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Atlanta A Tour De Force

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 16 2010

Robert Hight captured the Funny Car Wally at Atlanta on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Commerce, Ga. – One way or another John Force has a way of getting himself to Victory Lane after the Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.

On Sunday he was there to celebrate with his son-in-law Robert Hight after Hight defeated Force’s daughter Ashley Force Hood in an all-Force Funny Car final.

It’s become a common sight to see the Force cars in the finals at Atlanta.

John has won seven times at Atlanta, more than any other professional dragster except Motorcycle rider Dave Schultz, who has eight Atlanta wins. And Hood has been a real force at Atlanta, winning in Top Alcohol Dragster in 2006 and advancing to the finals in all three of her Funny Car appearances. She beat her dad in 2008 and lost to Jack Beckman last year when she slowed in the finals, unable to see on a dark, foggy track.

She picked up where she left off last year, speeding to the No. 1 qualifying spot, but when it came to the finals, Hight was just a tick quicker.

Hight said afterward that as he prepared for the final run, the previous successes of the Force camp came to mind.

“John beat me one night real late,” he said. “I was a little nervous going up against Ashley in the finals, thinking about the times John beat me.

“But no matter what, we couldn’t lose, but to leave here 1, 2, 3 in points is pretty big right now.”

John Force is atop the standings, with Hood second and Hight third.

In Top Fuel and Pro Stock, Larry Dixon and Jeg Coughlin not only picked up Wallys but also locked down some prestigious spots on the NHRA’s all-time winner’s list.

Dixon, the No.1 qualifier in Top Fuel, drove his way into the finals and won it immediately as Brandon Bernstein, apparently taking a gamble on the Christmas tree, left .003 seconds early and took himself out of the contest. It was Dixon’s fourth win of the season and and the 52nd professional win of his career, tying him with the retired Joe Amato for seventh on the all-time list.

Dixon, a serious student of the history of the sport, seemed uncomfortable talking about having his name alongside a legend like Amato.

“He’s a great champion and one of the guys I looked up to when I started,” he said, pointing out that today’s 23-race schedule offers a lot more opportunities to win that racers like Amato had back in the day.

“You have more of an opportunity to run the numbers up [today],” he said. “[Don] Prudhomme won all the races in ’65 and that was two.”

In Pro Stock, veteran Jeg Coughlin ran his career win total to 50, moving him to ninth on the career list. In doing so he ended a strong Southern Nationals run by Rickie Jones, who started the day as the 15th qualifier but used some quick reaction times to make it to the finals.

It was Jones who knocked off series points leader and No. 2 qualifier Mike Edwards in the first round. Coughlin beat top qualifier Allen Johnson en route to the final.

Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Hector Arana had a good day even though he lost to Andrew Hines in the final. After winning just one round in 15 previous events at Atlanta, he won all but one on Sunday.

And the Southern Nationals was the site of another record performance, this time in the Pro Mod class. Michael Gullqvist of Hasselby, Sweden, became the first European to win an NHRA professional event.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 16 2010
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