Keeping Pace

PLENTY OF DRAMA PROMISED AS FULL THROTTLE DRAG RACING SERIES

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)

In Funny Car, a female driver is trying to make history and become the first of her gender to win a world championship crown in the wildly unpredictable category which her father, John Force, has dominated for most of two decades. In order to do it, Ashley Force-Hood needs to stop five other men who are also in contention, including one multi-time champ, her former driving instructor, a teammate, last season’s series runner-up, and a driver who’s finished second in the championship standings three times.

Courtesy: NHRA Media Relations

LAS VEGAS – As the Countdown to 1, NHRA’s championship playoffs, comes to the season’s penultimate race in Las Vegas, each professional category in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series features its own dramatic storyline.

In Top Fuel, every championship contender is gunning to remove a category dominator from the throne he has held for the past five seasons.

In Funny Car, a female driver is trying to make history and become the first of her gender to win a world championship crown in the wildly unpredictable category which her father has dominated for most of two decades. In order to do it, she’ll need to stop five other men who are also in contention, including one multi-time champ, her former driving instructor, a teammate, last season’s series runner-up, and a driver who’s finished second in the championship standings three times.

In Pro Stock, a highly-spiritual and mild-mannered journeyman in the 200 mph category is having a dream season and is on the verge of winning his much sought after first series title. Only a three-time champ stands in his way.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, another popular veteran has emerged as the rider to beat in the competitive two-wheel category and is eight rounds away from making his lifetime dream come true. He will need to hold off the defending world champ to make it happen.

Those storylines and many more will unfold at the ninth annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals, Oct. 29-Nov. 1, at the spectacular Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race, which will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD, is the 23rd of 24 races in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series for 2009, and the fifth of six races in the Countdown to 1, NHRA’s championship playoffs.

 Tony Schumacher is in a familiar place as the series leader in Top Fuel with two races to go. The U.S. Army dragster driver has won the last five championship titles, and six overall, and appears poised to add another trophy to his collection. He has raced to five victories this season and holds a 47-point advantage over two-time champ Larry Dixon entering the final two races. Veteran driver Cory McClenathan (68 points back), regular season champ Antron Brown (81 back) and Virginia winner Brandon Bernstein (120 back) are all realistically in the championship mix.

“Legitimately, there's two or three, probably four cars that can still win the championship, and it’s going to come down to, you know, you’re still in charge of your own destiny,” said Dixon, also a five-time winner this season in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster. “If you go out there and you win out those two races, you’ve done as much as you can do and hope it’s enough and try and get the Full Throttle Championship.”

While Schumacher was the driver who won the championship the past five years, Dixon’s current teammates were the ones who provided Schumacher with the outstanding car.

“I’ve read and heard (Tony) say he gets pumped up when he races us and a lot of the guys on that team is his old team,” Dixon said.  “But for me, when I look over it’s still the Army car and he’s still got the No. 1 on it.  So I’m trying to do everything I can to help change that.”

Robert Hight has made an incredible leap in the playoffs, powering his Auto Club Ford Mustang from 10th to first in the Funny Car point standings with victories at Charlotte and Dallas. He holds a 13-point lead over Ashley Force Hood, his teammate, who is trying to become the first female in NHRA history to win a championship in the 7,000-horsepower category. Her father, John Force, has won 14 series championships since 1990.

Also in the mix are two-time champ and former Force teammate Tony Pedregon, three-time series runner-up Ron Capps, last season’s series runner-up Tim Wilkerson and former drag racing instructor Jack Beckman.

All six drivers are separated by 86 points. Bob Tasca III is also still hanging by a mathematical thread in his Motorcraft Quick Lane Shelby Mustang at 103 points back.

Force Hood knows the competition for the title is insane; arguably the most intense of any of the four pro categories. She’s just glad to be in position to be a part of it. 

“It’s the best spot that we could be in,” Force Hood said.  “At the beginning of the year when we have our big team meetings and we get ready to head off to the Winternationals, that’s always our goal. Obviously Robert and I are not the only ones, but we are one and two. So (the others) are going to have to catch up and go around us.  If we can just keep doing what we have been doing and not have anything go wrong, no mistakes, no mess‑ups; the tuners can get Vegas and Pomona figured out as far as the tune-up and how they want to set up the car, we will just better our chances of getting the championship.”

Mike Edwards can wrap up his first Pro Stock world championship at Las Vegas if he can go two rounds more than three-time champ Greg Anderson. Edwards, who earned a perfect 150-point race total at the last event in Virginia by producing a stunning national record elapsed time of 6.509 seconds, has had an incredible season behind the wheel of his A.R.Thttp://media.nhra.com/apcm/Young Life Pontiac GXP. He’s earned five race victories and 14 No. 1 qualifying positions to hold a 128-point advantage over Anderson entering the final two stops on the tour.

“I’m thinking (championship), but I don’t have it yet,” Edwards said. “It’s close, but you’ve still got to stay focused. You’ve still got to keep your goals ahead. Those two Summit cars are going to be burning the midnight oil to try and get back up there with me. I’m not going to count my chickens yet before they hatch. But I’m living my dream right now, and I’m real close to it.”

Like Edwards, Hector “The Hammer” Arana can make his lifelong Pro Stock Motorcycle dream a reality with strong performances on his Lucas Oil Buell at the final two races. He leads defending series champ Eddie Krawiec by 28 points. Much like Edwards, he is a veteran in his category who has always showed promise but never claimed the big prize. Also like Edwards, he is producing amazing performances on the track this season. At Memphis earlier this month he lowered the national elapsed time record to 6.851 seconds.

“I’m really pleased with the performance of the bike and this S&S motor,” said Arana, who has won five races this season, including the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and the first two playoff races in Charlotte and Dallas. “It's a helluva piece, and (Pro Stock driver) Larry Morgan’s guys are working hard to keep me winning rounds and races and the title, something we’ve always dreamed of. It’s amazing how everything has turned around for me to win five races this season; now I just need to win (two) more and I’ll be good.”

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions for the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals are scheduled for 12:30 and 3 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 30 and will continue at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 31. Final professional eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 1.

TELEVISION: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 11:30 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, Oct. 31. On Sunday, Nov. 1, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will feature NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 2:30 p.m. (ET), and three hours of eliminations coverage at 7:30 p.m. (ET).

 LUCAS OIL SERIES: The NHRA Las Vegas Nationals also will feature competition in seven categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series earn their racing stripes. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 29. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 30.

ON THE WEB: Get instant results, access to photos, video and audio clips and the latest news updates from every NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event on the Internet at www.nhra.com.




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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.








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