They need lessthan five seconds to travel a quarter mile, but drag racers Melanie Troxel andTommy Johnson Jr. didn't rush into love. In 1986 Troxel was a 13-year-oldtomboy when she met the 17-year-old, mullet-wearing Johnson, who was competingat a Denver track alongside her dragster-driving dad, Mike. "I had a crushon Tommy," she recalls. "He says mullets were cool."
Fourteen yearslater Johnson was a fixture on the NHRA when Troxel joined the circuit, one ofthree females among 103 drivers. This time Johnson was smitten. "I wasseeing her every week, and, you know, I got the fever," he says. Sherebuffed Johnson's date proposals for six months before he persuaded her tohave dinner with him. (He said they'd go "as friends.") After going outclandestinely ("She kept worrying what people would think," he says)and Johnson wooing Troxel with dates such as a ride on the Big Shot catapult inLas Vegas, they wed in 2003.
Married lifehasn't slowed them down. Troxel, 33, leads the standings in the NHRA's top-fueldivision and has a top speed of 331.04 miles per hour over the quarter-milestrip, a record for women. Johnson, 38, is sixth in the funny car class."Other drivers give me a hard time about how she's been doing so muchbetter than me," says Johnson. The couple, who live in a four-bedroom housenear Indianapolis with their Yorkie, Spike, travel in a 40-foot RV to races.Don't get Troxel started on Johnson's backseat driving. "He even argueswith the girl on the GPS who gets on and says, 'Exit 300 feet,'" shesays.
MARK J. REBILAS/US PRESSWIRE (2, KISSING AND TROXEL)
DAVID ALLIO/ICON SMI (3, CARS AND JOHNSON)