Words compiled from press releases courtesy of NHRA Communications.
Larry Dixon raced to his 12th Top Fuel victory of the season Sunday at the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
Cruz Pedregon, Dave Connolly and Andrew Hines also were winners at the fourth of six playoff races in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.
Dixon was on and off the throttle on his Al-Anabi Racing dragster to beat top championship rival Cory McClenathan in a wild final round. As both dragsters lost traction at points down the track, Dixon managed to cross the finish line first with a 4.906 second run at 295.34 mph performance, to hold off McClenathan’s charging FRAM dragster, which finished in 5.103 at 199.70.
Dixon’s dragster lost traction first, then McClenathan pulled away, only to have the blower belt break on his machine just before the finish line. That’s when Dixon decided to get back on the gas and his determination ultimately paid off in the photo finish.
“Our car just hooked up,” Dixon said. “I had such a run on him, and I blew by him so fast. When I saw the win light come on, I was laughing and couldn’t believe it all at the same time because that’s a race you shouldn’t win, and I just won.”
With the win, which also included early round victories over Terry McMillen, Doug Foley and David Grubnic, Dixon increased his series lead to 89 points over McClenathan with two races remaining in the season.
“It was a huge [day in the points],” Dixon said. “I mean, you’re racing the No. 2 guy, and you could tighten it right up or spread it out. With two to go and over a four-round lead with eight rounds left, I’d rather be 90 up than 90 down.”
Pedregon continued to impress as a Countdown spoiler in Funny Car as he rumbled to his second victory in the post-season. Although not championship-eligible, Pedregon seems to be hitting his stride in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry. He held-off new series points leader and national record holder Matt Hagan in the final round. Pedregon covered the distance in 4.130 at 312.35 while Hagan trailed with a 4.242 at 301.13 in his DieHard Dodge Charger.
“I’ll be honest with you, if you had said a 4.13 was going to win that, I would have said no way,” said Pedregon, who beat Ashley Force Hood, Tony Pedregon and Del Worsham to advance to the final. “We tried getting after it. We were kind of going for broke. We thought unless we could run a mid-4.0 this guy was going to send us packing. He must have had problems, but it was just a good win for us. Hagan’s going to be tough. I told Matt and his dad, ‘You guys are on the green. You just need to putt it in.’”
Hagan now leads 14-time world champion John Force, who lost in the first round, by 64 points. The Virginia cattle rancher came up just short of a perfect weekend.
“I knew the conditions were getting pretty good out there and I thought we had it in the bag,” Hagan said. “But that’s drag racing for you. We have a good race car. We went down the race track every single lap today except for the final, and that’s just how it goes. We swapped the points lead with Force, and that’s huge. We have nothing to hang our heads about. As bad as it hurts inside we’re going to stay humble, tie on a big grin and move right into Vegas.”
Connolly ended a two-year winless drought in Pro Stock by beating new series points leader Greg Anderson in the final round with a quicker reaction time. Connolly posted a 6.580 at 210.05 in his IDG Makita Power Tools Racing Chevy Cobalt to hold off the quicker, but losing performance of 6.579 at 209.75 by Anderson in his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP.
Connolly beat Ron Krisher, Larry Morgan and rookie Shane Gray en route to his 22nd career victory.
“It was just an incredible weekend all together,” Connolly said. “Just to be out here is a lot of fun. I’ve definitely learned over the last couple of years that you don’t take anything for granted and just enjoy the weekends you do have out here because there’s a lot who are less fortunate than what I have.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hines finally beat rival LE Tonglet in a playoff final round. After falling to the rookie rider in the last three races, Hines used a holeshot start to take his fifth win of the season and 23rd of his career. Hines used a quicker reaction time and rode his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to a 6.916 at 188.36 to defeat Tonglet’s quicker, but losing NitroFish Gear Suzuki, which finished in 6.913 at 190.40.
“When I saw that win light, that was one of the prettiest win lights I’ve seen in a long time,” Hines said. “I’m trying to rely on some of the other competitors out there to take LE out early, but we keep matching up in the final round. It’s been tough with that little blue bike beating us the last few races. We were wondering what it was going to take to get it done.”
Hines outran early round opponents Neil Jacobs, Angie Smith and teammate Eddie Krawiec to advance to his seventh consecutive final round. With the win, Hines increased his series lead to 72 points over Tonglet.
“We have a nice cushion,” Hines said. “It could come down to just a few measly points there at the end.”
In Top Fuel, Larry Dixon made a statement to championship rivals Cory McClenathan and Tony Schumacher by taking his eighth top qualifying position of the season. Dixon posted both ends of the track record with a 3.786 at 322.42 in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster. Dixon will race No. 16 qualifier Terry McMillen in the first round.
“It was a great job by the team,” said Dixon of the 48th No. 1 qualifying position of his career. “Weather conditions this weekend are pretty good to where you should be able to fire some shots. We’ve seen it in Funny Car and just hadn’t come up in Top Fuel, but I was glad to see us be able to do it in that last session. As I went through, it was pretty straight, pretty true. When you’re not having to drive it a lot, you have a chance when you shut it off to try and catch the scoreboard when you pass it, and I saw the .78 on it and was like, ‘Wow, that was nice.’
Matt Hagan powered his DieHard Dodge Charger to a 4.046-second run in the final qualifying session to officially certify his category-leading time of 4.011 seconds from Friday as an NHRA national record. If Hagan can hold the performance mark through the remainder of the weekend he will earn 20 bonus points in his quest to win the Funny Car world championship title. Hagan, who will meet Phil Burkart in the first round, trailed series leader John Force by 25 points entering this event.
“It’s the stuff you dream about right there,” said Hagan of his fourth No. 1 qualifying position of the season. “It’s great that we have a car that’s capable of coming up here and laying that kind of number down, even with the sun out like that. It’s just a real testament of how smart [crew chief] Tommy DeLago is and how hardworking the crew is. I was up there on pins and needles and just trying to do everything right and keep it in the groove and make it go to the other end. When I went through the trap, I could see the mph. I was trying to duck to see the e.t., but I couldn’t see it, but the guys came over real quick on the radio and said we got it done. It was just an overwhelming feeling. I guess that evens up the points for now, but we’ve still got a lot of racing to do. As of tonight, that’s huge for us. We’ll put this behind us after tonight, after we do a little celebrating, and focus on tomorrow.”
Force qualified second in his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang with a 4.057 at 311.27 and was followed by teammate Robert Hight, who was third with a 4.060 at 304.94 in his Auto Club Mustang. Jack Beckman was fourth overall in his Valvoline/MTS Charger with a 4.068 at 308.00. Force will meet Dale Creasy Jr., Hight will face Tony Pedregon while Beckman will race Jeff Arend.
Johnson claimed his sixth No. 1 position of the season and second in a row in Pro Stock as no one improved on his Friday best of 6.551 at 211.16.
Johnson, who entered this race in fourth place in the series standings, says at this point in the Countdown, it’s a must-win situation for his team.
”Everyone picked up this morning and we didn’t and I’m a little mad about that,” said Johnson, who will line his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger up against Warren Johnson’s Pontiac GXP in round one. “We were just soft with out tune-up. Nothing wrong; just soft. Sometimes you hit it and sometimes you miss, and we certainly missed it. I’m still confident and I feel good but I have to go out and win this race tomorrow. It’s as simple as that. Anything less and I’ll be disappointed. We’ve got the car to do it. I just need to go and get it done.”
Series leader Mike Edwards was third with a 6.561 at 210.67 in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP and will meet Larry Morgan in the first round. Second-place points-sitter Greg Anderson qualified ninth in his Summit Racing GXP and will meet Jeg Coughlin in the opening round.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending world champ Arana rode his Buell to his category-leading fifth top qualifying position of the season with a track-record time of 6.828 at 196.16. He will face Connie Cohen in the first round.
Arana was thrilled with his bike’s performance after struggling a bit during the last few races.
“I feel awesome to make this awesome run,” Arana said. “It didn’t feel like a .82. I knew it felt good because the 1st gear I had control over it, and I felt comfortable. Then I went into 2nd and it was going smooth, and then into third and now I’m waiting for my shift points. It wasn’t like the bike was ahead of me; I was waiting for the bike, and it was going straight as an arrow. The bike never stopped pulling. The Hammer’s back.”
Points leader Andrew Hines qualified third on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with a 6.859 at 196.56, while second place LE Tonglet was eighth at the end of qualifying, posting a run of 6.907 at 191.76 on his NitroFish Gear Suzuki. Hines will race Neil Jacobs in the opening round while Tonglet will meet fellow Countdown racer Karen Stoffer.
In Top Fuel, McClenathan topped the order with a category-best run of 3.832 at 316.01 in his FRAM dragster. Despite the great weather conditions, most of Top Fuel teams couldn’t find the right combination for the evening qualifying session.
“The biggest thing for us was to come in with a plan and the plan was to try and set the record,” said McClenathan, who is second in the series standings to Larry Dixon. “Our first run was good but the second one wasn’t. I don’t think you could make enough power for that track tonight. It just shook too hard so we’ll bring it back tomorrow and try again.”
Series leader and event defending winner Dixon qualified third in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster with a 3.854 at 317.05, while third-place points-sitter Tony Schumacher was second in his U.S. Army dragster with a 3.852 at a track-record speed of 318.24.
Hagan, who trailed series leader John Force by 25 points entering the race, was quickest in Funny Car with a track-record effort of 4.011 seconds at 311.56 mph in his DieHard Dodge Charger.
Hagan’s time could become an NHRA national record if the Virginia driver can post another run at 4.051 seconds or quicker during the course of the weekend to certify the performance per NHRA rules. Hagan holds the current national record for Funny Car at 4.022 seconds.
“It’s been there all along,” Hagan said. “Even when we set the national record [at Chicago], the graph showed that we had a lot more left, and there’s still some more, so it’s very exciting. I’m honored to be able to drive this kind of race car. [Team owner] Don Schumacher really put a hell of a race car beneath me, and all I have to do is go out there and drive it. I was just trying to get up on the wheel out there and make sure I kept it in the groove. I was just trying to make sure we did everything right out there because I knew Tommy [DeLago, crew chief] was swinging for the fence. It’s just awesome to run those kinds of numbers.”
Johnson paced the Pro Stock order with a track-record run of 6.551 at 210.70 in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger.
“On the first run the transmission broke and we didn’t get down the track. We were going for all the bonus points we could get,” Johnson said. “I did make a really good run on the second run. My goal was to get 150 points this weekend and we’re three down after that first run. I need to do something special now. I can only get 147. We just need to go out and do it.”
Pro Stock series leader Mike Edwards was third with a 6.561 at 210.54 in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP. Greg Anderson, winner of the last two races and currently second in points, was 13th in his Summit Racing GXP with a 6.594 at 209.75.
Krawiec led the Pro Stock Motorcycle field with a track-record performance of 6.855 at 195.85 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.
“I won this race last year, so I’m hoping for a repeat,” Krawiec said. “My game plan is to try and make a hard move in these final three races. My teammate’s [Andrew Hines] up there fighting for a championship with LE [Tonglet]. I’m pretty far behind, but weirder things have happened, so I’m just going to go after it and try and stay consistent and try to win rounds.”
Series leader Hines was second with a 6.898 at 193.21 on his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson and rookie Tonglet was third overall with a 6.907 at 191.62 on his NitroFish Gear Suzuki.