Larry Dixon ready for championship charge starting at the strip in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS – Most of Larry Dixon’s 2011 season hasn’t gone how he had hoped, but with just two races remaining he might end up with the ending his Al-Anabi team was working toward, a repeat championship. As the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series heads to the penultimate race of the season, the 11th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Al-Anabi pilot sits in striking distance of series leader Antron Brown and his Matco Tools dragster.
I don’t know that winning races is necessary to win the Full Throttle championship; winning rounds is what’s important.
At this point last season Dixon had collected 12 wins in 12 final round appearances and had all but locked up the championship. This season, however, has played out a little differently. The dominant car Dixon had last year has transformed into a sleeper this season, coming on strong when it counts during the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship. After beating points leader Brown at the most recent race in the Countdown in Phoenix, Dixon leap-frogged Spencer Massey and Dixon’s Al-Anabi teammate Del Worsham in the standings, moving up from fourth to second. Between Brown, Massey and Worsham, they won 16 of the 20 races so far this season and Dixon has won two, yet he sits second in the Countdown with two races to go.
“With the playoff format that’s in use now, I think Eddie Krawiec won a championship a few years ago without even winning a race,” Dixon said. “I don’t know that winning races is necessary to win the Full Throttle championship; winning rounds is what’s important. So I am not surprised we are in contention because it’s the nature of the Countdown that keeps you in contention if you go rounds.”
Defending event winner and fifth place driver, Tony Schumacher, is still trying to collect his first win of the season and is hoping that it will come at the track where he last won. John Force (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also defending winners of the event that will be telecast on ESPN2HD Sunday, Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. (ET)
Dixon may currently be more worried about round wins than race wins, but he has had a lot of success at The Strip at LVMS, collecting five wins in seven final round appearances in his career. With that record, the three-time world champ savors the opportunity to make up some ground in the title hunt.
“I definitely enjoy going to Las Vegas and racing on The Strip (at LVMS), and I think I can say the same for everyone on the Al-Anabi team,” Dixon said. “The fact that we’ve had past success there makes it that much better. The teams that I’ve been with over the years have had great setups for the conditions we get in Las Vegas from the track and weather standpoints, so I feel pretty good about where we are right now and our potential to keep improving.”
Not only has Dixon had a lot of success at Las Vegas as a driver, Al-Anabi team manager Alan Johnson has had his fair share of successes there as well, and at the final race of the year in Pomona. Johnson has tuned drivers to numerous victories at both tracks in high pressure situations throughout his illustrious career and knowing that, Dixon feels poised heading to these two tracks to close out the season.
“It’s great knowing that Alan (Johnson) has had so much success at those two tracks, and the coolest thing is that Jason McCulloch (Dixon crew chief) has been right there with him for a lot of his success,” Dixon said. “So that’s multiple layers of knowledge on the Al-Anabi Racing team for those two tracks, and I’m happy to have that knowledge and this team on my side.”
The Countdown has heated up with less than three rounds of competition separating first place Brown from fourth place Worsham, which means fans are guaranteed a championship point battle that goes down to the wire at Pomona. Although the title won’t be decided in Las Vegas, the performance at The Strip at LVMS will make or break the championship contenders’ chances at becoming the 2011 Top Fuel world champion.
The Funny Car championship battle was also shaken up two weeks ago in Phoenix when Jack Beckman took his Aaron’s/Valvoline Dodge Charger to the Winner’s Circle and to the top of the point standings, knocking teammate Matt Hagan down to the second spot. Castrol GTX driver Mike Neff dropped to third with his first round loss to teammate Robert Hight, who sits fifth. Two-time Funny Car world champion Cruz Pedregon sits between them in fourth. With three rounds of competition separating Beckman from Hight, the championship fight is sure to get exciting from the moment the first pair of Funny Cars light the pipes Friday afternoon for the opening round of qualifying.
A 10-point gap is all that separates series leader Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley- Davidson rider Eddie Krawiec from rookie Lucas Oil Buell rider Hector Arana, Jr. The two met in the final round in Phoenix and the rookie beat the veteran, making the championship in the two- wheel class as close as it has been in the Countdown. Although the championship battle is heating up between Krawiec and Arana Jr., don’t count out 2007 world champ Matt Smith, who is 97 points back in third.
Another rookie making his mark on the NHRA scene is Pro Stock driver Vincent Nobile. Nobile took advantage of points leader Jason Line’s first round loss in Phoenix and cut a string of near perfect lights to win his third race of the season. With his win and early exits by Greg Anderson, Mike Edwards and Erica Enders, Nobile moved up to third in the standings. With two races left, Line has a dominant 188-point lead over second place driver and teammate Anderson. Line needs to leave Las Vegas with a 151-point lead to clinch his second-career championship.
Beckman in Funny Car driver’s seat with two races to go; will try to build his lead with strong showing in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS – NHRA Funny Car driver Jack Beckman has issued a quick reminder to his fellow opponents and NHRA fans everywhere that contrary to the many rumors of his great demise, that he’s still, in fact, here and gunning for a world championship title as intensely as ever.
Obviously, we did our part and our main competitors had their issues, so we did even better than just improving our position.
Following a few early race struggles in the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship – including a first round loss at Reading, Pa. – Beckman faded to fifth in the point standings and was nearly forgotten as NHRA fans were busy trying to decide whether Matt Hagan or Mike Neff had the better chance of winning the Funny Car world championship crown.
However, following a “Rocky” style performance at Phoenix when series leaders Hagan and Neff lost dramatically in early rounds, Beckman now finds himself perched atop the standings with two races to go.
Beckman will try to increase his series lead with another strong performance at the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals, Oct. 27-30 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship event, which will be televised on ESPN2HD.
In jeopardy of seeing his championship dreams fully extinguished after less than stellar performances at the first three Countdown playoff events, Beckman realized that a strong effort was needed in Phoenix to keep his title hopes alive heading into the season’s final two events.
The Lombardi speech he gave to motivate his Aaron’s/Valvoline Dodge Charger crew must’ve worked.
“I said before the race (in Phoenix) we were three rounds back with 12 rounds left – and we really needed to win this one to put us in a good position in the Countdown,” Beckman said. “Obviously, we did our part and our main competitors had their issues, so we did even better than just improving our position. I’m not so gratified that I’m the points leader; I’m gratified that we got ourselves back into the championship hunt. It’s going to be interesting.”
Beckman had some huge round wins in Phoenix en route to moving up four spots in the points order. He beat Force in the first round, Robert Hight in the second round and then outran Jeff Arend in the semis before beating teammate Johnny Gray in the final.
“You always hear a round win is a round win; they’re all equal, but that’s not true in the Countdown,” Beckman said. “When you race someone you’re fighting with, like we raced Robert in the second round, it’s really a potential 40 point swing – the 20 you get for winning and the 20 you deny him. Those are must wins.”
With eight rounds of racing left and an extremely close pack of racers all separated by a few points, first-time points leader Beckman realizes he will need to be on his game if he’s going to collect his first professional world title. DieHard Dodge Charger driver Hagan is five points behind in second place, and regular season leader Neff is 22 points back in third place. Two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon is lurking in his Snap-on Toyota in fourth place and 2009 champ Robert Hight is less than three rounds back and still a threat in fifth in his Auto Club Ford.
“I’ve always said I wanted to be able to control our destiny,” said Beckman, who won the 2003 Super Comp world championship in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. “I’m happy to be the points leader, it’s a testament to the excellence of my Aaron’s/Valvoline crew led by Rahn Tobler (crew chief) and John Collins (assistant crew chief), but the reality is with two races left and the points so tight we are definitely back in the hunt. My goal was to go into Pomona (last race of the season) within a round or two of the lead – we might be even better than that.”
In Top Fuel, Antron Brown leads the series standings, 20 ahead of defending world champ Larry Dixon who won two weeks ago in Phoenix. Brown took the lead after Spencer Massey failed to qualify and watched on the sidelines as the 65-point lead he built with three consecutive final rounds to open the playoffs evaporated in the Phoenix heat on Sunday. Massey is now third and more determined than ever to return to the top as he is 25 points behind Brown. Regular season leader Del Worsham is fourth overall, 51 points behind the leader. Seven-time series champ Schumacher, who has won this event four times in his U.S. Army dragster, sits 91 points back in fifth place.
Jason Line is in the championship driver’s seat in Pro Stock, 188 points up on second place and defending world champ Anderson, who is also Line’s teammate. Rookie Vincent Nobile moved to third with a victory in Phoenix and is only five points out of second place. Summit Racing Pontiac driver Line will clinch his second world championship title (also 2006) in Las Vegas if he can leave the event with at least a 151-point lead. However, to do it Line will need to hold off Anderson, who has won at Las Vegas seven times during his career, including four times in the fall event. Others to watch in the 200 mph category include Erica Enders, who is trying to become the first female to win a Pro Stock race in NHRA history, 2009 world champ Mike Edwards, who has shown he still has a fast hot rod by qualifying No. 1 at Phoenix, and non-Countdown competitor Kurt Johnson, who has two wins in Las Vegas and advanced to the first two finals of the Countdown, winning in Charlotte.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, rookie rider Hector Arana Jr. is continuing a late season surge which has placed him in contention for the $20,000 Auto Club Road to the Future Award and more importantly a serious threat for the world championship title as he trails series leader Eddie Krawiec by 10 points with two races to go. Arana Jr. has been hot since the Countdown playoffs began, advancing to five final rounds in the last six races and grabbing three victories, including a win at the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil in Indianapolis. He’s also qualified No. 1 at the last three events on his Lucas Oil Buell. Krawiec, the 2008 world champ, also has three victories on the season and will try to hold onto his series lead with a strong showing on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. His teammate, Andrew Hines, is a three-time winner of this event and is currently fifth in points. Another former world champ, Matt Smith, is third on his Buell and GEICO Suzuki rider Karen Stoffer is fourth overall and still mathematically alive in the championship hunt.
BIG O TIRES NHRA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 11th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals, 21st of 22 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series and the fifth of six playoff races in the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship. The top 10 drivers in four categories - Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle - earn points leading to 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas. Track is located approximately 15 miles north of downtown Las Vegas off Interstate 15
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 27-30
THURSDAY, Oct. 27- LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying at 8 a.m.
FRIDAY, Oct. 28– LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying at 8 a.m.
GET SCREENED AMERICA PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. and 5 p.m.
FULL THROTTLE SERIES qualifying at 12:15 p.m. and 3:15 p.m.
SATURDAY, Oct. 29– LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations begin at 8 a.m.
GET SCREENED AMERICA PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 10:30 a.m.; first round of eliminations at 3:30 p.m.
FULL THROTTLE SERIES qualifying at 11 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.
SUNDAY, Oct. 30- Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
FULL THROTTLE SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Saturday, Oct. 29, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 10:30 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Oct. 30, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise three hours of coverage starting at 7 p.m. (ET).
2010 EVENT WINNERS: Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel; John Force, Funny Car; Greg Anderson, Pro Stock; LE Tonglet, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: Greg Anderson, PS, 4; Tony Schumacher, TF, 4; Andrew Hines, PSM, 3.
Top Fuel - 3.781 sec. by Tony Schumacher, Oct. ’08; 325.61 mph by Schumacher, Oct. ’10
Funny Car - 4.030 sec. by Matt Hagan, Oct. ’09; 313.88 mph by Hagan, Oct. ’09
Pro Stock - 6.623 sec. by Mike Edwards, Oct. ’09; 208.04 mph by Allen Johnson, Oct. ’10
PS Motorcycle - 6.909 sec. by Hector Arana, Oct. ’10; 196.02 mph by Eddie Krawiec, Oct. ’10
Top Fuel - 3.735 sec. by Del Worsham, Oct. ’11, Reading, Pa.; 327.90 mph by Tony Schumacher, Sept. ’11, Charlotte, N.C.
Funny Car - 3.995 sec. by Matt Hagan, Sept. ’11, Charlotte, N.C.; 318.99 mph by Jack Beckman, Sept. ’11, Charlotte, N.C.
Pro Stock - 6.477 sec. by Jason Line, Oct. ’11, Reading, Pa.; 213.57 mph by Erica Enders, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.
PS Motorcycle - 6.777 sec. by Hector Arana, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.
TICKETS: For tickets call Las Vegas Motor Speedway at (800) 644-4444, or visit www.LVMS.com online.
GENERAL ADMISSION (includes pit pass) - Thursday: Adult, $16; Junior (12-under) Free; Friday: Adult, $34; Junior (6-12 years), $11. Saturday: Adult, $55; Junior (6-12 years), $11. Sunday: Adult, $55; Junior (6-12 years) $16. Children five years and under admitted free to general admission and pit areas each day.
RESERVED SEATS (includes pit pass) - Friday: Adult, $44; Junior (6-12 years), $21; Child (Five and under), $10. Saturday: Adult, $65; Junior (6-12 years), $26; Child (Five and under), $11. Sunday: Adult, $65; Junior (6-12 years) $27; Child (Five and under), $11.
NHRA FULL THROTTLE COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
GLENDORA, Calif. -- Point standings (top 10) for NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series categories following the 20th of 22 events and the fourth of six events in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship, NHRA's playoffs:
Top Fuel: 1. Antron Brown, 2,425; 2. Larry Dixon, 2,405; 3. Spencer Massey, 2,400; 4. Del Worsham, 2,374; 5. Tony Schumacher, 2,334; 6. Brandon Bernstein, 2,247; 7. Doug Kalitta, 2,200; 8. David Grubnic, 2,168; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,167; 10. Morgan Lucas, 2,079.
Funny Car: 1. Jack Beckman, 2,362; 2. Matt Hagan, 2,357; 3. Mike Neff, 2,340; 4. Cruz Pedregon, 2,314; 5. Robert Hight, 2,304; 6. Jeff Arend, 2,239; 7. Ron Capps, 2,223; 8. Bob Tasca III, 2,221; 9. John Force, 2,168; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,157.
Pro Stock: 1. Jason Line, 2,505; 2. Greg Anderson, 2,317; 3. Vincent Nobile, 2,312; 4. Erica Enders, 2,304; 5. Mike Edwards, 2,297; 6. Allen Johnson, 2,241; 7. Rodger Brogdon, 2,240; 8. Greg Stanfield, 2,207; 9. Shane Gray, 2,154; 10. Ron Krisher, 2,113.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. Eddie Krawiec, 2,466; 2. Hector Arana Jr, 2,456; 3. Matt Smith, 2,369; 4. Karen Stoffer, 2,319; 5. Andrew Hines, 2,286; 6. Jerry Savoie, 2,248; 7. LE Tonglet, 2,247; 8. Michael Phillips, 2,236; 9. Hector Arana, 2,230; 10. Jim Underdahl, 2,149.