Women in auto racing are still something of a novelty in many series, in spite of talented drivers like Milka Duno, Allie Owens, and Leilani Munter. But in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), women have been competing and winning since the 1960s when Shirley Muldowney broke the barriers and became the first woman to receive a license from the association; she would go on to win three Top Fuel championships (1977, 1980, and 1982) and 18 national events. In the 1990s and 2000s, Angelle Sampey won 41 national events in the Pro Stock Motorcycle division on her way to three straight championships (2000-2002).
Who are the women to watch today? These three racers are all accomplished in their respective divisions, and aren’t afraid to give the guys some competition.
Ashley Force-Hood – the first woman to win a Funny Car final is no stranger to the NHRA – her father is 14-time Funny Car champion John Force, whom she beat for that first win in 2008. Force-Hood began her NHRA career in the Top Alcohol division before moving to Funny Cars as part of John Force Racing, teaming with dad John and brother-in-law Robert Hight. She was Rookie of the Year in Funny Cars in 2007, and finished second to Hight in the 2009 points standings. The Force family was featured on the A&E; Network reality series Driving Force, following dad John, daughters Ashley, Brittany, and Courtney, and mom Laurie through everyday life and race weekends.
Melanie Troxel – another second-generation driver (father Mike was the 1988 Top Alcohol champion), Troxel started racing professionally in 1997 in the Top Alcohol division. She competed part-time in the Top Fuel division starting in 2000, going full-time in 2006 with impressive results: fourth place in final points with wins at Pomona and Las Vegas. She became the first NHRA driver nominated for two ESPY Awards from ESPN in two categories (Female Athlete of the Year and Driver of the Year), and was also named Speed Channel’s 2006 First Quarter Driver of the Year and 2006 Sportswoman of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation. Troxel switched to Funny Cars in 2008, and became the first woman to win in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car divisions with a win at Bristol that year. She currently runs in the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) Promod division while looking for sponsors to get back into Funny Cars. Troxel is married to Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr.
Karen Stoffer – Stoffer made her NHRA debut in 1996 in Pro Stock Motorcycles, the same weekend Sampey made hers, but wouldn’t race in the NHRA again until 2002. That year, she and Sampey combined for the first all-female final round in Pro Stock Motorcycle history (Stoffer was runner-up). Since 2004, Stoffer has finished in the top ten in Pro Stock Motorcycle final standings every year, and has five career wins in the division.
sources: “Biography,” ashleyforce.com
“About Melanie,” melanietroxel.com
“Karen Stoffer profile,” prostockbike.com