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Larry Dixon Silences Doubters In Topeka

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 31 2009

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Larry Dixon (NHRA Photo)

Larry Dixon (NHRA Photo)

Topeka, Kan. – Larry Dixon has been taking a bit of a beating this year for not doing as well as many had expected in his role of driver for Alan Johnson’s Al-Anabi Racing team’s Top Fuel team.

On Sunday afternoon, the fists were silenced – for a while, anyway – when Dixon pulled away from Clay Millican to win the NHRA O’Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.

The victory moved Dixon from sixth to fourth in points and he will arrive in Joliet for next weekend’s race at Route 66 Raceway just 141 points behind leader Tony Schumacher.

He will also arrive in the Chicago suburb wearing a relieved smile.

Also picking up victories on Sunday were Ron Capps in Funny Car and Allen Johnson in Pro Stock.

Dixon’s victory was joyful for several reasons. Among the top reasons, the two-time NHRA champion said, was, “Hopefully, we’ll have to answer less questions.”

Dixon’s season started horribly as he failed to qualify for the season-opening Winternationals.

He came back a bit in weeks two and three as he made the semifinals in Phoenix and then won the Gatornationals in Florida.

But after that, things plunged.

They bottomed out, he said, at Bristol’s Thunder Valley Nationals the last time out.

“I don’t think it was pressure,” Dixon said. “Looking back at it, it was distractions.”

And the newness of the situation.

“Different owner, different car, different owner, different crew chief, different tree. There isn’t anything that’s the same.”

Following Bristol, where he was ousted in the quarterfinals, team-owner Johnson, the man who guided Tony Schumacher to the last five Top Fuel championships, set up a test session in Atlanta.

The test session apparently has solved a lot of the problems.

“I felt really good after our test,” Dixon said.  “We’re going to three in a row where the weather is starting to warm up and they are normally pretty good with a warm-weather tune-up.”

Capps extended his points lead in Funny Car when he beat Ashley Force Hood in the finals.

The victory was the fourth of the season for Capps and his NAPA Auto Parts Don Schumacher Racing team.

But afterward, he figured that while it was a personally gratifying victory, it probably was not a super popular victory because of whom he beat in the final round.

“I told my crew guys in the staging lanes that we were going to make a lot of fans upset if we beat her,” Capps said of Force Hood. “My daughter loves her so I made my daughter upset, too.”

Oh well.

The victory establishes Capps as the driver to beat in Funny Car this season. Or not. He says there are no drivers to beat in Funnys as the class is loaded with talent.

It did, however, save Capps a hefty dry-cleaning bill and a poke to the ribs.

“Before the final, I thought I was going to throw up,” he said. “And (friend and Sprint Cup driver) Michael Waltrip was going to call me and tell me I got beat by a girl. He does that every time Ashley beats me and it’s been a lot.”

Allen Johnson got his first victory of the year in Pro Stock when he beat No. 1 qualifier Mike Edwards with a hole shot in the finals. The margin of victory was .0025 seconds.

Johnson’s victory ended Edwards’ two-race winning streak.

“When your cars is doing as good as today, it’s very fun and very easy,” Johnson said.

The victory was the first since 2007 for Johnson.

He admitted that long between victories got dang frustrating. Especially, he said, because he felt it was the driver who was doing the damage.

“I felt like we should have won about 10 races in the last year and a half…but I didn’t do my job.”

He did in Topeka Sunday.

The big upset in Top Fuel came in the second round when Shawn Langdon beat No. 1-qualifier Antron Brown by .003 seconds. Brown has won twice this year and led the points for four weeks.

Also upset in the second round were Brandon Bernstein and six-time champion Tony Schumacher, who fell to Spencer Massey.

For Schumacher, his result extended his Heartland Park woes. It is one of two tracks where The Sarge has never won. In fact, Schumacher has yet to reach a final in Topeka.

“It was a great drag race,” Schumacher, who retained his point lead despite his finish, said. “The track temperature when we started the round was 121 degrees, so we really had to watch that we didn’t overpower the track. You have to tip your hat to Spencer and his team – they did what they had to do today.”

That put three drivers who have not ever won a Top Fuel event into the semis.

Langdon blew his chance for a first victory when he blew a clutch during his burnout, giving Millican a free pass into the finals.

Massey’s chance for his first victory was crushed by Dixon and in the semi’s

Hope for a repeat Funny Car victory for John Force at Heartland ended in the second round when he was beat to the finish line by Capps by inches.

Capps got the victory despite being beaten off the line by Force.

“Don’t know if my heart can take many more of these,” Capps said after beating drag-racing’s all-time winningest driver by a thousandth of a second.

Capps’ heart got a break in the semi’s when he easily beat Jack Beckman.

Force Hood needed some help to advance to the second round. During her first run, which appeared to be a mismatch against low-seed Jack Wyatt, she was running even with Wyatt at quarter track when Wyatt’s chutes popped.

With chutes deployed at half track, Wyatt still was able to finish just a tenth-second behind Force Hood.

Hood moved the semi’s when she ousted Bob Tasca.

In the semifinals, she ran down Tim Wilkerson to set up a match-up of two huge drag racing stars.

In Pro Stock, it was a day for the stars to shine. Advancing to the semifinals were the likes of former champion Greg Anderson, points leader Jeg Coughlin and super-hot Edwards.

The marquee match-up occurred in the semi’s when Edwards and Coughlin went at it. Edwards won that one when Coughlin got sideways off the line.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 31 2009
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