FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals
Three former series champions and one professional that appears well on his way to his first national title are popping champagne in California's wine country as the 16th annual Fram-Autolite NHRA Nationals crowns its winners.
Larry Dixon successfully completed the Western Swing with his third Top Fuel win in a row, Northern California legend Gary Scelzi scored his first career Funny Car victory over Dean Skuza, reigning Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. took a huge holeshot win over class frontrunner Greg Anderson, and points leader Geno Scali simply ran away from first-time finalist Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Bike.
Dixon is only the fourth person to ever sweep the Western Swing of consecutive races in Denver, Seattle, and Sonoma. He joins Joe Amato (1991), John Force (1994), and Cory McClenathan (1997) in that exclusive club.
The final was never in doubt as Dixon shrugged off a partial crowd of backers for foe David Baca of nearby Pittsburg, Calif., and powered away for an air-to-spare 4.640 at 319.67 mph to 4.805 at 298.47 mph victory.
"I had never won three in a row before," Dixon said. "To do it now at these three races is unreal. I think how hard it was for me but think about the crew guys. I'm really impressed with them. We ran a bunch of rounds in the last three weeks and they had to service the car a bunch of times. Plus they have all the set-up and breakdown and travel, they definitely earned their keep.
"I'm amazed at what we've been able to accomplish in the last two years. It was about this time two years ago that we got in this groove. When I'm home and I'm down in the gameroom and I drag all these trophies out it really hits me how special this run has been. My dad raced for a lot of years and only won once. I know there's a lot of racers like that so I know how lucky we are."
Dixon's 58th money round came about with little opposition as he posted the quickest pass of every round to easily dismiss challengers John Smith, Tony Schumacher, Rhonda Hartman-Smith, and Baca. The Miller Lite driver now has a comfortable 310-point lead over his nearest challenger in the POWERade standings, the largest margin of the four professional categories.
No one can say Baca didn't earn his first career final-round appearance as he took out three of the class heavyweights in his American Racing Wheels dragster. Baca opened with a win over Doug Herbert, then took out No. 1 qualifier Doug Kalitta before dismissing 65-time national event winner Kenny Bernstein in the semifinals. For his efforts, Baca moved up two positions to sixth in the standings. Top Fuel results
Three-time Top Fuel champion Scelzi finally broke through for his first Funny Car victory with a compelling win over upstart finalist Skuza. Scelzi proved to be the man to beat all day and the final was no different as he zoomed away from a game Skuza to win by half a car length, 4.958 at 312.21 mph to 4.966 at 306.74 mph.
A 25-time winner in Top Fuel, Scelzi becomes just the 13th driver in 52 years of NHRA Drag Racing history to collect national event wins in both nitro-powered categories. This one was special as Oakley founder Jim Jannard reveled in his company car's first victory, which was celebrated wildly by the entire Schumacher Racing organization on the starting line. Scelzi, who was racing in his 22nd event in a Funny Car, had plenty of crowd support on-hand as well, as he hails from Fresno, Calif., which is three hours south of the Bay Area.
"I can't tell you how good this feels," Scelzi said. "The big question I've been facing for awhile now is with so many Top Fuel wins and so much success in that class, why in the world did I switch to Funny Car. But I know that it's much more than that. It takes a crew chief, a crew of talented people, a great sponsor, and lots of money to win in any category. Plus, since Day 1 here I've never felt so much support. These people believe in me.
"Jim Jannard is numb right now. He's gotten so close before with his cars but had never won. Talk about pressure. But this is a pressure-packed job and you have to deliver. We had a tough deal in Seattle but this is a team and you have to roll with it. The thing for me was that we were running so strong there and I know you only have so many chances to win these things. It's such a relief to have it carry over to here and there's no reason to think we'll let off from here on out."
After being denied a chance to run for his first career Funny Car victory one week ago in Seattle due to a team decision, Scelzi made the best of his chances here with a string of four-second passes against early-round opponents Scotty Cannon, Whit Bazemore, and John Force. Scelzi's Oakley Dodge Stratus R/T was the quickest of every elimination round.
With rock legend Meat Loaf watching from the starting line every pass, Skuza raced his special-edition "Meat Loaf: Should Have Known Better" Pontiac Firebird to his first final-round appearance in two and a half years by beating Ron Capps, Del Worsham, and Cruz Pedregon.
With Tony Pedregon exiting in the first round for the third successive race, something that hasn't happened since the early part of 2001, title contenders Bazemore and Force made up as much ground as they could on the current POWERade points leader. By the end of the day, Bazemore trailed Pedregon by just 44 points, while Force closed to within 199 points of the top spot. For his part, Scelzi moved up from 11th place to eighth with his win. Funny Car results
Coughlin proved he will not abdicate his Pro Stock crown without a fight as he Treed red-hot racer Anderson by a mammoth .019- to .070-second starting-line margin. At the other end, Coughlin took his first victory of the season by the closest count of the day, a miniscule span of .0104 seconds, or about three feet.
This was the 32nd win of Coughlin's career and it helped him move into third place in the POWERade standings. However, he still trails class leader Anderson by 355 points and second-place points earner Kurt Johnson by 216 points.
"This feels great," Coughlin said. 'The competition is outstanding this year and Greg has certainly been the class act of Pro Stock so far so to get one from him is very satisfying. We've always made nice runs here but never got the checkers until today.
"I knew I needed to get a good jump on him if I could. Let's face it, the rest of us are working hard to fill the void Greg has put between himself and the chase pack. I know we have earned much attention for our team this year but we're working overtime to catch up. I am very proud of the fact that we are one of just three cars to have qualified for every race so far."
Two-time POWERade titleholder Coughlin wasn't the quickest driver out there but he did look steady in his Jeg's Mail Order Chevrolet Cavalier, racing past Greg Stanfield, Dave Connolly, Allen Johnson, and Anderson on the day. This was the 46th final of Coughlin's career.
Anderson dominated en route to eighth money round of the season. The Vegas General Construction Pontiac Grand Am was the quickest hot rod of every round as Anderson beat up on J.R. Carr, reigning Rookie of the Year Gene Wilson, and good friend and championship rival Kurt Johnson with a string of 6.7-second passes. Pro Stock results
For the second time this season, POWERade points leader Scali denied Harley-Davidson its first NHRA Pro Stock Bike victory. After beating GT Tonglet in St. Louis, Scali gladly turned back Tonglet's teammate, Andrew Hines, Sunday with a wire-to-wire win that had Scali crossing in 7.177 at 189.68 mph to Hines' 7.264 at 180.48 mph.
Scali has pulled even with defending three-time series champion Angelle Savoie in the wins column with three, and his year-long raceday consistency has him leading the U.S. Army rider by 188 points.
"When you get up 180-something points and you look down and see the number of races is dwindling away you start to believe in it," Scali said of his championship dream. "It's still very hard to believe. I did make a point of trying to enjoy myself this weekend. I stayed relaxed and tried to take it all in as much as possible.
"I know for a fact that by me being able to live, eat, and breathe Pro Stock Bike racing and not have to worry about an outside job, that's really helped our team. I know I'm a very lucky guy to have this chance and every morning when I get up I remember to appreciate everything."
Almost an afterthought in qualifying, Scali started the day in the fifth position and quickly rode his Trim-Tex Suzuki past Sean Conner, Antron Brown, low qualifier Craig Treble, and Hines. The pass against Treble appeared to be very close until Treble's motor expired just past half-track.
Hines thrilled the partial crowd as his Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod rumbled past Fred Collis, Denver winner Blaine Hale, and Michael Phillips en route to his first final-round showing. Pro Stock Bike results
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