Joliet: Sunday eliminations report

DIXON ENDS LONG DROUGHT, TIES KENNY BERNSTEIN FOR SECOND ON ALL-TIME TOP FUEL WINS LIST Scelzi, Coughlin and Hines complete winner's circle JOLIET, Ill. -- Larry Dixon tied legend Kenny Bernstein with his 39th career Top Fuel win Sunday, beating...

Scelzi, Coughlin and Hines complete winner's circle

JOLIET, Ill. -- Larry Dixon tied legend Kenny Bernstein with his 39th career Top Fuel win Sunday, beating points leader Rod Fuller with a 4.579 at 322.11 mph to capture the title at the 10th annual Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals.

Dixon and family shared a raucous winner's circle with Funny Car winner Gary Scelzi, Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., and reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Andrew Hines.

It had been 37 races since Dixon last won a Wally, dating back to September of 2005 in Indianapolis, so his unbridled joy was tempered with a strong dose of relief. Scelzi also seemed relieved to win once again as he made a little history of his own by becoming just the fourth racer in history to ring up double-digit wins in both nitro categories.

Dixon's win in his SkyTel dragster was the first for crew chief Donnie Bender, who took over tuning duties at the start of 2006. Fuller got a great jump in the final, leaving Dixon with a .029-second reaction time to Dixon's .063-second launch, but that was the last thing to go right for Fuller as his Fabick Cat dragster lost traction almost immediately, allowing Dixon to streak away for the win. Fuller's runner-up finish did move him back into the POWERade points lead.

"This was Donnie's first win and I'm really glad to be a part of it," said Dixon, who's still 13 wins shy of category leader Joe Amato's 52 career wins. "We didn't have the greatest car when Dick-o (former tuner Dick LaHaie) left and Donnie got that promotion from offensive coordinator to head coach. I think we all expected it to take a little time for him to find a groove. I'm glad Snake [team owner Don Prudhomme] stayed with us and kept the faith."

Bob Vandergriff's UPS team made the biggest move in the Top Fuel standings, moving from 10th to 7th, replacing non-qualifier Whit Bazemore in the Countdown Top 8.

Scelzi had a familiar opponent in the Funny Car final, facing teammate Ron Capps, who had beaten him in two of their three previous final-round meetings. Capps even entered the final as a favorite in his Brut Test Drive Dodge Charger and enjoyed lane choice, but Scelzi's Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger was up to the task and he out-raced Capps down the quarter-mile, winning with a 4.838 at 321.42 mph to Capps' 4.850 at 318.39 mph.

This was Scelzi's 35th career win -- tying him with Don Garlits for 13th on the all-time NHRA POWERade wins list (all categories) -- and 10th in Funny Car, which placed him next to Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein, and Mike Dunn as the only drivers with double-digit wins in both nitro categories.

"We hulked up on that one and just got after it," Scelzi said. "Zippy [crew chief Mike Neff] told me he was going for it and I said, 'Don't throw it away,' but as usual he knew exactly what to do and the car went right down the middle. It really accelerated from halftrack on and I knew we needed that because you can always count on Capps to have a great light. He's awesome."

Helped by second-place points earner Robert Hight's first career DNQ (in 55 races), Capps extended his lead in the POWERade points to 140 points, a nice rebound from his DNQ last weekend in Topeka, Kan.

Jack Beckman's semifinal finish improved his standing from 11th to ninth, within 15 points of eighth-place Del Worsham for the final spot in the Funny Car Top 8.

Entering the Pro Stock final as a slight underdog, Coughlin knew he'd need a great reaction time to upset reigning series champion Line and he delivered with a near-perfect .002-second launch, his best light of the day. The tactic worked as he took the win light on a holeshot, crossing in 6.658 seconds at 207.37 mph to Line's 6.656 at 208.07 mph.

"How about that," Coughlin shouted as he climbed from his Chevrolet Cobalt. "This is the ultimate feeling. I took almost a year off and raced sportsman stuff and was lucky enough to win some big races but nothing compares to winning a Pro Stock race. I'm proud of my team and Victor Cagnazzi [team owner]. He finally has the team he's dreamed of and I'm happy to be a part of it."

This was Coughlin's 48th NHRA national event win and his 35th in Pro Stock. His win moved him around his Victor Cagnazzi Racing teammate Dave Connolly into second place in the POWERade standings and now finds himself 179 behind leader Greg Anderson, who was upset in the first round by former NBA player Tom Hammonds.

Hines could clearly see final-round opponent Smith during the race as the Torco Buell rider shot off the line with a .008-second light to Hines' .024-second start, but his Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod made a move at halftrack and Hines was able to pass Smith and win with a 6.959 at 192.11 mph to Smith's 7.014 at 187.18 mph.

"My team pulled together 100 percent over the past month, did a bunch of testing, and totally turned this year around for us," Hines said. "This was a huge win to let us know that all the hard work we've done has paid off. Plus, Jim McCaslin, the president of Harley-Davidson, and a bunch of other people were down from Milwaukee so it was cool to give them a big win."

Smith, who has now been in four finals in five races, extended his lead in the POWERade points to 80 over Angelle Sampey, who is now in second place. Hines jumped from a tie for ninth to fourth place with his ninth career win.

-credit: nhra

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Greg Anderson , Don Garlits , Don Prudhomme , Dick LaHaie , Tom Hammonds , Jack Beckman , Andrew Hines , Bob Vandergriff , Robert Hight , Rod Fuller , Angelle Sampey , Mike Neff