Atlanta: Southern National final summary

Dixon, Bazemore, Johnson and Savoie earn victories at Atlanta Dragway. COMMERCE, Ga. - Larry Dixon is proving to be nearly unbeatable. The driver of the Miller Lite Dragster scored his fifth Top Fuel victory of the season Sunday at the 22nd...

Dixon, Bazemore, Johnson and Savoie earn victories at Atlanta Dragway.

COMMERCE, Ga. - Larry Dixon is proving to be nearly unbeatable. The driver of the Miller Lite Dragster scored his fifth Top Fuel victory of the season Sunday at the 22nd annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.

Whit Bazemore, Allen Johnson and Angelle Savoie also won their respective categories at the $1.8 million race, the seventh of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Dixon has been to the final round in all but one race this season and has yet to relinquish the points lead. Dixon turned in a 4.637-second run at 318.09 to beat Doug Herbert, who went 5.039 at 231.87 in the Snap-On Tools Dragster.

"You dream about a season like this," Dixon said. "But you never imagine it really happening. The most wins I've ever had in a season was six last year, and we already have five with 16 events left on the schedule.

"I have been racing for a while and even when I was working for Snake (team owner Don Prudhomme) we never had a package of races this good."

The weather conditions played right into the hands of Dixon's crew chief, Dick LaHaie, who is known for creating the perfect setup for warm conditions. After two days of qualifying was juggled because of rain delays, the clouds parted after the first round of eliminations, causing the track to heat up.

"The conditions definitely changed and that certainly helped us out," Dixon said. "We had a lot of trouble this weekend, a lot of breakage on the car in the cooler conditions. Come race day, we fortunately had our act together."

Dixon's victory only padded his lead in the point standings. Second place Kenny Bernstein lost to Dixon in the semifinal round when Dixon ran a 4.639 at 317.72 to knock out Bernstein's Budweiser King Dragster's time of 5.206 at 202.42.

"Last year Kenny Bernstein had a really good season and pushed us to make our team better," Dixon said. "We had a great season last year but didn't win the championship. Nobody has scored 2,000 points and not won the championship in the history of the NHRA. Bernstein really beat us up. Now we are winning those close rounds. Today we couldn't let up."

Bazemore scored his second consecutive win of the Funny Car season, taking out points leader John Force in the final. Bazemore went 4.963 at 310.41 in his Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird to beat Force and his run of 5.559 at 195.51 in Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. An Atlanta native, Bazemore has been waiting to win at his home track.

"To win here in Atlanta is a dream come true," Bazemore said. "This is where I watched drag racing for the first time. I wanted to be a Funny Car driver before I even saw it in person. When I did, it scared me, but I still wanted to do it. I dreamed about racing here and winning here."

In 1999, however, that dream was halted by Force - something Bazemore wanted to avoid repeating.

"We lost to Force in the final round that year," Bazemore said. "That was the most frustrating loss of my career, and I have had a lot of losses. To get that right (by beating Force on Sunday) means a lot to me. Nothing is better than racing him in the final here."

Bazemore finished the 2001 season on a hot streak. He claimed nine No. 1 qualifying positions in the last 12 races. He grabbed three wins and four runner-up finishes during that span. That momentum did not carry over into the 2002 season as Bazemore lost in the first round in three of the first four events.

"We just had to learn how to run on that new tire," Bazemore said. "That has been quite a difference and the biggest (challenge) for us. Today it ended up getting hot and it was the first time our setup has been tested in the heat since we figured out how to get the car going.

"It's not going to be cool and cloudy much longer. If we had struggled today, we would have even more work ahead of us."

With the win, Bazemore slid into third place in the standings, less than 15 points away from second place Gary Densham. He is less than 100 points out of first place.

"I have never had back-to-back wins and I have never won this early in the season," Bazemore said. "This is really cool. Winning is difficult. Winning a round is tough. People like Larry Dixon make it look easy. Our guys are exhausted and I am mentally exhausted. All the emotions out there can be overwhelming."

Johnson beat Greg Anderson to earn his second career victory in Pro Stock. Johnson made a 6.907 pass at 200.92 in a Dodge Neon R/T to beat Greg Anderson's 7.676 at 138.41 in a Chevy Cavalier.

Johnson has not been in the winner's circle since the Richmond event in 1999. He is the seventh different driver to win a Pro Stock race this season

"We've had the horsepower since the Las Vegas event," Johnson said. "We just haven't had any luck. That car has given us fits. I am the seventh different winner in this category and that tells you just how tough the class is. If you stump your toe out here, you go home."

Johnson is coming off a race he would rather forget. Johnson did not qualify for last week's race in Bristol, Tenn.

"We tested on Tuesday after Bristol and that was the difference in the car," Johnson said. "Our program really turned around there. Even though we didn't qualify, everyone in the pits knew that we were on the verge. We come here and we qualify No. 3, which I have only done one other time. We were one of the top five cars all weekend and that is what you need to win in this class."

Savoie earned her first victory of the season and 23rd of her career, beating Matt Hines in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final. Savoie turned in a 7.162 at 187.91 on her CVEC Suzuki to beat Hines' 7.181 at 188.25 on his Eagle One Suzuki.

Just before qualifying began on Friday, Savoie announced her new primary sponsor. She had been running without a sponsor in the first two events of the season.

"At the beginning of the year, this was going to be my last race if we couldn't find a sponsor," Savoie said. "(CVEC) came to the Gatornationals and they wanted to get involved. I didn't want to go back to nursing. I was not ready to quit racing. If it weren't for CVEC, I would be saying goodbye to everyone today."

Instead, Savoie walked away from Atlanta Dragway with an event trophy as well as the points lead. This is the third victory in four years at Atlanta Dragway for Savoie. She also has the track elapsed time record with her 7.113 pass during the first round of eliminations.

"Now I have the No. 1 spot and I know what it is like to be the POWERade points leader," Savoie said. "After 23 (victories) the feeling never lightens up. It feels like my first win every time."

The next NHRA national event is the Matco Tools SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., May 16-19.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Matt Hines , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Greg Anderson , Gary Densham , Don Prudhomme , Dick LaHaie , Allen Johnson