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Force Looks Back, Moves Up

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 1 2010

John Force, with daughter Ashley Force Hood at his side and surrounded by his crew, celebrates Vegas style. (Photos courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Motivated by a team meeting and a highlight reel of his old “Brute” self, John Force has a record 15th NHRA Funny Car championship squarely in his sights.

Force raced to an emotional victory in the 10th annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals on Sunday, cutting series leader Matt Hagan’s lead in half with one race remaining in the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season.

Force blasted to a 4.232-second run at 281.36 mph to take his fifth victory of the season as Hagan lost traction and finished in 6.925-seconds at 110.96 mph. Hagan, who began the weekend with a 64-point advantage, leads Force by 37 points as the tour heads to the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., Nov. 11-14.

Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won their respective categories at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the fifth of sixth races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Force, 61, saw his season-long points lead slip away two weeks ago at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., where a clutch pedal failure ended his day in the first round. Hagan, 27, capitalized by racing into the final round and the points lead.

“We committed the cardinal sin (in Reading), we had a part fall off the race car,” said Force, owner/driver of the Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang. “I said I’m not doing my job. I need to motivate these people. They cannot make a mistake. Hagan went rounds and he killed us there. I had the lead all year and one mistake, one bolt and a clutch pedal. I said that is not happening again, and here we are.”

Force motivated his John Force Racing team with a Friday morning meeting before qualifying.  Meanwhile, Ashley Force Hood – John’s daughter and teammate – produced a highlight reel of all the JFR wins and championships.

“Ashley made a movie for our team that showed us winning championships and races and it got everybody up for the race this weekend,” said Force, who posted his 131st career victory. “You have to come in with the right attitude. We have to do everything right.”

With lane choice, Hagan faced Force under the lights in what appeared to be ideal conditions. But as the pair launched, Hagan surprisingly struck the rear tires at the hit of the throttle while Force trucked through the 1,000-foot distance.

“We gave up valuable points in Reading (where he lost to Cruz Pedregon in the final), so it’s a little disheartening,” said Hagan, who is in his second season as driver of the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T fielded by Don Schumacher Racing

“The DieHard team is better than this, I’m better than this and (crew chief) Tommy DeLago is better than this. We have the car to beat and we just have to figure out what we need to do to keep our heads in the game, and it will be all right. We had a great race car all day long. I don’t know why it smoked the tires in the final like that. It was a surprise to Tommy, too. We both figured it would go right down the track.

“We just can’t let this championship slip out of our hands. We had a pretty good grasp coming into here. We have to start picking up some more of those qualifying bonus points. Force did everything he was supposed to this weekend. We have to do everything we’re supposed to.”

Schumacher moved into second place in the Top Fuel standings with a dominant victory, and

Tony Schumacher kept hopes for another Top Fuel championship alive in Vegas.

in the process cut Larry Dixon’s series lead to 85 points. Schumacher, a seven-time world champion, won from the No. 1 qualifying position and defeated first-time finalist Dom Lagana in the final. Schumacher covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.845-seconds at 316.60 mph to hold off the upset-minded Lagana in the Big-O Tires Dragster.

Lagana, whose car is tuned by brother Bobby, beat Dixon in the second round and Antron Brown of DSR in the semis.

“It was fun to drive and great to be part of this win,” said Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Dragster. “We tested a couple of times this year and we’ve been working on some things. We had an excellent combination (this weekend).”

Schumacher, who has pulled off two come-from-behind miracle finishes en route to championships at the Pomona finale in recent seasons, is aware he will need to grab every bonus point at Pomona to keep his slim title hopes alive.

“I’m looking forward to Pomona,” Schumacher said. “It’s kind of out of my hands. We have to go out and set the national record and win the race. (Dixon) has to lose early. That’s what has to happen for us to win it. But hey, we’re in it. We haven’t been written off. We’re a long way off, but we have a shot. This kind of thing is our specialty.”

Veteran Cory McClenathan, who entered the race in second place and trailed Dixon by 89 points, saw his hopes for a first championship slip away when he was upset in the opening round by Australian Mark Mariani in his first NHRA start. Cory Mac’s FRAM Dragster, a team entry to Schumacher at DSR, dropped to third in the standings and now trails Dixon by a nearly insurmountable 106 points.

Anderson increased his Pro Stock series lead to 115 points over defending champ Mike

Greg Anderson adds Vegas Pro Stock victory.

Edwards by beating KB Racing teammate Jason Line in the final. Anderson sped to a 6.654-second quarter-mile pass at 207.43 mph in his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP to edge Line, who posted numbers of 6.656/207.46 in his Summit GXP.

“This is the best day I’ve ever had at a racetrack,” Anderson said of his fifth victory of the season and 65th of his career. A three-time world champion, Anderson dedicated the win to Ken Black, his Las Vegas-based team owner who continues the recovery from a stroke. “I’m just a lucky man today, like it was fate. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight and I know this is going to help Ken Black. What a comeback. After Indy we were down more than 100 points. The boys dug down and got the car close. It’s been a tough year. If we can close it out at Pomona this will be one that I will never forget and always cherish.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, rookie sensation Tonglet claimed his fifth victory of the season and cut series leader Andrew Hines’ lead to 34 points. Tonglet took the win over Matt Smith in the final round by powering his Nitro Fish Gear Suzuki to a quarter-mile run of 6.951-seconds at 188.86 mph. Smith finished in 6.983-seconds at 189.07 mph on his Al-Anabi Racing Buell.

Tonglet, who beat Bailey Whitaker, defending world champ Hector Arana and Jim Underdahl in earlier rounds, has advanced to every final round in the Countdown, winning four times.

“I don’t want to wake up,” said Tonglet, leading candidate for the $20,000 Auto Club Road to the Future Award, which recognizes NHRA’s top rookie. “It’s been an awesome year after Brainerd (Minn.). We’ve really been on a roll since Indy. We have to keep this momentum going and see what happens.”

Hines, a three-time world champ, had advanced to the last seven final rounds on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod before his semifinal loss to Smith.

“That Harley team is going to be tough to beat,” said Tonglet, who competed with a new engine after damaging his lone powerplant on Friday. “Andrew is a great rider and has been in this position before. We have to keep our head. The pressure is there and I try not to think about it. We came out here and thankfully we got the round wins and was able to step up on the (Christmas) Tree. After Matt beat Andrew I told him I wanted to kiss him, but I wasn’t going to do it.”

Final finish order (1-16) for professional categories at the 10th annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Top Fuel – 1.  Tony Schumacher; 2.  Dom Lagana; 3.  Antron Brown; 4.  David Grubnic; 5.  Shawn Langdon; 6. Larry Dixon; 7.  Mark Mariani; 8.  Steve Torrence; 9.  T.J. Zizzo; 10.  Scott Palmer; 11.  Cory McClenathan; 12.  Brandon Bernstein; 13.  Clay Millican; 14.  Chris Karamesines; 15.  Troy Buff; 16.  Bob Vandergriff.

Funny Car – 1.  John Force; 2.  Matt Hagan; 3.  Bob Tasca III; 4.  Ashley Force Hood; 5.  Jack Beckman; 6.  Ron Capps; 7.  Melanie Troxel; 8.  Jim Head; 9.  Paul Lee; 10.  Cruz Pedregon; 11.  Jeff Arend; 12. Tony Pedregon; 13.  Bob Bode; 14.  Gary Densham; 15.  Del Worsham; 16.  Tim Wilkerson.

Pro Stock – 1.  Greg Anderson; 2.  Jason Line; 3.  Greg Stanfield; 4.  Shane Gray; 5.  Jeg Coughlin Jr.; 6.  Allen Johnson; 7.  Ronnie Humphrey; 8.  Bob Yonke; 9.  V. Gaines; 10.  Mike Edwards; 11.  Dave Connolly; 12.  Larry Morgan; 13.  Ron Krisher; 14.  Rodger Brogdon; 15.  Johnny Gray; 16.  Kurt Johnson.

Pro Stock Motorcycle – 1.  LE Tonglet; 2.  Matt Smith; 3.  Jim Underdahl; 4.  Andrew Hines; 5.  Eddie Krawiec; 6.  Karen Stoffer; 7.  Shawn Gann; 8.  Hector Arana; 9.  Craig Treble; 10.  Angie Smith; 11.  Matt Guidera; 12.  Steve Johnson; 13.  David Hope; 14.  Bailey Whitaker; 15.  Scotty Pollacheck; 16.  Michael Phillips.

Sunday’s final results from the 10th annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Top Fuel – Tony Schumacher, 3.845 seconds, 316.60 mph  def. Dom Lagana, 3.987 seconds, 274.39 mph.

Funny Car – John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.232, 281.36  def. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger R/T, 6.925, 110.96.

Pro Stock – Greg Anderson, Pontiac GXP, 6.654, 207.43  def. Jason Line, GXP, 6.656, 207.46.

Pro Stock Motorcycle – LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.951, 188.86  def. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.983, 189.07.

Top Alcohol Dragster – Jim Whiteley, 5.347, 263.31  def. Monroe Guest, 5.446, 269.89.

Top Alcohol Funny Car – Mickey Ferro, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.578, 256.65  def. Doug Gordon, Monte Carlo, foul.

Competition Eliminator – David Rampy, Bantam Roadster, 7.818, 124.49  def. John Edwards, Dodge Neon, 8.541, 114.66.

Super Stock – Tony Mandella, Chevy Camaro, 9.989, 131.92  def. Dan Fletcher, Camaro, 9.511, 141.56.

Stock Eliminator – Slate Cummings, Pontiac Firebird, 10.728, 107.32  def. Marlene Nelson, Chevy Chevelle, 12.221, 106.85.

Super Gas – Steve Williams, Chevy Corvette, 10.115, 161.30  def. Stephanie Warn-Skaggs, Pontiac Grand Am, 10.079, 160.52.

Pro Modified – Brad Personett, Chevy Camaro, 5.859, 254.57  def. Melanie Troxel, Camaro, 5.984, 244.69.

Final round-by-round results from the 10th annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

TOP FUEL

ROUND ONE – Shawn Langdon, 3.840, 317.42 def. Brandon Bernstein, 4.470, 169.40; Antron Brown, 3.896, 309.91 def. T.J. Zizzo, 3.887, 306.40; Dom Lagana, 3.910, 313.29 def. Clay Millican, 4.697, 162.98; Steve Torrence, 3.860, 314.97 def. Chris Karamesines, 7.117, 80.19; David Grubnic, 3.846, 317.49 def. Scott Palmer, 4.089, 243.15; Larry Dixon, 3.847, 319.98 def. Troy Buff, foul; Tony Schumacher, 3.794, 324.51 def. Bob Vandergriff, 9.014, 78.03; Mark Mariani, 3.930, 307.44 def. Cory McClenathan, 4.312, 181.52;

QUARTERFINALS – Brown, 3.875, 318.09 def. Mariani, 4.001, 302.28; Lagana, 3.967, 305.63 def. Dixon, 3.984, 248.93; Grubnic, 4.386, 269.78 def. Torrence, 4.713, 209.69; Schumacher, 3.820, 325.61 def. Langdon, 3.901, 310.41;

SEMIFINALS – Lagana, 3.892, 312.06 def. Brown, 3.951, 283.13; Schumacher, 3.808, 323.12 def. Grubnic, 3.993, 238.64;

FINAL – Schumacher, 3.845, 316.60 def. Lagana, 3.987, 274.39.

FUNNY CAR

ROUND ONE – Melanie Troxel, Dodge Charger, 4.633, 273.22 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 7.220, 112.55; Jim Head, Toyota Solara, 4.121, 305.91 def. Cruz Pedregon, Solara, 4.273, 270.64; Ashley Force Hood, Mustang, 4.127, 308.99 def. Paul Lee, Chevy Impala SS, 4.228, 286.13; Ron Capps, Charger, 5.824, 101.82 def. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 6.332, 170.67; John Force, Mustang, 4.122, 309.56 def. Jeff Arend, Solara, 4.547, 204.70; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.071, 305.49 def. Tony Pedregon, Impala SS, 4.951, 167.57; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.158, 305.49 def. Gary Densham, Charger, 6.190, 118.94; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.113, 306.81 def. Bob Bode, Impala SS, 5.394, 159.89;

QUARTERFINALS – Tasca III, 4.305, 297.94 def. Capps, 4.763, 183.87; Force Hood, 4.135, 309.77 def. Beckman, 4.213, 267.64; Hagan, 4.133, 303.98 def. Head, 5.495, 134.32; Force, 4.710, 197.65 def. Troxel, 4.856, 227.38;

SEMIFINALS – Force, 4.130, 307.72 def. Tasca III, 5.962, 122.71; Hagan, 4.097, 304.80 def. Force Hood, 9.160, 74.91;

FINAL – Force, 4.232, 281.36 def. Hagan, 6.925, 110.96.

PRO STOCK

ROUND ONE – Greg Stanfield, Pontiac GXP, 6.682, 206.01 def. Mike Edwards, GXP, 6.655, 206.92; Shane Gray, GXP, 6.671, 206.35 def. Kurt Johnson, GXP, 6.707, 205.57; Greg Anderson, GXP, 6.664, 207.59 def. Rodger Brogdon, GXP, 6.696, 205.98; Bob Yonke, GXP, 6.730, 205.04 def. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, foul; Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Cobalt, 6.645, 206.61 def. Dave Connolly, Cobalt, 6.677, 207.40; Jason Line, GXP, 6.659, 207.11 def. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.678, 206.26; Allen Johnson, Avenger, 6.678, 207.40 def. Johnny Gray, GXP, 6.696, 205.94; Ronnie Humphrey, GXP, 6.684, 207.30 def. Ron Krisher, GXP, foul;

QUARTERFINALS – Stanfield, 6.667, 206.01 def. A. Johnson, 6.664, 208.04; S. Gray, 6.659, 206.61 def. Yonke, foul; Anderson, 6.663, 207.56 def. Coughlin, 6.659, 206.61; Line, 6.651, 207.40 def. Humphrey, foul;

SEMIFINALS – Anderson, 6.677, 207.53 def. S. Gray, foul; Line, 6.652, 207.11 def. Stanfield, 6.664, 206.32;

FINAL – Anderson, 6.654, 207.43 def. Line, 6.656, 207.46.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE

ROUND ONE – LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.986, 188.91 def. Bailey Whitaker, Buell, 7.126, 180.40; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson V-Rod, 6.976, 191.40 def. Matt Guidera, Buell, 7.115, 183.42; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson V-Rod, 6.992, 190.06 def. Craig Treble, Suzuki, 7.072, 185.36; Matt Smith, Buell, 7.045, 187.00 def. Michael Phillips, Suzuki, 10.172, 84.72; Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.017, 191.76 def. David Hope, Buell, 7.124, 183.74; Shawn Gann, Buell, 7.103, 186.38 def. Angie Smith, Buell, 7.112, 182.87; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.002, 188.81 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.118, 185.49; Hector Arana, Buell, 6.993, 188.41 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 7.286, 178.19;

QUARTERFINALS – Underdahl, 7.024, 189.95 def. Gann, foul; M. Smith, 6.999, 188.17 def. Stoffer, 7.046, 186.67; Tonglet, 7.004, 187.26 def. Arana, 13.665, 36.45; Hines, 6.989, 189.55 def. Krawiec, foul;

SEMIFINALS – Tonglet, 6.948, 190.22 def. Underdahl, 6.988, 190.78; M. Smith, 7.037, 187.73 def. Hines, 7.041, 189.82;

FINAL – Tonglet, 6.951, 188.86 def. M. Smith, 6.983, 189.07.

Point standings (top 10) for NHRA professional categories following the 10th annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Top Fuel – 1.  Larry Dixon, 2,602; 2.  Tony Schumacher, 2,517; 3.  Cory McClenathan, 2,496; 4.  Antron Brown, 2,347; 5.  Shawn Langdon, 2,333; 6.  Brandon Bernstein, 2,313; 7.  Doug Kalitta, 2,309; 8.  (tie) David Grubnic, 2,257; Steve Torrence, 2,257; 10.  Morgan Lucas, 2,176.

Funny Car – 1. Matt Hagan, 2,537; 2.  John Force, 2,500; 3.  Jack Beckman, 2,401; 4.  Ashley Force Hood, 2,388; 5.  Bob Tasca III, 2,324; 6.  Del Worsham, 2,253; 7.  Ron Capps, 2,252; 8.  Robert Hight, 2,239; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,232; 10.  Tony Pedregon, 2,199.

Pro Stock – 1.  Greg Anderson, 2,552; 2.  Mike Edwards, 2,437; 3.  Greg Stanfield, 2,426; 4.  Jason Line, 2,396; 5.  Allen Johnson, 2,338; 6.  Shane Gray, 2,324; 7.  Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,304; 8.  Ron Krisher, 2,240; 9.  Johnny Gray, 2,190; 10.  Rodger Brogdon, 2,188.

Pro Stock Motorcycle – 1.  Andrew Hines, 2,640; 2.  LE Tonglet, 2,606; 3.  Matt Smith, 2,417; 4.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,413; 5. Hector Arana, 2,335; 6.  Steve Johnson, 2,280; 7.  Michael Phillips, 2,274; 8.  Karen Stoffer, 2,233; 9.  Craig Treble, 2,183; 10.  David Hope, 2,145.

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 1 2010
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