WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE FIGHTS TAKE CENTER STAGE AT NHRA LAS VEGAS NATIONALS AT THE STRIP AT LVMS LAS VEGAS -- NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship titles will be on the line in all four classes as the 23-race...
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE FIGHTS TAKE CENTER STAGE AT NHRA LAS VEGAS NATIONALS AT THE STRIP AT LVMS
LAS VEGAS -- NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship titles will be on the line in all four classes as the 23-race tour nears its endpoint for the 2010 season at the 10th annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals.
For several drivers the season has reached critical mass and they will need to respond appropriately at the penultimate race at the spectacular Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Oct. 28-31, if they are to have any chance of claiming world championship glory. Defending winners of the event include Spencer Massey in Top Fuel, Robert Hight in Funny Car, Larry Morgan in Pro Stock and Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle. The race will be televised on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3.com.
Close points battles exist in all of the categories, with plenty of drama to go around. In Funny Car, Virginia cattle rancher Matt Hagan holds a 64-point lead over 14-time world champion John Force. Hagan powered his DieHard Dodge Charger to a strong performance two weeks ago in Pennsylvania and moved ahead of the 61-year-old Force, who has led the series for most of the season in an emotional comeback effort.
Hagan says his team will need to be focused to hang on to the title with two races to go in the season.
"We can't make any mistakes," Hagan said. "We have to go out there, do some good, solid racing, and go some rounds. I don't feel like we have to set the world on fire but we need to go some rounds and keep kind of matching John round for round, and it will hopefully fall the way we want it to. This is drag racing; you never know how it's going to end up."
Force, on the other hand, needs to make something happen if he's to track down his young challenger. He's planning to drop 10 pounds off his body and crew chief Mike Neff is planning to trim the weight on their Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang any way possible, even by removing paint and logos.
Force, who has been in this position many times in the past, is looking forward to the challenge.
"I can't go out and arm wrestle with Hagan," Force said. "I can't get in a fistfight with Hagan, and you don't intimidate a cowboy. I know the game. I've seen this kid. I've studied him on the farm with his bulls. I've met his lovely wife, a little gal that plays piano. I'm starting to understand where he comes from. So I've got a competitor here that I've got to keep my nose clean, do what I do, and take every opportunity, and weight is the only placeb^0x0011- and a few mistakes -- that I think that we are missing. This kid's big enough to run fullback for the Green Bay Packers. How in the hell is he carrying all that body weight? I can't seem to figure it out. So we are making changes and I just hope we don't go the wrong direction."
Hagan says he and crew chief Tommy DeLago plan to continue their assault on the NHRA record book, if conditions allow. At Maple Grove Raceway in Reading the duo set the national elapsed time record for Funny Car at 4.011 seconds. A runner-up finish to Cruz Pedregon still put him more than three rounds in front of Force -- who lost in the first round.
Force's comeback has received major headlines all season long, and the significance of what Hagan could accomplish by beating him is not lost on the 27-year-old driver.
"It would be huge to be able to win this championship, and you know, to beat John Force," Hagan said. "I grew up watching this guy, he's a legend, and to be able to go out there and race the guy is something else. I look at what he's done for the sport, and he's obviously a fan favorite. So it's just awesome to run him and we have a great racecar with this DieHard car, and we are just going to line him up and let the cars do the talking. I like how Force is straight up, no games, and that's how I race, too. The cars will finish it out and it will be what it will be."
Force has said all along that this season was all about proving he could still get the job done and finally put to rest the memories from his scary 2007 crash at the Texas Motorplex that nearly ended his driving career and the even scarier on track performance he produced in 2009 that left him way out of championship contention.
"If Hagan takes me out, I ain't going to like it, but I'm going to shake his hand and he'll do the same to me, because it's what we do," Force said. "It's good to have a job in this economy."
Hagan teammate Jack Beckman, who drives the Valvoline/Mail Terminal Services Dodge Charger, remains in the championship hunt, as he trails the leader by 93 points. Force's daughter and teammate, Ashley Force Hood, who drives the Castrol GTX Mustang sits fourth in the standings and still has an outside shot at winning the title. She trails Hagan by 138 points.
In Top Fuel, Larry Dixon has been impressive in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster all season by racing to 12 victories in 12 final rounds. Hot on his heels is FRAM dragster driver Cory McClenathan, who is searching for his first world championship crown after finishing second four times during his distinguished career.
Dixon, who won world championship crowns in 2002 and 2003 while driving for NHRA legend Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, is certainly ready to finish off the latest chapter of his career.
"I just try to keep my head down and just worry about the run in front of me," Dixon said. "It's great to read the stories that everybody is doing, but at the same time, I need to just pay attention to what we are doing with our car and our team and just try and make every run as great a run as we can and hope that's enough. Keep it simple."
McClenathan is optimistic that his experience and sheer determination will finally pay off in the form of an NHRA Full Throttle Series championship.
"You know, 89 points is still not insurmountable," McClenathan said. "It's still a doable thing for me as far as I'm concerned. If Al-Anabi slips up at all, or if Larry has a bad day with his car, then we are going to be right there when it goes into Pomona. We are going to go in business as usual: go out, get qualified, go for it Friday night, and then let everything kind of speak for itself on Sunday. Larry and I have had talks a lot in the past, we always like to leave it up to the cars, let the cars speak for themselves and that's what we are planning on doing."
Seven-time Top Fuel world champ Tony Schumacher, who has won the last six crowns in a row, also remains in title contention. He trails Dixon by 154 points in his U.S. Army dragster and would need yet another miracle comeback in order to get the job done this season.
Greg Anderson is holding onto a 36-point lead in Pro Stock over defending world champion Mike Edwards. Anderson got hot in the playoffs and raced to back-to-back victories at Charlotte and Dallas and a runner-up finish in Reading to move into the series lead. The three-time world champ will certainly have his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP tuned to the win setting so he can post a victory for his Las Vegas-based team owner Ken Black, who has struggled with some health issues this year. Greg Stanfield and Allen Johnson also remain in title contention, as Stanfield sits 85 points back and Johnson trails by 137.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending event winner Hines has been tough during the second half of the season, advancing to seven consecutive final round appearances. The three-time world champ leads rookie LE Tonglet by 72 points. The two riders have met in the finals in all four playoff events with Tonglet holding a 3-1 edge on his NitroFish Gear Suzuki. However, Hines set a national record performance on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to bolster his lead with the 20-point bonus.
SCHEDULE: Two qualifying sessions will be held Friday, Oct. 29 at 12:15 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will be held Saturday, Oct. 30, at 11:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. Sunday's final eliminations start at 11 a.m.
TICKETS: Tickets are available for the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals by calling (800) 644-4444 or online at www.lvms.com.
ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise 90 minutes of qualifying highlights on Sunday, Oct. 31 at 1 a.m. (ET), as well as NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute news magazine show, at 10 a.m. (ET). ESPN HD will air two hours and 30 minutes of eliminations coverage at 9 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 31. The race also will air live on ESPN3.com starting at 11 a.m. (ET) on Oct. 31.
LUCAS OIL SERIES: The NHRA Las Vegas Nationals also will feature competition in several categories of the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series are born. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 28 and eliminations begin at 8 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 29 and continue through Sunday, Oct. 31.