JOLIET, Ill. – Before this season, Melanie Troxel had never heard of Pfc. Paul S. Czerwonka. Now she wears his name.

Troxel has heard plenty of stories of war since her Top Fuel dragster became the fastest Vietnam Veterans memorial on the planet. At every NHRA POWERade Series event, veterans and family members of American servicemen and women come to meet Troxel and see her Evan Knoll-owned Vietnam/Veterans/POW-MIA dragster.

Czerwonka is a U.S. Marine who was killed in South Vietnam on May 10, 1968. His name is engraved on the silver remembrance bracelet she’ll wear for one year, until it’s time to return it to the original owner. She may not know much about him, but every story and every name matter to her.

“Every Saturday (before qualifying) we have a get-together, where we’ve invited between five and 20 veterans to the track, or families of veterans and POW’s still missing in action,” Troxel said. “A lot of veterans come to the races and bring us gifts, like flags that have flown in missions, or medals.”

She’ll expect more visitors when the NHRA POWERade Series comes to Route 66 Raceway for the 10th annual Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals, the ninth of 23 in the Series, June 7-10.

In Atlanta, a veteran brought Troxel a bomb pin from Vietnam. He and the other soldiers in his unit had worn them as good luck charms – so Troxel looped one end of the red metal pin onto the shoelace of her driving shoes, and tucks it into her shoe for every pass down the track.

She likes to think the piece brought her luck in St. Louis, where she posted a 4.741 at 274.33 mph to defeat Cory McClenathan in the final round for her first win of 2007, and her first since Las Vegas 1 2006. Last season, the talented driver led the point standings for more than half of the season, beginning with a win at the season-opener in Pomona, Calif. But a first-round loss in Denver dropped her to No. 2 and she would never regain that top spot, finishing fourth for the season.

At the end of what many would call a storybook season, Troxel – who was nominated for two ESPY’s and was named female athlete of the year by the Women’s Sports Foundation founded by Billie Jean King in 2006 – switched teams. When she left Don Schumacher Racing, the only thing her championship-caliber team took with them, besides each other, was their hauler.

“I think any time you make a major change in the team you’re going to go through a little bit of a learning curve,” Troxel said. “Even though we have the same people, and it looks from the outside that the team is the same, the only thing we still have is the trailer. The car, all the parts, everything is brand new. Some of the parts are completely different than the ones we had before. It’s taken a little bit of time to get a handle on the new parts.

“The guys definitely had to put in some overtime over the winter to make sure we had everything ready – make sure the car was painted and ready to go. Since then it’s been smooth.”

Now Troxel is teammates with Morgan Lucas, the young Top Fuel driver and team manager of Lucas Oil Racing. Troxel hopes both of the teams are in the top eight before the first cut in the Countdown to the Championship.

“I’d say last year the fact that it was my first full season and the fact that we led the points from the start of the season through the midpoint, it definitely had to be a higher pressure situation,” Troxel said. “This year we didn’t come out and run so strong early in the year and so we kind of feel like we’re under the radar. I’ve always said that ever since (NHRA) came out with a new points system, the key is to come on strong late in the year. We had a little bit of a slow start, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction now.”

Among other Top Fuel giants to watch include Rod Fuller, Tony Schumacher, and Doug Kalitta, the defending event winner. Look for Ron Capps and Mike Ashley to shine in Funny Car. Defending event winner John Force is struggling so far this season, but don’t forget NHRA’s winningest driver has come back from behind before. In Pro Stock, watch for a battle between teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line – who’ve held the world championship title between them since 2003 – and teammates Dave Connolly and Jeg Coughlin Jr., in the event and the special King Demon Crown competition for the best of the best in Pro Stock.

Expect key performances from Karen Stoffer, teammates Angelle Sampey and Antron Brown, and Matt Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:30 and 7 p.m. on June 8, and 12:10 and 3:05 p.m. on June 9. Pre-race ceremonies will begin at 10:30 a.m. on June 10, followed by the first round of professional eliminations at 11 a.m.

TICKETS: For tickets, call (815) 727-RACE or visit

ON TV: On June 9, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise one hour and 30 minutes of qualifying at 5 p.m. (ET). On June 10, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will telecast NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET) and televise three hours of eliminations at 4 p.m. (ET).

*Information provided by NHRA

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