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NHRA Notes: Dixon Is Out To Demote The Sarge

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 23 2009
Larry Dixon will head to Las Vegas next weekend smoking hot. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Larry Dixon will head to Las Vegas next weekend smoking hot. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Larry Dixon’s next text message to Top Fuel rival Tony Schumacher might read: “Sarge: Game on!”

Dixon rolled into The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway one year ago a distant second to Schumacher and his 212-point lead. Needing only to qualify to earn his fifth consecutive and sixth overall NHRA Full Throttle Series world championship, Schumacher did so in style – qualifying No. 1 en route to victory.

Dixon, however, will be more than a bystander when the ninth annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals cranks up Oct. 29-Nov. 1. Dixon is only 47 points behind Schumacher entering Round 5 of the six-race Countdown to 1 playoff, with Cory McClenathan (68 points out) and Antron Brown (81 behind) still in the championship mix. The season-ending 45th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals follow on Nov. 12-15 at Pomona, Calif.

“You know, legitimately, there’s probably four cars that can still win the championship, and it’s going to come down to…you’re still in charge of your own destiny,” said Dixon, driver of the Al-Anabi Racing Dragster fielded by master-tuner Alan Johnson. “If you go out there and you win-out those two races, you’ve done as much as you can do and hope it’s enough and try and get the Full Throttle Championship. And obviously. bringing it home to the Al-Anabi team is what we are looking for.”

Dixon, Top Fuel champion in 2002-03 with Don Prudhomme Racing, has won five races with Johnson’s new team, which finds itself chasing “The Sarge,” his U.S. Army Dragster and Johnson’s former outfit at Don Schumacher Racing.

“I get along great with Tony,” Dixon said during a national teleconference shared with Funny Car contender Ashley Force Hood. “You know, we will trade texts during the week and the like and he definitely – at the end of the day for the last five years, he’s had the No. 1 on the car, everybody has been trying to take him out. So for me, it’s the same thing. I mean, you can be buddies in the staging lanes but as soon as you throw the helmet on, light the car up, it’s game-on. We are going to go out there and do everything we can to bring the Al-Anabi team home a win.

“But he’s got the same thing on me. I’ve read and heard him say he gets pumped-up when he races us and a lot of the guys on that team are his old team. But for me, when I look over, it’s still the Army car and he’s still got No. 1 on it. So I’m trying to do everything I can to help change that.”

Dixon scored a career-high nine victories during his 2002 championship season, and followed with another eight wins in 2003 while clinching his second title for “Der Snake.” After a winless season in 2006 and a combined five victories in 2007-08, Dixon has been re-invigorated.

“I’m feeling great about it,” said Dixon, who turns 43 today. “You know, winning five races so far, I had not won five races in three years. So to be able to do that in one season is good. But you know, Alan and (crew chief) Jason McCulloch and the rest of the Al-Anabi team, this is an off-year for them. Last year they won 15 races. So they are sorting things out and getting things going. And probably since maybe Brainerd (Minn.) just before Indy, the cars really stepped-up their performance. We have been – if we have not been on-pole, we have been close to pole just about every event. And I really think that we have contended for wins at every event.

“So it’s good. I know some of the guys – this season is not over with – but a lot of the guys on the team are looking forward to this winter. It’s going to be a lot calmer. Last year they didn’t even have a shop to work in at this point in the season. Everybody was still on their old jobs. So to be able to still have the opportunity to win a championship in the fashion that Alan and the guys have done in the past, where they are not leading the points, and there’s two races to go – we are certainly in the mix of it.”

*Dixon’s five victories this season have raised his career total to 48, tying him with four-time Pro Stock world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. for ninth-place on the all-time NHRA list. Dixon and Coughlin are only one victory behind Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, eighth on the all-time list.

*The Countdown began with four consecutive weekends of racing that mercifully ended at Richmond, Va., on Oct. 11. Following whßat will be a near three-week break, only eight rounds of racing remain in the 2009 season. Funny Car points runner-up Ashley Force Hood said crew members on all teams really needed a reprieve from the rigors of the road.

“So, it’s kind of the perfect timing,” said Force Hood, who is in her third full season driving for 14-time champion and father John Force. “It is a little strange when we get back to Vegas; that first day is odd when you have not been to the track for a couple of weeks to get yourself organized and get back into your routine of a race day and qualifying. But I think it was well-needed and it really adds to the excitement…now you’ll get to see the final two big championship races.

“And a funny thing, I was actually thinking during one of my (earlier) answers that was rambling on, I thought, ‘You know, I haven’t done an interview in about a week and it really shows.’ I feel like I’m mumbling a lot today.”

*The largest number of entries in both nitromethane classes for any race this year has been guaranteed for the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals and season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals. In fact, the number of potential spoilers in Top Fuel and Funny Car will in some cases double the number of Countdown participants. In Las Vegas, the entry list in Top Fuel and Funny Car is 25 and 20, respectively. At Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, 24 Top Fuel cars are entered, along with 20 in Funny Car. For the Las Vegas event, pre-entries total 721 race vehicles in the professional and Sportsman ranks, compared to 562 in 2008.

Led by Robert Hight, six drivers remain in contention for the Funny Car championship. Hight, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang fielded by John Force Racing, sits 13 points ahead of teammate Ashley Force Hood, who is trying to become the first female world champion in the class. Two-time Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon, Ron Capps and Tim Wilkerson stand third through fifth while Jack Beckman is sixth, 86 points behind Hight.

Mike Edwards, who bagged the maximum 150 points at Richmond, Va., two weeks ago, has all but clinched his first Pro Stock title. The only team with a legitimate shot at preventing Edwards’ coronation is the Las Vegas-based Ken Black Racing team, led by three-time champion Greg Anderson and his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP. Anderson trails Edwards and his A.R.T./Young Life Pontiac GXP by 128 points. All Edwards has to do to clinch is add 23 points to his total and leave Las Vegas with a 151-point lead (or greater).

Hector Arana, rider of the Lucas Oil Buell, has a 28-point lead over defending Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Eddie Krawiec and his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod. The next closest rider is Michael Phillips with 165 points.

Voting for Rookie of the Year via the Auto Club Road to the Future Award continues for media members through Nov. 5. The candidates are Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Doug Horne (Pro Stock Motorcycle) and Top Fuel drivers Shawn Langdon and Spencer Massey.

Media have been advised to consider the following criteria when voting: On-track performance; relationship with fans, media and sponsors; participation in NHRA promotions; number of events competed in and driver’s potential as a future star in the sport. Larry Dixon, the NHRA’s top rookie in 1995, diplomatically danced around picking between Langdon and Massey, who replaced him at Don Prudhomme Racing.

“I’m glad I’m not voting for Rookie of the Year because I think both of them have done an unbelievable job in the car,” Dixon said. “Spencer, you’d have to give him the nod because he’s won. But as far as driving goes, the driver doesn’t have control of the tune-up of the cars. You can’t shut down Shawn because he has not won an event. I mean, both of those kids are doing great in the car. They are going down the center of the track and when the car starts to nose-over, they’re clicking it off.  They are doing everything right.

“I think it’s a pick ’em. As a former Rookie of the Year, I’m kind of excited to see who gets to join the class, because I think they are certainly deserving and very, very representative.”

Revell, Inc., plans to introduce a series of nostalgic drag racing model kits bearing the NHRA logo. With the advent of the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series and various reunions, Revell will be re-releasing a number of model kits of cars that have been a force in the long history of Funny Cars, including Roland Leong’s “Hawaiian” and the Chi-Town Hustler of Farkonas, Coil, & Minick.  These cars will be joined by many other of Revell’s most popular drag racing model kits down the road.

Ticket information for the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is available by calling (702) 644-4444 or on the Web at www.lvms.com. For ticket information about the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, call (800) 884-4762, or purchase on the Web at www.ticketmaster.com.

– John Sturbin and be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 23 2009