Here’s The Deal: Top Fuel Wrestling Over Title Points
It’s getting to be true nail-biting time in the NHRA.
With only eight rounds left in the season some drivers this weekend at the NHRA Big O Tires Nationals on the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will have jubilation, while others will be packing up with 2012 racing plans on their mind.
It looks like three of the four professional Full Throttle categories will come down to Pomona to clinch the title in their respective classes.
Meanwhile, the Vegas race is straight ahead.
If this race turns out to be anything like Phoenix, get ready to shuffle the points standings again to see how they roll out at the end of the day.
Just look at Top Fuel. Antron Brown is on top with a lead of 20 points. Larry Dixon, whose win in the Valley of the Sun brought him back into contention, while Spencer Massey, the hottest driver in the division in the first three Countdown races yet whose unbelievable DNQ last race now puts him 25 points out of the lead, only five away from Dixon in second.
Dixon, the defending Top Fuel champion, noted his jump in the standings from fourth to second after Phoenix has completely changed the Alan Johnson-led silver Al-Anabi team’s season.
“Phoenix was definitely a great race and a great time to have a great race,” said three-time Full Throttle Series champion. “Coming off a 12-win season last year, it’s been a little tougher to get wins this year so to be able to get a win in the middle of the countdown was huge. It put us back in charge of our own destiny.
“Prior to Phoenix, we could have won all the remaining races and might not have won the championship. With the way things fell in Phoenix, we couldn’t have picked up any more points than we did. It was an awesome job by Jason (crew chief Jason McCulloch) and Ronnie (assistant crew chief Ronnie Thompson); sweeping the event is a great job on their part and the whole Al-Anabi team.
“There are eight rounds of racing left on the table for the rest of 2011. It would be awesome to be in all eight of those rounds. If we are, then we have a pretty good shot of defending our Full Throttle championship and I know everyone on our team is doing everything they can to put us in position to do that.
“It’s not about a second straight championship; we’re not even thinking about that now. It’s about the one in front of you. You’re trying to win the round in front of you and then the race in front of you. Those are attainable goals for our team, and we’re gonna try everything we can to reach those goals.
“With that being said, there are four or five other guys that have the same shot we do. I think the last two races will be a lot of fun. Being in a position to have an opportunity to win a championship is all I’ve ever asked to have….just a shot at it. We have a we’re gonna do everything we can to make the most of it for Sheik Khalid, Qatar and everyone on the Al-Anabi Racing team.”
Antron Brown appreciates having the lead with two races remaining on the schedule, and with these chances being so rare, he’s taking an assertive approach in his Matco Tools dragster.
He plans to maintain “attack mode” for this weekend as well as the final race of the season two weeks later in Pomona, Calif.
“We’ve been an aggressive team throughout the season,” explained the 35-year-old New Jersey native. “We go after it every race, never letting up on ourselves or the competition. Obviously, this approach has served us well and we think it’s the way to the best results. Mark and Brian (Oswald and Corradi, co-crew chiefs) go after it on every round, both in qualifying and on race day.
“We’ve got the points lead, but we won’t go the rest of the way in a defensive mode. We’re going to play to win rather than play ‘not to lose.’”
Brown’s runnerup finish at the last race in Phoenix propelled him into the Countdown to the Championship lead.
“I’m not trying to think about championships right now, there’s too much racing left,” he said. “We were 45 points behind Spencer going into the Phoenix race and ended up 25 ahead of him and 20 ahead of Larry (who won the event); a lot can happen in one race.
“All I know is we are poised and ready to keep going. We’d like to repeat our spring finish here (he defeated Brandon Bernstein in the final round for his first of six wins in 2011) and just keep doing well through Pomona.”
The Top Fuel driver leading the points going into the Countdown, Del Worsham, has been relatively quiet with the exception of rewriting the National elapsed time record of 3.735. His six wins in the regular season can’t be forgotten and it’s his first time to have a real stake in the championship.
“We definitely haven’t had the results we’ve wanted so far in the Countdown, but with two races left, I feel pretty good about the Al-Anabi team’s chances,” Worsham said. “We only have to make up three rounds, and our teammate, Larry Dixon, is running great.
“I’ve been in this sport for 21 years, but I’ve never been in a championship battle like this. Even in 2004 when I finished second, I was never in the race for the championship. John Force’s lead was huge; I finished second, but I think I was 16 rounds behind Force so I wasn’t really a factor. If the Countdown format existed then, it would have been a lot closer, but I would still have lost.
“It’s exciting to be in my first real championship chase. It feels good to be in contention and have a team that can get it done. It’s gonna take a lot of hard work from everyone on the Al-Anabi team, but hopefully, we can get back to our winning ways from earlier this season and bring home a Full Throttle championship for Sheik Khalid and the people of Qatar.
“I’ve never won at Las Vegas; I don’t think I’ve ever even been to a final round there, but I’ve had a little success in qualifying. At the spring race earlier this year, I thought we were on the way to a final round, but we had a parts failure and our day ended earlier than we wanted. It seems like Alan (Dixon team manager Alan Johnson), Brian (crew chief Brian Husen) and Jason (Dixon crew chief Jason McCulloch) have a lot of wins everywhere we go, but I feel good knowing those guys have won a bunch of races at Las Vegas. That’s helps the confidence for everyone on our Al-Anabi team because these guys know what they’re doing; they’ve pulled it together from deeper holes than we’re in right now, and hopefully we’ll make a run at this thing.
“With just 71 points separating the top five with two races to go, there are too many good cars in Top Fuel for this Full Throttle championship battle not to go down to Pomona. We’ve all had our parts of the season when we’ve been hot, so the question is: who will get hot for these last two races and win the Full Throttle championship? I hope it’s one of the Al-Anabi teams; these last two races are gonna be fun.”
Rounding out the top five in the standings is seven-time Top Fuel Full Throttle champion Tony Schumacher, who holds fifth place in the standings and is 91 points out of the lead. Yet to win this season, Schumacher feels he is still very much in the mix when it comes to world title contention.
"Definitely," said the Chicago-area resident. "If we can fire off a victory bullet in Vegas while the guys above us have some issues, we'll be right there going into Pomona. Look at what Antron accomplished in Phoenix. He went from being 45 points behind to being 20 points ahead, which was a swing of 65 points.
"Like our Army Strong soldiers, we're not accepting defeat. We are going to keep fighting until the very end. It's safe to say there won't be anything left on the table for us once the curtain comes down on the season. That's just how we operate."
Schumacher, who is coming off a semifinal round loss at Firebird Raceway, refuses to accept playing the spoiler role for either of his DSR teammates.
"That's for sure," said the seven-time world champion. "We have an obligation to win races and world championships for the U.S. Army and our soldiers. So, that's what we will be striving for in the coming few weeks."
Interestingly enough, Schumacher is returning to the track where he last captured an event trophy.
"It was at the 2010 fall Las Vegas race when we last visited victory lane," he said. "Given how great a team we have, it's hard to believe it has been 21 straight races since our last win. Maybe, hitting The Strip will be the perfect 'get well' medicine for us."
Schumacher has had six runner-up finishes in 2011 with four of those being in consecutive races at Denver, Sonoma, Seattle, and Brainerd
LVMS and NHRA Teams Going Pink For National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will turn pink this weekend to promote breast cancer awareness. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and professional teams and fans will be doing their part during this weekend’s NHRA Big O Tires Nationals to raise funds for research and promote the cause.
The starting line area received a coat of bright pink paint for the event, which started Thursday morning.
“Breast cancer is a devastating disease that has affected so many women who are near and dear to us,” said LVMS president Chris Powell. “We are proud to do our part to help find a cure.”
At least three NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Top Fuel Dragster teams and two Pro Stock Motorcycle riders are promoting breast cancer awareness at this weekend’s race.
With National Breast Cancer Awareness Month ending on Monday, the Al-Anabi Racing Top Fuel dragsters driven by 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Top Fuel champion Dixon and his teammate Worsham will sport a special pink paint scheme and the familiar pink ribbon. The spill plates on both cars will be painted pink for this weekend’s race. The spill plate is the end cap for the front and rear wings. In addition, the Al-Anabi Racing autograph handout cards will be pink this weekend.
The disease hits close to home with the Al-Anabi team and manager Alan Johnson. His sister, Pam, was treated for breast cancer in 2007 and is currently fighting a recurrence of the disease.
“Breast cancer awareness is celebrated in October with hope for the survivors’ journey and commitment to a cure for the disease,” Pam Johnson said. “I can’t think of anything more bold and exciting, in the spirit of breast cancer awareness, than what we are all about to experience this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as the track operators, the racing community and race fans ‘go pink’ and blow the doors off of the month long awareness campaign!
“I want to personally thank Chris Powell and his outstanding staff at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for making a difference by bringing focus and attention to breast cancer while celebrating the awareness that will positively impact the lives of so many.”
Top Fuel Dragster driver Terry McMillen unveiled a pink breast cancer awareness car on Oct. 1 after participating in a dirt Modified race with NASCAR veteran Kenny Wallace to benefit cancer research in Lima, Ohio. His car’s body panels carried the names of breast cancer survivors, including that of Kari Neely, LVMS’s human resources manager and part-time drag strip clock operator. Neely has helped to raise more than $20,000 over the past four years for the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer charity.
The idea for placing breast cancer survivor names on McMillen’s car began in honor of 70-year-old Rosalee Noble, board member of Drag Racing Association of Women (DRAW). The list of names on the car grew to include family and friends who also are fighting the disease. McMillen’s team’s matching pink uniform shirts will be placed at auction to raise money for She4Life (Survive, Hope, Empowerment), a new charity that offers support for breast cancer patients and their families.
Shawn Gann and Justin Finley will ride bikes featuring pink graphics in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
All drivers and riders participating in the NHRA Big O Tires Nationals will be invited to affix a pink ribbon breast cancer awareness decal to their helmets and well as their cars and motorcycles.
Volunteers will sell pink ribbons to the fans, who are invited to write the names of a person they know is affected by breast cancer. The ribbons will be prominently displayed at the track and all proceeds will be donated to Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.