Columbus: Sunday wrapup

HEBRON, Ohio -- John Force captured his 95th career victory and inched closer to a record 11th Winston Funny Car championship by beating season-long nemesis Del Worsham Sunday at the Pontiac Excitement Nationals presented by Summit...

HEBRON, Ohio -- John Force captured his 95th career victory and inched closer to a record 11th Winston Funny Car championship by beating season-long nemesis Del Worsham Sunday at the Pontiac Excitement Nationals presented by Summit Racing. Larry Dixon, Warren Johnson, Angelle Savoie and Bob Panella also were winners in their respective categories at the $2 million race, the 11th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. It was Force's first win at National Trail Raceway in more than a decade, and his third of the season. He drove his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to a 4.963 second effort at 308.00 mph to pull away from Worsham's Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird, which lost traction near mid-track and slowed to a 6.204 at 160.79. "We had some good consistent racing today and it's good to finally beat that kid (Worsham)," said Force, who scored close early round wins over Bob Gilbertson, Whit Bazemore and Johnny Gray to advance to his seventh final of the season. "(Del) beat us in Chicago and it was nice to get him here. It took a lot of strategy and a little luck to win this thing. We had some close calls but we were able to get it done. It was a great race." Force had won 82 times and earned 10 Winston championships since his last victory at the Ohio quarter-mile. "I don't know why it's taken so long," Force said. "This track can be tricky at times and stuff happens. Sometimes you don't know why things happen, they just do." With the victory, Force increased his Winston points lead to 268 over Worsham. Dixon scored his second victory of the season and cut into Kenny Bernstein's Winston points lead by beating Darrell Russell in the Top Fuel final. Dixon powered his Miller Lite dragster to a performance of 4.700 at 306.53 for his 12th career win, while Russell's Joe Amato-owned dragster lost power near the end of the run and crossed the finish line with a slower 4.929 at 230.37. "This was a very big deal for me and our team," Dixon said. "This is one of the major races in our sport and the one I still needed to win. I've always wanted to win this race in my heart because all of the greats in our sport have won here. To win it as NHRA celebrates its 50th anniversary is awesome. I'm pretty jazzed." A first year father, Dixon celebrated in the winner's circle with his 7-month old son, Donovan, just as his Top Fuel winning father did with him when he was an infant. "That was really special," said Dixon of a Father's Day he'll never forget. "There's a photo that shows me in my father's arms when he won the Winternationals in 1970. To be able to do the same thing with my son at a major race is very cool. Hopefully we can keep it going even more generations and one day my son will be able to do the same thing." Dixon defeated Chris Karamesines, Mike Dunn and Gary Scelzi before topping Russell to trim Bernstein's points lead to 41. Bernstein saw his chances for a record fourth straight win go up in smoke when his Budweiser King lost traction against Russell in the semifinals. Johnson claimed his 84th career victory with his third title of the season in Pro Stock, outrunning Mark Osborne in a classic Pontiac-Dodge final round. Johnson, who reclaimed the Winston points lead with the victory, cruised to a 6.948 at 198.00 in his GM Performance Pontiac Grand Am, while Osborne trailed in his Team Mopar Dodge R/T with a performance of 6.985 at 198.58. "The car kept responding to small changes all day," Johnson said. "It's a new car and we're real happy with it." Johnson, who outran his son Kurt, Brad Jeter and hometown favorite Jeg Coughlin to advance to the final, emerged as the Winston points leader. It is the seventh time this season that the lead has changed among four different drivers. Johnson holds a 52 point advantage over Jim Yates. "It's awful close," said Johnson, who is working on a career-sixth Winston championship. "It's like there's two laps to go and we've got four or five cars in there jockeying for the lead. There's too many good people out there going for the championship and quite a few drivers who can play spoiler. It's going to be a nerve-wrecking deal in the second half of the season." Savioe earned her second Pro Stock Motorcycle victory of the year, defeating Antron Brown, who claimed the Winston points lead with his runner-up finish. Savoie took her 17th career victory by clocking a 7.242 at 181.91 on her Team Winston Suzuki, while Brown had problems at mid-track on his Team 23 Suzuki and posted a 10.533 at 78.79. "I was worried about that final because Antron had beat me two other times because I red-lighted," Savoie said. "I really focused and didn't do it this time. I wanted to give myself a green light and a chance to beat him and it paid off." Savoie is one national event victory shy of tying Top Fuel legend Shirley Muldowney (18 wins), for the most NHRA wins by a female competitor. "Our new goal is to beat Shirley for the most wins by a female in NHRA competition," said Savoie, who trails Brown by five points in the Winston standings. "I'm going to focus on that more than the points situation. There's still a lot of rounds left this season and I want to just focus on getting wins instead of where I am in points." Panella earned his third victory of the season in Pro Stock Truck, outrunning fellow Chevy S-10 driver Mark Whisnant in the final. Panella covered the distance in 7.530 at 178.95, while Whisnant posted a 7.624 at 177.25. "Our confidence level is really strong right now," said Panella, who beat Brian Self, John Coughlin and Jeff Naiser to advance to the final round. "We tried to focus on limiting our mistakes and it worked out." Panella moved into the Winston points lead when his top rivals -- Greg Stanfield and Randy Daniels -- suffered early round losses. "Today we were able to capitalize on a few first round losses by our closest competitors," said Panella. "It's a real credit to our entire team." The next NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series event is the Sears Craftsman Nationals, June 21-24 at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis.

-NHRA-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Antron Brown , Jeg Coughlin , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Brad Jeter , Warren Johnson , Bob Gilbertson , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Chris Karamesines , Randy Daniels , Greg Stanfield , Johnny Gray , Mark Whisnant , Brian Self