Memphis: Final eliminations report

Force, Dixon, Line and Brown Score Victories at the O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South NHRA Nationals MILLINGTON, Tenn. -- Perennial Funny Car champion John Force extended his lead in the POWERade standings with his 113th career victory Sunday at...

Force, Dixon, Line and Brown Score Victories at the O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South NHRA Nationals

MILLINGTON, Tenn. -- Perennial Funny Car champion John Force extended his lead in the POWERade standings with his 113th career victory Sunday at the 17th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park.

Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Antron Brown (Pro Stock Bike) also were winners in their respective categories at the $1.6 million race, the 17th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Force earned his fourth win of the season when he blasted his Castrol GTX Start Up Ford Mustang down the drag strip in 4.907 seconds at 308.00 mph, edging out Tim Wilkerson's Levi, Ray & Shoup Chevy Monte Carlo which lost traction and shut off early, recording numbers of 5.105 at 252.33.

"This POWERade points chase, I've heard all the talk on TV -- the young guys are the future, Force is done, all that noise -- it hurts but I'll be okay," Force said. "All these other guys are up for the fight. I saw the lights people were cutting early on. They're all in the game and I know it. But I had to let them know we're still in there to. We're up for it."

Force was able to take a big step towards his 13th overall series title with a second round victory over Gary Scelzi, currently second in the standings to Force.

"Guys like Scelzi, they know how to win," Force said. "He got me on a holeshot last week (at Brainerd). I faced Wilkerson awhile back and I red-lit against him. We're all pushing each other. My car's been good because we've been able to adapt well to the 85-percent nitro deal (the NHRA recently mandated). But everyone is right there with us. It's a fight."

Dixon's Miller Lite dragster covered the quarter-mile in 4.660 at 311.70 to defeat the Jesse James dragster driven by Scott Kalitta, which lost traction and completed the run in 7.055 at 121.99.

Dixon, the NHRA POWERade Top Fuel champion the past two seasons, was making his fifth straight final round appearance at Memphis Motorsports Park and sixth overall, winning in 2002 and again on Sunday. The victory was the 35th of Dixon's career, tying him on the all-time Top Fuel win list with his childhood idol, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits.

"It's overwhelming," Dixon said of matching Garlits' mark. "It's like tying Michael Jordan for one of his records. When I grew up I didn't know much about any other sport. All I followed was drag racing and all I knew was that 'Big Daddy' ruled the earth. It's a big deal to me, without question.

"This is the fifth year in a row that we've been to the final here and I don't have a clue why. I wish I knew so we could take that knowledge and apply it to other race tracks. Maybe it's Elvis. I know we won every time we ran that special Elvis Presley body before.

"I didn't feel quite as dominant as I have in the past. We got a break in Round 1 when we got in a pedaling contest and came out on top. The last two rounds the belt came off before the finish line and when that happens it's such a helpless feeling because you don't know where your opponent is and you just assume they're going to fly by. The finish line seems so far away. But it worked out for us today."

Dixon remained in sixth place in the POWERade standings, 19 points out of fifth and 55 points out of fourth. Current points leader Tony Schumacher, who lost in the second round to Morgan Lucas, extended his lead in the standings to a 141-point advantage over Doug Kalitta, who was eliminated in the first round of competition. Brandon Bernstein, also a loser in the second round, remained in third place in the chase for the Top Fuel championship, 177 points behind Schumacher and 36 points behind Kalitta.

Line crossed the finish line in 6.806 at 201.58 in his KB Framers Pontiac Grand Am for his third career Pro Stock victory, easily outrunning final round opponent Dave Connolly who recorded a slower run of 6.878 at 198.85 in his Bullet Motorsports Chevy Cavalier.

Line is teammates with defending POWERade Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson and is the only other driver other than Anderson to have at least two victories this season. The two have combined to win 15 of the 17 races contended in 2004. The 21-year-old Connolly has been impressive lately, appearing in the final round at the last four NHRA events, scoring his first career victory at Brainerd, Minn. last week, defeating Anderson in the final.

"I have a lot of respect for Dave and that team over there," Line said. "Earlier in the year, a lot of other people were out here complaining about Greg and I and our team, but Dave's team never did. That group of guys just went to work, which is all we have ever done, just go out and work hard."

Line also is a leading contender for the 2004 Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, given annually to the NHRA's top rookie performer. Funny Car driver Eric Medlen, who scored his first career victory last week, also is considered among the favorites for the honors.

"Eric Medlen came over before the final to wish me good luck and I did the same thing for him last week at Brainerd," Line said. "He's a good guy and we are becoming friends. The Road to the Future award is kind of out of our hands now. We just wish each other luck and we'll see what happens."

Brown scored his first victory of the season atop his U.S. Army Suzuki when first-time finalist Matt Smith left the starting line early and fouled out on his Red Line Oil Suzuki, giving Brown his 12th career win.

Sunday's win was the first for Brown since his 2003 victory at Brainerd, Minn., and it moves him into second place in the POWERade standings, 196 points behind leader Andrew Hines and the Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson team.

"Our team's been so awesome," Brown said. "The bike's been there but we haven't gotten the wins. I've doubted myself a little bit. I'd get to the final and then either red-light or I'm sleeping (and late leaving the starting line). I'm like, what can I do? I needed to get like a bracket racer and just hammer out .020 lights.

"(The team) stayed poised today. I think it's because I didn't sleep well so I've been tired all day. When it's like that I tend not to get too hyped up and make mistakes. We just wanted to try and run mid-7.20s and go heads up, may the best man or woman win."

The 23-race $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series continues with a historic event, the 50th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Sept. 1-6, at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Larry Dixon , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Don Garlits , Tim Wilkerson , Brandon Bernstein , Morgan Lucas , Jason Line , Andrew Hines , Matthew Smith , Eric Medlen , Dave Connolly , Jesse James