John Force raced to an emotional Funny Car victory Sunday at the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals and in the process cut series leader Matt Hagan's lead in half with one race remaining in the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season.
Tony Schumacher, Greg Anderson and LE Tonglet also won in their categories at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the next to last race in the NHRA Full Throttle Series Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Force, 61, powered to a 4.232sec run at 281.36 mph in his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang to take his fifth victory of the season and move into position to claim his 15th world championship title. Runner-up Hagan lost traction in his DieHard Dodge Charger in the final and finished in 6.925 at 110.96.
Hagan leads Force by 37 points as the tour heads to its final stop of the season, the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California, Nov. 11-14.
“I am holding my own with the young kids,” said 131-time winner Force. “It's all about energy. I have to pace myself. We outran [Hagan] tonight. It's how we live, right on the edge.”
Force, who has led the point standings for most of the season, is trying to regain his championship form after a near career-ending crash in 2007 and a winless season in 2009.
“I won for so many years that after a while you take it for granted,” Force said. “Then you are laying in a hospital bed and the doctors are saying you may not walk again. I am lucky, I got a second chance. The last two years I stunk, but I stayed with it and lived it and my family stayed with it and now I'm back. I want to do this. I really love these racecars.”
Schumacher moved into second place in the Top Fuel standings with a dominant victory and in the process cut Larry Dixon's series lead to 85 points. Schumacher won from the No. 1 qualifying position and defeated first-time finalist Dom Lagana in the final round. U.S. Army dragster driver Schumacher covered the distance in 3.845 at 316.60 in the final round, to hold off the upset-minded Lagana in the Big-O Tires dragster, who beat Dixon in the second round and Antron Brown in the semis.
“It was fun to drive and great to be part of this win,” said seven-time world champ Schumacher, who has won the last six titles in a row. “We tested a couple of times this year and we've been working on some things. We had an excellent combination [this weekend].”
Schumacher, who has pulled off two come-from-behind miracle finishes to win championships at the Pomona finale in recent seasons, says just to be in position to do it for a third time is gratifying.
“I am looking forward to Pomona,” Schumacher said. “It is kind of out of my hands. We have to go out and set the national record and win the race. [Dixon] has to lose early. That's what has to happen for us to win it. But hey, we are in it. We haven't been written off. We are a long way off, but we have a shot. This kind of thing is our specialty.”
Veteran driver Cory McClenathan, who entered the race in second place and trailed Dixon by 89, saw his hopes for a long sought after first championship slip away when he was upset in the opening round by Australian Mark Mariani, who earned a round win in his first-ever NHRA start. The FRAM dragster driver dropped to third in the standings and now trails Dixon by a nearly insurmountable 106 points.
Anderson increased his Pro Stock series lead to 115 points over defending champ Mike Edwards by beating KB Racing teammate Jason Line in the final round. Anderson sped to a 6.654 at 207.43 in his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP to finish just in front of Line, who posted a 6.656 at 207.46 in his Summit GXP.
“This is the best day I've ever had at a racetrack,” said Anderson of his fifth victory of the season and 65th of his career, which he dedicated to his Las Vegas-based team owner Ken Black, who continues the recovery process from some serious health issues this season. “I'm just a lucky man today, like it was fate. I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight and I know this is going to help Ken Black. What a comeback. After Indy we were down more than 100 points. The boys dug down and got the car close. It's been a tough year. If we can close it out at Pomona this will be one that I will never forget and always cherish.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, rookie Tonglet claimed his fifth victory of the season and cut series leader Andrew Hines' lead to 34 points. Tonglet took the win over Matt Smith in the final round by powering his NitroFish Gear Suzuki to a run of 6.951 at 188.86. Smith finished in 6.983 at 189.07 on his Al-Anabi Racing Buell.
Tonglet, who beat Bailey Whitaker, defending world champ Hector Arana and Jim Underdahl in earlier rounds, has advanced to every final round in the Countdown playoffs, winning four times.
“I don't want to wake up,” said Tonglet, who also is a candidate in the $20,000 Auto Club Road to the Future Award, which recognizes NHRA's top rookie driver for the season. “It's been an awesome year after Brainerd. We've really been on a roll since Indy. We have to keep this momentum going and see what happens.”
Three-time world champ Hines, who had advanced to the last seven final rounds on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson, saw his streak snapped in a semifinal loss to Smith.
“That Harley team is going to be tough to beat,” Tonglet said. “Andrew is a great rider and has been in this position before. We have to keep our head. The pressure is there and I try not to think about it. We came out here and thankfully we got the round wins and was able to step up on the tree. After Matt beat Andrew I told him I wanted to kiss him, but I wasn't going to do it.”