DIXON, FORCE HOOD SHINE AT U.S. NATIONALS

REACTION TIME

By Susan Wade

With a bit of help from Cory McClenathan, Larry Dixon re-established
himself Monday as Top Fuel king at O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis.

But in seeing Tony Schumacher lose his tight grip on the Mac Tools U.S.
Nationals, Dixon saw another disturbing trend — the long overdue surge of
Cory McClenathan, who is fighting his way out from under the label of
four-time series runner-up.

Schumacher’s decade of domination at the National Hot Rod Ass’n.’s longest
and most important event halted in a tire-smoking semifinal battle against
Don Schumacher Racing teammate McClenathan. That was all Dixon needed to
reap his 10th triumph in as many final rounds this year in the Al-Anabi
Dragster and his fourth at the storied track that’s a stone’s throw from his
adopted home in Avon.

Ashley Force Hood scored back-to-back Indianapolis triumphs in the Funny
Car class — the first woman to do so — at the expense of father John Force
in an all-Castrol Ford Mustang final. She and Dixon joined Greg Stanfield
(Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) in the winners circle at
this 56th edition of drag racing’s showcase event.

In their third final-round meeting this season, Dixon and McClenathan made
it a close one, but the Jason McCulloch-tuned Al-Anabi Dragster produced a
3.838-second elapsed time and 319.60-mph speed to best the FRAM rocket
prepared by Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler. McClenathan registered a 3.870 /
319.82.

Dixon was the winner here over Schumacher in 2005 and runner-up to
Schumacher in 2009, 2007, and 2002. In the only U.S. Nationals final round of the
past decade that didn’t include Schumacher, Dixon defeated current ESPN
commentator Mike Dunn to capture his first trophy at the NHRA’s “Big Go.”

Dixon has won each of the six races in which he qualified No. 1 this year.

“It just means so much to me personally,” he said. “My dad racing here
forever . . . Racing with Snake and knowing how much it means to him . . .
Now racing with Sheik Khalid . . .” Then alluding to Blaine Johnson’s death
here during qualifying in 1996, Dixon said, “And now with Alan Johnson and
the Johnson family, I know how much this race means to them and how much
they’ve sacrificed at this race.

He fondly recalled “all the years coming here with my dad. Now Jason
McCulloch, all those years he was coming here, helping his dad [Ed "The Ace"
McCulloch] win Indy [five times in Funny Car], and now he wins his first Indy
as a crew chief. I’m jacked up for him.

“This race is so big,” an emotional Dixon said. “It means everything, this
race. Nothing against Atlanta and Phoenix, but I’d trade them all in for
Indy wins.”

As for whether this is his most cherished Indianapolis Wally statue, Dixon
said, “Throw all the Indys in a hat and draw. Indianapolis is big,
especially when Tony wins it every year. That doesn’t leave much for us.”

With a .0648-second margin of victory, McClenathan earned the chance to run
for his first U.S. Nationals victory since 1999 and his third overall. He
denied Schumacher the chance to pass “Big Daddy” Don Garlits as the event’s
most successful champion. He remains tied with the legend at eight
triumphs.

“I’m not even thinking about that right now,” Schumacher said. “To be
honest, I was more concerned with starting the Countdown to One on a successful
note. We lost some ground today, but we have five more races to get the job
done.

“There’s not a lot you can say,” the U.S. Army Dragster driver said. “I
thought I could get the car hooked up and get past him, but it just wouldn’t
go. Of course, I’m disappointed. This is our biggest race of the year and
you always want to win this one more than any other one on the schedule.”

Dixon said of Schumacher’s incredible run, “It hasn’t been hard to watch
him dominate. I appreciate what he’s been able to do. I have a lot of respect
from him and the teams he’s been able to do it with, because he’s done it
with different teams. He’s done it with Alan and Jason. There’s no jealousy
or anything like that with him winning. I don’t have any hate on him or
his team. There are a lot of times I got to race him for the Indy trophy and
we couldn’t get it done. We just weren’t good enough to beat him. It just
means when you get another shot at it, you try harder.

“A lot’s been talked about me and Tony,” Dixon said, “but I’m racing Cory
every qualifying session. He’s not going to go away. That’s a great car and
a great team. Todd and Phil are doing an awesome job. But Alan and Jason
and our Al-Anabi team, we were a little bit better this week. But great job
by them. Cory made a great run that final round, probably the best of the
day. They kept us honest.”

McClenathan doesn’t need anymore motivation, but Dixon just gave him some
Monday.

“While it’s great to get to the finals in Indy, you want to win it. So it
was tough to lose,” McClenathan said. “We just need to keep making sure they
know we’re there.

“Larry and his wife both said at the other end today that they were scared.
They said they were worried. They knew we had a good car,” he said. “Right
now, if there’s a car out there that should be scaring everybody, it
should be this FRAM Top Fuel dragster.”

McClenathan remained second in the point standings and is just 46 off
Dixon’s pace.

“Last year we went into the Countdown in Concord, N.C., not Indy. And the
next thing you know you’re at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis and you’ve
got all the drama of that, you’re at home,” the Fishers, Ind., resident
said, “it’s Don Schumacher Racing’s home, and it’s early in the Countdown. So,
yeah, that’s a lot to chew,” said the two-time U.S. Nationals champion.

“I was thinking about that up there right when we started the car, so I had
plenty of motivation today and that’s a good thing. Sometimes the pressure
can make you the best. And we were good, and everybody did a great job.

“You know what? You always think it’s your time,” he said of his chances of
finally beating Dixon this year.

Now he has an idea of how Dixon felt against Tony Schumacher all those
years.

“I mean, the tables will turn eventually and they just have a very stellar
car right now,” McClenathan said. “Larry is a good driver. We brought our
A-game today. We had a good day.”

But Monday it was Dixon’s turn again — and Force Hood’s in Funny Car
eliminations.

Force Hood broke from her winless slump. A few weeks ago, she had been
perturbed, saying she and her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang team “for some reason .
. . are just having a crappy year. We are just in the biggest slump we’ve
ever been in.” It certainly doesn’t look that way now.

She said she has spent too much time asking herself, “What else do we have
to do?” She has done it.

That didn’t go unnoticed. As Force Hood stepped forward to speak with the
gathered media members, Dixon gave her an impromptu introduction: “In all
the times I have been to Indy, there is one thing I have never [done], which
is win back-to-back. And up next . . . someone who deserves everything she
gets.”

Besides the rich compliment, the winner’s payout, and the trophy, Force
Hood got the peace of mind to conquer the pressure and distractions that the
U.S. Nationals throws at a driver. And she earned the distinction of being
the 13th driver to post back-to-back victories here. (Others who
accomplished the feat are Don Garlits, Tony Schumacher, Joe Amato, Don Prudhomme, Ace
McCulloch, Cruz Pedregon, Bob Glidden, Warren Johnson, Kurt Johnson, Lee
Shepherd, Dave Connolly, and Greg Anderson.)

Thanks to thanks to a 2004 victory in the Top Alcohol Dragster class — and
navigating the negative publicity of her dad’s viral-video shouting match
with Tony Pedregon that overshadowed her triumph last year — Force Hood
prevailed. She also blocked out the emotions of her father’s mission to earn
a record 15th series crown, starting with this race.

“I think there is such a big deal made about Indy that if you have already
been there and won it then you have this pressure lifted off your
shoulders,” Force Hood said. “We have cleared the slate and this is the second start
to the season.

“We have had one of those days where we were not on the losing end of the
luck thing,” Force Hood said. “Guido [crew chief Dean Antonelli] said we are
not going to win the championship on luck. We are going to win it on
consistency and doing our job from one end of the track to the other. Today we
didn’t have any luck. We had hard races and tough conditions. We had a
consistent, good-running car. My lights were better than they have been in the
past. When you put those two things together, you have a really good shot to
win. Today was our day.”

John Force said, “I have pictures of winning Indy and the Big Bud Shootout
and carrying (daughters) Brittany and my youngest, Courtney, on my
shoulders.” Now he can add the memory of Ashley beating him with a 4.141-second,
308.07-mph pass while he experienced tire shake and finished the run in 7.246
seconds at a coasting 91.61 mph.

Stanfield, of Bossier City, La., was runner-up here last year to Jeg
Coughlin and lost to Mike Edwards in his only other final since April 18 at Las
Vegas. Determined not to be No. 2 Monday, Stanfield used a holeshot in Kenny
Koretsky’s Nitro Fish Apparel / Indicom Electric Pontiac GXP to notch his
fourth career victory with a 6.665-second E.T. at 207.59.

Edwards, the reigning series champion from Coweta, Okla., and uninterrupted
points leader this season, ran a quicker and faster 6.627 seconds at
208.75 mph. The eight-time winner this year so far was trying to win from his
12th No. 1 start in the K&N/Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP.

“This win is huge. It’s not always the fastest car that wins,” Stanfield,
who leaped from eighth to third place in points, said. “This is the best
victory of my drivingut those two things together, you have a really good shot to
win. Today was our day.”

John Force said, “I have pictures of winning Indy and the Big Bud Shootout
and carrying (daughters) Brittany and my youngest, Courtney, on my
shoulders.” Now he can add the memory of Ashley beating him with a 4.141-second,
308.07-mph pass while he experienced tire shake and finished the run in 7.246
seconds at a coasting 91.61 mph.

Stanfield, of Bossier City, La., was runner-up here last year to Jeg
Coughlin and lost to Mike Edwards in his only other final since April 18 at Las
Vegas. Determined not to be No. 2 Monday, Stanfield used a holeshot in Kenny
Koretsky’s Nitro Fish Apparel / Indicom Electric Pontiac GXP to notch his
fourth career victory with a 6.665-second E.T. at 207.59.

Edwards, the reigning series champion from Coweta, Okla., and uninterrupted
points leader this season, ran a quicker and faster 6.627 seconds at
208.75 mph. The eight-time winner this year so far was trying to win from his
12th No. 1 start in the K&N/Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP.

“This win is huge. It’s not always the fastest car that wins,” Stanfield,
who leaped from eighth to third place in points, said. “This is the best
victory of my driving career . . . because it is the U.S. Nationals. When I
signed for the season with Kenny, I said then that I wanted to give him his
first Wally, and I’m very happy to do that.”

It was no slam dunk. We had been struggling lately, but Eddie [crew chief
Guarnaccia] and the crew have been working hard, and we turned things around
in the last two weeks. We saw the results Monday.”

In the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, the 20-year-old Tonglet made a huge
statement in his quest for NHRA Rookie of the Year honors by not only winning
the U.S. Nationals but in derailing the streaking Andrew Hines. Tonglet won
aboard his GT Motorsports Suzuki with a 6.869-second E.T. at a track-record
195.22 mph.

Hines, a three-time series champion still seeking his first Indianapolis
victory, countered with a 6.962 / 194.13 from the Vance & Hines Screamin’
Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod. The points leader wa

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