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NHRA Notes: Force Faces A Weighty Problem

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 22 2010

John Force's Funny Car points lead has gone up in smoke. He heads to Vegas to try to win it back. (Photos courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

John Force’s slip from first to second place in the NHRA’s Funny Car point standings has prompted the 14-time world champion to put his hot rod on a diet.

A first-round loss two weeks ago in the 26th annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway dropped Force 64 points behind Matt Hagan with two races remaining in the six-event Countdown to the Championship. Force, who has become a gym rat while recovering from the serious foot-and-leg injuries sustained in a crash at Texas Motorplex in September 2007, has posted a class-best four victories this season. That’s one more than Hagan, who drives for arch rival Don Schumacher Racing.

“At the end of the day, we can’t count on Hagan to make mistakes,” said Force, 61. “Too good of a race car with the tuners they have got and the financial backing that they have got from Schumacher.  And the driver’s good. So we have to come home and make a change.  First of all, you can’t allow errors and we had an error on the race car first round.  And we have addressed that.”

Force’s day came to an abrupt end at Maple Grove when a broken part in the clutch pedal assembly on his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang prevented him from backing up after his first-round burnout, handing the victory to Dale Creasy Jr.

Next up for the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series is the 10th annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Oct. 28-31. The race is the fifth of the six-event Countdown.

Greg Anderson, a three-time Pro Stock world champion and driver of the Summit Racing Pontiac GXP, has a 36-point lead over reigning champ Mike Edwards and his

John Force won a Wally last time he was in Las Vegas.

Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac. In Pro Stock Motorcycle, three-time champion Andrew Hines, rider of the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod, has a 72-point lead over rookie LE Tonglet and his Nitro Fish Suzuki.

The season’s final event, the 46th annual AAA Auto Club NHRA Finals, will be held in Pomona, Calif., Nov. 11-14.

“We try to look at why Hagan’s car would run and our car wouldn’t run,” Force said during a national teleconference this week.  “And basically, the weight factor is the thing we found as the biggest problem. Even though he’s (Hagan) much bigger than me, the Schumacher cars are light.

“So we put our car on a diet. I guess we have taken like 40 pounds off it. So we have got to go into Vegas, scale it, make sure it’s right. We have got to do everything we can to gobble up the points like he did at the last race. He did everything right. We did everything wrong. And the fact that Cruz (Pedregon) was able to get him in the final, it still kept our hopes open.”

Hagan set the Funny Car national elapsed-time record for 1,000-feet with a qualifying pass of 4.011-seconds in his DieHard Dodge Charger at Maple Grove, backed up by a 4.046-second pass. The record was worth an additional 20 points to Hagan, who is in his second season with DSR.

“I want to clarify, when we drop the weight on our car, we didn’t drop any safety,” said Force, whose John Force Racing team has emerged as the leader in Funny Car safety technology. “I will not give up my safety because I know a lot of the things that we run other teams don’t run, and that’s why my Fords are dump trucks. They are heavy.

“So we went back, because in the economy we can’t afford to put lightweight bodies on it. We run them until they are packing too much weight. I said go home, throw the bodies off, get brand new ones, don’t even paint them, put the decals on them and let’s send them and see if we can do what Hagan did to me at Reading, (Pa.) and that’s get every point that’s on the table.

“We looked at the things we could do – driver, as much as I’ve been in the gym, I tried to build muscle and I built body weight and I’m trying to take some of that back. I’ve got a competitor here that I’ve got to keep my nose clean, do what I do, and take every opportunity, and weight is the only place…and a few mistakes that I think that we are missing.

“I just can’t figure out – this kid’s big enough to run fullback for the Green Bay Packers, how in hell is he carrying all that body weight? I can’t seem to figure it out. So we are making changes and I just hope we don’t go the wrong direction. Hell, maybe my car needs more weight, because he sticks his foot in places, you know, that we can’t, and we’re trying to figure that out.”

This check’s on Dixon: Top Fuel title rivals Larry Dixon and Cory McClenathan bumped into each other in Brownsburg, Ind., last week and decided…let’s do lunch.

“Larry and I have been friends for 20 years,” said McClenathan, driver of the FRAM Top Fuel Dragster fielded by Don Schumacher Racing. “He (Dixon) owns a complex in Brownsburg where I rent a space to store my 1966 Nova. So, I went over there the other day to store the Nova and he and I decided to go have some lunch and talk about the last race in Reading.”

Dixon and McClenathan advanced to the final round of the 26th annual Toyo Tires NHRA

Larry Dixon does lunch with the enemy.

Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, a race won by Dixon in a dramatic pedalfest. Dixon, of Al-Anabi Racing, has an 89-point lead in pursuit of his third world championship, while Cory Mac is aiming for his first crown.

“Larry knows it’s not over by a long shot and I’m certainly not going to give up any time soon,” said McClenathan, a four-time championship runnerup. “He knows he’s got a battle ahead of him, still. We laughed about it, but we also talked about what we normally do, and that’s family, what’s going on with the kids and our partners (Dixon’s wife, Ali, and McClenathan’s fiancée, Debi). It didn’t completely revolve around our work.

“But, we did get some funny looks from people who recognized us. It’s funny because Larry paid the check, and he said, ‘You know, I probably made a little bit more bonus money than you did last weekend.’ And I remember laughing thinking, ‘OK, you got me there.’

“So as we were walking out, he said, ‘We can probably do this a couple more times. I’m hoping to be able to pick up that (championship) check.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll be trying my hardest to make sure I get to pick up the check for those next two.’  We’ll see how it rolls when it comes down to it.”

Dixon has 12 wins in as many final-round appearances this season, including three-of-four events during the Countdown. Dixon took over the points lead after his win in Las Vegas in April, ironically, against Cory Mac, and has held it since.

McClenathan, a three-time winner in 2010, has remained in the top three in points throughout the season. “It’s always been straight-up with me and Larry,” McClenathan said. “There’s no gray area. I was driving a Top Fuel car before he even started, and it’s not always a battle between us. But, when we get to Las Vegas, I guarantee it will be a battle.”

Hagan booked for “Wind Tunnel”: Funny Car point-leader Matt Hagan, a 27-year-old Angus Cattle farmer from Virginia, will be a guest on “Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain” Sunday on Speed Channel.

An NHRA rookie in 2009, Hagan has emerged as one of the biggest names in drag racing this season. In his two-year career with Don Schumacher Racing, Hagan has won three times in six final rounds, set the national ET record twice, and has been No. 1 qualifier six times. He will be competing in his 50th national event in the NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Oct. 28-31.

“Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain” airs live on Speed Channel from 9-10 p.m., EDT. Fans may call in at 866-WTUNNEL with questions or comments.

Pro Mod Series schedule set: NHRA officials have announced a 10-race 2011 NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series schedule, with the addition of the 12th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, April 1-3, in Las Vegas.

The series will kick off in Gainesville, Fla., on March 10. The schedule includes stops at the first Las Vegas event; Baytown, Texas; Commerce, Ga.; Englishtown, N.J.; Bristol, Tenn., and Norwalk, Ohio. The second half of the season will see the 250-mph machines race at the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at O’Reilly Raceway Park in Clermont, Ind.; Concord, N.C., and conclude at the second Las Vegas event in October.  Television coverage will provided by ESPN2 HD in 10 half-hour telecasts.

The battle for the inaugural NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series championship will be decided next weekend at the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals, Oct. 28-31. Von Smith and his Barwa Al-Anabi Racing 1968 Camaro team leads the series with three victories. Smith is 90 points ahead of Danny Rowe, driver of the Sterling Bridge ’68 Camaro.

Due to the popularity of the Doorslammer class, NHRA will be increasing entry quotas from 24 to 26 per event. Elimination rounds will continue to feature 16-car fields, with drivers competing for world championship points and an overall purse, including event monies and a year-end bonus fund, totaling $470,000.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 22 2010
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