Topeka: Dixon's runner-up

TOPEKA, KS (May 27) -- Reaching his third final round of the 2001 NHRA Winston Drag Racing season, Larry Dixon and Don Prudhomme's Miller Lite Dragster posted a runner-up finish Sunday at the Advance Auto Parts Nationals and now sit 19 points out...

TOPEKA, KS (May 27) -- Reaching his third final round of the 2001 NHRA Winston Drag Racing season, Larry Dixon and Don Prudhomme's Miller Lite Dragster posted a runner-up finish Sunday at the Advance Auto Parts Nationals and now sit 19 points out of the Top Fuel points lead.

"I guess if you had told me after qualifying that we would reach the final round, I wouldn't have believed you after all the struggles we had during qualifying and everything else that happened," said Dixon. "Other than the final round, I think we had a pretty good day. We beat Doug Kalitta, beat Gary Scelzi again, and just came up a little short in the finals."

After struggling with clutch difficulties during qualifying earlier in the weekend, Dixon put together three consecutive wins to reach the 27th final of his seven-year driving career. Dixon's first round opponent was No. 10 seeded Rhonda Hartman-Smith.

No. 7-seed Dixon began his day by winning his 10th straight opening round as he sailed to a time of 4.643 seconds at 312.21 mph to defeat Hartman-Smith who lost traction near the start of the run (8.488 seconds at97.92 mph). "After the run the air corrected worse than it was after Saturday's qualifying," said Dixon. "We might have been able to run a 4.61 or.62, but we missed the air and wound up running a 4.64 and that lost lane choice for us in the second round."

It took more than lane choice for the Miller Lite Team to succeed in the second round as Dixon did a masterful job of staying with the run despite losing traction near halftrack. Dixon's judgment, combined with a little luck, gave his team the win light as his lap of 4.899 seconds at 285.53 mph bettered Kalitta's time (5.076 seconds at 207.94 mph), as the Mac Tools Dragster jumped to a lead and then slowed after its motor let loose. Dixon's win gave him his first victory of the season over Kalitta and a meeting with Scelzi in the semis.

"We flat out should have got beat in the second round and we were lucky to go further," said Dixon. "That was a perfect example of never say die. We got out to around halftrack and spun the tires. Kalitta drove by me very fast and I decided to stay with it. Well, he blew up and I was able to drive around him. I didn't see him early on. We spun the tires and he passes us, then we wind up passing him for the win. There was a lot of passing going on in just four seconds. I guess sometimes you get lucky."

Dixon's semifinal meeting with Scelzi was the third season pairing between the two drivers, and it was the Miller Lite Dragster that continued its winning ways. Dixon used a pass of 4.646 seconds at 309.49 mph to keep an undefeated mark (3-0) this year against the Winston Dragster, which lost traction en route to a time of 5.544 seconds at 184.19 mph. "For the semifinals I came out with the mindset that I needed to leave with Scelzi, or just ahead of him, go down the racetrack and hope that they might struggle a bit. As it turned out, they did wind up struggling and we were able to get the win and lane choice heading into the finals."

The final round of Top Fuel action pitted Dixon against his nemesis Kenny Bernstein for the third time in the finals and the 25th time overall. In one of the closest side-by-side Top Fuel finals of the season, it was Bernstein who prevailed this time around. Dixon and Bernstein left the starting line with nearly identical reaction times, however Dixon's lap of 4.648 seconds at 313.73 mph fell just shy of Bernstein's run of 4.625 seconds at 317.94 mph. "I am bummed," admitted Dixon. "I got to halftrack and never saw him. Then he just motored by me from halftrack on. It was a little disheartening, but we did our best and just came up a little short. If we could go to every race and finish as runner-up, then we would win the Winston Championship. Obviously we would have liked to have gotten a win over Kenny Bernstein, but it didn't happen. Last year in Richmond he was the one who came up short against us in the final. This time it was our turn. I am not thrilled about that, but now we just need to go to the next race and try to win that one."

With his runner-up finish, Dixon's career mark in final rounds moves to 11 wins in 27 total rounds. He remains second in the Winston Top Fuel point standings (720) points, just 19 points behind leader Bernstein (739). The Miller Lite Team returns to action next weekend for the Lucas Oil Products Nationals (June 1-3) at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet,

-Snake Racing

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Rhonda Hartman-Smith , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Don Prudhomme