was old enough to start driving, I’d already had real exposure to the ups and downs of the sport. I remember the realization that this could be a career, my dad had always done it as a hobby. Once I realized that I was an adrenaline junkie, I never considered anything else.
First automotive job?
When I was probably 12 or 13 I started helping out with the family race car. They would let me take off one of the valve covers at the track. That sparked an interest to understand all the parts of the engine. I can still remember trying to figure out, if the rocker arm pushes down on the push rod, what is that pushing on, and what does that do. That inspired me to take auto shop in high school. I never stopped working on cars from there on.
Proudest professional achievement?
I led the NHRA Top Fuel dragster points for over half of the 2006 season, going to 6 straight final rounds. I was nominated for two ESPY awards and won the “Sportswoman of the Year” award that season.
Current challenge at work?
I am trying to find sponsorship to return to the racing circuit in 2013. Securing sponsorship is the toughest job in racing and this economy has only made that harder. Even though women are the major driving force in most purchases, it is a struggle to get the people in charge of marketing dollars to commit those resources towards women in racing.
Eventually, I would like to own my own mulit-car team. Hopefully that will allow me to still be involved in the sport when I no longer want to drive.
What sports or activities did you enjoy in school or/and currently?
Besides being involved in auto shop and the auto club, I played soccer. These days away from the race track, I lift weights and take spinning classes. I continue to torture myself with the game of Golf and love to travel.
What do you do to relax?
I love animals, so coming home to my two dogs, Rottie and Peanut is always a great way to unwind. Its really the only way to get completely away from a bad day at work. They don’t ask about it, they don’t care or judge. They are just happy to see you.