Hartman-Smith taking break for family

It has not been a banner year for Rhonda Hartman-Smith, nor for her husband and teammate, John Smith. The 2004 NHRA POWERade Top Fuel campaign has been challenging for one of the hardest working operations on the tour.

So for 2005, Rhonda is going to take a breather.

This week, the driver who has been putting a female face on the sport's quickest and fastest category since 1997, announced that she'll be sitting out the 2005 season -- and perhaps longer -- to focus more attention on family matters. With her 5-year-old daughter, Megan, now attending school fulltime, Rhonda has made the same kind of choice that working moms in all walks of life routinely confront.

"I'll be turning 30-years-old on the 18th of [September]," she says. "My schedule has been incredibly hectic this year and with Megan going to kindergarten every day, I feel the time is right to shift more of my focus on the family. We'll have to juggle our schedules with John continuing to race but that becomes easier to do with me being more able to adapt my schedule to fit his."

The Smith family has roots that spread throughout two generations of NHRA drag racing. John's father, Paul, is a highly respected tuner and former driver who has established a reputation for fielding competitive racecars on limited budgets, while Rhonda's father, Virgil, has been a team owner in the nitro ranks for 30 years.

John's brother, Mike, is also an accomplished driver-tuner while Rhonda's brother, Richard, is another talented racer with driving and tuning experience.

This year, John and Rhonda were hoping to maintain the momentum their two-car Top Fuel team enjoyed over the past three season thanks to Rhonda's top 10 points finish in 2001, the sport's first husband-wife top 10 finish in 2002, and her 4.523 second pass last year making her the quickest female in NHRA history.

But 2004 has derailed their progress with a host of unlucky breaks which have kept the Smith duo from securing top 10 spots in the current Top Fuel standings.

Although neither of them has ever made it to an NHRA winner's circle, Rhonda is quick to point out that she is not retiring permanently.

"As much as I am disappointed that I have yet to win an NHRA event, I am equally as proud of all of our accomplishments as a team," Hartman-Smith said. "We have fielded a terrific two-car team that's finished in the top 10 for the past three seasons, and as a couple John and I have made history several times. My first Wally will just have to wait a year or two."

Bill Stephens covers the NHRA for ESPN and ESPN.com.