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2010 NHRA Season Was One For The Ages

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 16 2010

LE Tonglet was honored Monday as the youngest champion in NHRA history. (P

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

The oldest and youngest world champions in the National Hot Rod Association’s 59-year history headlined the four world championship-winning drivers crowned Monday evening during the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series awards ceremony.

John Force, 61, was feted for his record-setting 15th Funny Car world championship, while 20-year-old rookie LE Tonglet was recognized for his improbable run to the Pro Stock Motorcycle title.

In addition, Larry Dixon (Top Fuel) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) were presented checks and trophies for their achievements during the six-race Countdown to the Championship.

Force claimed his 15th Funny Car title in dramatic fashion Sunday during the season-ending 46th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif., erasing a 38-point deficit to Matt Hagan of archrival Don Schumacher Racing.

The title capped an emotional comeback effort for Force, who suffered near career-ending injuries three years ago in a horrific crash at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, near Dallas. Force, driver of the Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang fielded by John Force Racing, received a $500,000 check from NHRA and Full Throttle.

Force is the oldest champion in motorsports at the age of 61 years and six months, outdistancing NHRA Pro Stock legend Warren “The Professor” Johnson, who was 58 years and four months old when he won his sixth championship in 2001.

Louisiana native Tonglet mounted a surge during the playoffs that resulted in his first Pro Stock Motorcycle championship, worth $75,000. Tonglet became the third rookie competitor to win a championship in NHRA history, joining Frank Hawley (Funny Car, 1982) and Gary Scelzi (Top Fuel, 1997). Tonglet, whose crew consists of father Gary and brother/crew chief GT, rode his Nitro Fish Suzuki to four wins in five finals during the Countdown to hold off three-time world champ Andrew Hines.

Dixon, who also won Top Fuel titles in 2002 and 2003 for NHRA legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, drove his Jason McCulloch-tuned Al-Anabi Racing Dragster to a record 12 victories in 12 finals to end Tony Schumacher’s streak of six straight championships dating to the 2004 season. Dixon, 44 and a second generation NHRA competitor, received a check for $500,000.

Anderson, 49, celebrated an emotional Pro Stock title after enduring a season during which he lost his North Carolina home to fire and nearly lost Las Vegas-based team-owner Ken Black to a stroke. Anderson overcame those setbacks and regained confidence after winning his home race at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte during the playoffs.

Anderson added playoff wins at Texas Motorplex and The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to hold off defending world champ and season-long leader Mike Edwards, as well as eventual second-place finisher Greg Stanfield. Anderson, driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP, was presented a check for $250,000 for his fourth world championship.

PSM champ Tonglet also was named winner of the $20,000 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, which recognizes the year’s top NHRA rookie performer.  A national panel of motorsports journalists selected Tonglet, who was nearly flawless during the Countdown.

Each of the nominees for the prestigious rookie award received multiple votes. The other candidates in the all-star rookie class were Auto Club NHRA Finals Pro Stock winner Shane Gray, who finished fourth in points, and Funny Car showman Jeff Diehl.

In addition, crews in each professional class were honored with the Full Throttle Hard-Working Crew Award. Dominick Lagana’s Big O Tires Dragster crew won in Top Fuel ($25,000) for advancing to the final round at the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals.

Ashley Force Hood’s Castrol GTX Ford Mustang crew in Funny Car ($25,000) was cited for winning the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Clermont, Ind., for a second consecutive year.

The entire Summit Racing crew in Pro Stock ($15,000) was recognized for placing the Pontiacs driven by teammates Anderson and Jason Line into the final at the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals.

And Tonglet’s Nitro Fish Suzuki crew in Pro Stock Motorcycle earned an additional $5,000 for racing to victory at the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.

Among the evening’s highlights at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in West Los Angeles was a special award presentation from NHRA President Tom Compton to Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman O. Bruton Smith for his “extraordinary contribution and positive impact on NHRA Drag Racing.”  Smith’s son, Marcus, accepted the award.

The contributions of two important members of the NHRA family who passed away during the year were remembered – dedicated NHRA board member Dick Wells, and Jeff Byrd, a longtime friend of NHRA who was a former R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. executive and president of Bristol Motor Speedway and Bristol Dragway for the last 14 years.

Drivers in seven categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series also were recognized as 2010 world champions: Bill Reichert (Top Alcohol Dragster), Frank Manzo (Top Alcohol Funny Car), Al Ackerman (Competition Eliminator), Ryan McClanahan (Super Stock), Brad Burton (Stock Eliminator), Gary Stinnett (Super Comp) and Dave Tatum (Super Gas).

The 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series awards ceremony will be available in its entirety to fans via the Internet on Wednesday, Nov. 17, at 3 p.m. (EST) at NHRA.com and the NHRA channel on YouTube.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 16 2010
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