Memphis: Round 17 preview

LARRY DIXON STALKING KALITTA, SCHUMACHER FOR TOP FUEL TITLE THE 2002 AND 2003 POWERADE SERIES CHAMPION IS ALSO TRACKING DOWN KENNY BERNSTEIN FOR SECOND PLACE ON THE ALL-TIME TOP FUEL WINS LIST MEMPHIS -- A relatively young 38 years old -- ...

LARRY DIXON STALKING KALITTA, SCHUMACHER FOR TOP FUEL TITLE

THE 2002 AND 2003 POWERADE SERIES CHAMPION IS ALSO TRACKING DOWN KENNY BERNSTEIN FOR SECOND PLACE ON THE ALL-TIME TOP FUEL WINS LIST

MEMPHIS -- A relatively young 38 years old -- certainly by drag racing standards -- Larry Dixon is on the verge of some pretty heady achievements heading into the 18th annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals presented by Pennzoil, the 17th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

For starters, if Dixon is able to steer his Miller Lite dragster into a second consecutive O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals winner's circle, he will pull to within one of NHRA legend Kenny Bernstein on the Top Fuel all-time wins list. Dixon currently has two wins in 2005 to give him 37 for his career while Bernstein finished his career with 39 (Bernstein has 69 combined NHRA event wins, 30 coming in a Funny Car).

It would be the second legend Dixon will have passed in the 2005 season.

Back on April 17 in Las Vegas, Dixon picked up his 36th career win to pass "Big Daddy" Don Garlits and move into sole possession of third place on the all-time Top Fuel wins list.

"It's definitely apples and oranges," Dixon said, comparing the achievement of passing Garlits with passing No. 2 Bernstein and No. 1 Joe Amato (52 Top Fuel wins). "For me, I grew up in the sport watching Don Garlits race and compete. Gosh, he was my Michael Jordan, watching him. The case with Kenny and Joe, those are guys I competed against. I've had to compete against them so it's not the same to pass those guys."

"To pass Don Garlits, I didn't feel worthy because he was a guy I absolutely idolized," Dixon said.

And depending on what goes on with the drivers ahead of him in the standings -- Doug Kalitta and Tony Schumacher -- Dixon could find himself in position to add a third career POWERade Series world championship to the ones he's already earned in 2002 and 2003.

Entering the race this weekend, Dixon is in third place, trailing leader Kalitta by 144 points. Defending POWERade Series world champion Schumacher is second in the standings, 70 points behind.

"I was saying that in April, 'Don't lose sight of them,'" said Dixon, who posted a runner-up finish to Kalitta at last weekend's event in Brainerd, Minn. "The cars that are in front of us are great cars. For them to stumble, they're not going to do it to many times. If we don't make moves on our merits ... we can't really wait on them to stumble because those are cars that don't stumble,"

"Leaving Memphis, I'd like to be less than 100 points out," he said.

If he's going to make a run, Memphis Motorsports Park would be a good jumping off point as he's made it to the final round there five straight years with wins in 2004 and 2002. The stretch began, however, with a scary crash in the 2000 finals against Gary Scelzi.

"Sometimes it's been good, sometimes it's not been so good," Dixon said. "I can't really say (why we've done so well in Memphis), I don't have a lot to justify why, kind of like our run on Father's Day (five consecutive wins on Father's Day). It's one of those things that, for whatever reason, we have a setup that seems to work when we're there."

The O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals marks the beginning of the home stretch run of races as drivers in all four categories enter the final third of the 23-event season and time becomes a definite factor in their respective pursuits of POWERade Series world championship glory.

While less than 150 points separate the top three drivers in Top Fuel, the margin is only 45 between the top four drivers in Funny Car, 55 points for the top three drivers in Pro Stock and in Pro Stock Motorcycle, only 26 points separate the top three riders.

The defending champion at the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals in Funny Car is also one of the two all-time winningest drivers at Memphis Motorsports Park (four victories), John Force. Gary Scelzi has had a steady 2005 with three No. 1 qualifiers and three wins and his Mopar/Oakley Dodge Stratus will certainly be a car to watch along with the Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang of points leader Robert Hight.

In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson, now driving a Pontiac GTO for Summit Racing, is back on top of the point standings and looking for a win at one of the few tracks that kept him out of the winner's circle during his historic Driver of the Year campaign in 2004. Anderson will be trying to hold back the advances of Kurt Johnson, who in the ACDelco Chevy Cobalt has been the hottest driver on the circuit in recent months with three victories in the last five races. The defending event champion here is Jason Line and he will be one to watch along with championship contender Warren Johnson, who has the same four wins as Force here, but none since 1998. The elder Johnson also has three victories this season and is currently second in points in his new GM Performance Parts Pontiac GTO.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, current points leader GT Tonglet is riding high from earning his second win of the season last weekend at Brainerd, Minn. Other drivers to watch will be Tonglet's teammate, Andrew Hines, who is second in points, and third place rider Antron Brown, the defending event winner.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 19. Qualifying continues at 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 20 and final eliminations begin at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 21.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals presented by Pennzoil. Call Memphis Motorsports Park at (800) 40-SPEED for ticket information, or check online at memphismotorsportspark.com or ticketmaster.com.

ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying of the O'Reilly Mid-South NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil at 8 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, Aug. 20. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA 2Day, a 30-minute weekly news magazine show, at 11:30 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, Aug. 21. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of final eliminations beginning at 10 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Aug. 21.

ON THE WEB: Quick access to NHRA media relations department press releases, electronic images and other information is available on the Internet at media.nhra.com.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Don Garlits , Jason Line , Andrew Hines , GT Tonglet