MOHNTON, Penn. (Oct. 6) Larry Dixon kept Top Fuel's longest current opening round win streak intact (23), but was nipped by just .001 of a second the following round as he recorded a second-round finish Sunday at the 17th Annual Pep Boys...
MOHNTON, Penn. (Oct. 6) Larry Dixon kept Top Fuel's longest current opening round win streak intact (23), but was nipped by just .001 of a second the following round as he recorded a second-round finish Sunday at the 17th Annual Pep Boys Nationals at Maple GroveRaceway.
Dixon, the No. 7 qualifier for Sunday's race, squared off against No. 10 qualifier Doug Herbert in the opening round. The Miller Lite team overcame the clutch malfunctions they were suffering from during Saturday's final two qualifying sessions to produce a winning lap of 4.505 seconds at 326.16 mph.
The win extended Dixon's first round win streak to 23, dating back to Oct. 29, 2000 at Houston Raceway Park. Herbert fell with a pass of 5.322 seconds at 182.13. Dixon's season record against Herbert now stands at 4-0 and is 12-2 against the Snap On Tools pilot for his career.
Dixon's winning elapsed time was just .001 of a second slower than his previous season-best lap of4.504 seconds recorded at Joliet, Illinois' Route 66 Raceway earlier this spring (June 1-3). The clocking of 326.16 mph did re-write Dixon's personal record books however, as he improved his career-best speed mark by .16 mph over his previous best speed (326.00), also set at the Joliet track.
The second round saw an unusually early meeting between Dixon and points rival Kenny Bernstein. Typically facing each other no earlier than the semifinals, Dixon and Bernstein would meet for the eighth time this season in Sunday's quarterfinals. In what was possibly the best side-by-side race of the weekend, Dixon drove to a pass of 4.510 seconds at 322.96 mph, but it was Bernstein's 4.511-second lap at 329.58 mph that would take the win.
Dixon's second round finish on Sunday marked only the fifth time this season that he has not reached the semifinal round. The last time he posted a second round finish was on August 5 at the Fram Autolite Nationals at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. For the season, Dixon has now reached the semis at 16 out of 21 races.
"We were able to fix the problems we had during qualifying yesterday and we showed that by running a 4.50 (4.505) in the first round," said Dixon. "The troubles we had during qualifying put us in the position we were in for the second round. We had to face a strong car in the second round, rather than someone meeting us as the stronger car. As it was, we lost lane choice and that could have been a little bit of a factor. There are some bumps in the left lane around the 1,000-foot mark. When we raced Bernstein, we both had .470 lights (reaction times) and the incremental numbers showed that we were ahead of him up until the 1,000-foot mark. Then his big speed took over around 1,100 feet and he drove around us. I never saw him and I never heard him."
Gary Scelzi won the Top Fuel crown at Maple Grove, defeating Bernstein in the final round. Bernstein, who held a slim 14-point lead over Dixon in the points race coming into this weekend, extended his lead to 58 points (approximately three elimination rounds). Dixon has a career-high 1,754 points to his rival's total of 1,812.
Only three races remain on the 2001 Winston Drag Racing Series schedule, consisting of 12 elimination rounds (240 points), in addition to points gained during qualifying and any points earned by setting either a national speed or elapsed time record.
"There are three races left and we are less than three rounds out of first," said Dixon. "Our game plan is not going to change. We need to qualify well and try to win these races. The points will come along. We thought things were starting to slip away earlier this year after Sonoma, but then we won at Brainerd and took over the points lead. There is still time left. If we both go to the finals at each of the last three races, then the car that wins will win the championship."
Dixon and the Miller Lite Team take a week off before heading south to Dallas, Texas for the 16th Annual O'Reilly Fall Nationals (Oct. 19-21) at Texas Motorplex.