NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship titles will be on the line in all four classes as the 23-race tour nears its endpoint for the 2010 season at the 10th annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals.
For several drivers, the season has reached critical mass and they will need to respond appropriately at the penultimate race at the spectacular Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Oct. 28-31, if they are to have any chance of claiming world championship glory.
Close points battles exist in all of the categories, with plenty of drama to go around. In Funny Car, Virginia cattle rancher Matt Hagan holds a 64-point lead over 14-time world champion John Force. Hagan powered his DieHard Dodge Charger to a strong performance two weeks ago in Pennsylvania and moved ahead of the 61-year-old Force, who has led the series for most of the season in an emotional comeback effort.
Hagan says his team will need to be focused to hang on to the title with two races to go in the season.
“We can't make any mistakes,” Hagan said. “We have to go out there, do some good, solid racing, and go some rounds. I don't feel like we have to set the world on fire but we need to go some rounds and keep kind of matching John round for round, and it will hopefully fall the way we want it to. This is drag racing; you never know how it's going to end up.”
Force, on the other hand, needs to make something happen if he's to track down his young challenger. He's planning to drop 10lbs off his body and crew chief Mike Neff is planning to trim the weight on their Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang any way possible, even by removing paint and logos.
Force, who has been in this position many times in the past, is looking forward to the challenge.
“This kid's big enough to run fullback for the Green Bay Packers,” Force said of Hagan. “How in the hell is he carrying all that body weight? I can't seem to figure it out. So we are making changes and I just hope we don't go the wrong direction.”
Hagan says he and crew chief Tommy DeLago plan to continue their assault on the NHRA record book, if conditions allow. At Maple Grove Raceway in Reading the duo set the national elapsed time record for Funny Car at 4.011sec. A runner-up finish to Cruz Pedregon still put him more than three rounds in front of Force – who lost in the first round.
Force's comeback has received major headlines all season long, and the significance of what Hagan could accomplish by beating him is not lost on the 27-year-old driver.
Force has said all along that this season was all about proving he could still get the job done and finally put to rest the memories from his scary 2007 crash at the Texas Motorplex that nearly ended his driving career and the even scarier on-track performance he produced in 2009 that left him way out of championship contention.
“If Hagan takes me out, I ain't going to like it, but I'm going to shake his hand and he'll do the same to me, because it's what we do,” Force said. “It's good to have a job in this economy.”
Hagan teammate Jack Beckman, who drives the Valvoline/Mail Terminal Services Dodge Charger, remains in the championship hunt, as he trails the leader by 93 points. Force's daughter and teammate, Ashley Force Hood, who drives the Castrol GTX Mustang sits fourth in the standings and still has an outside shot at winning the title. She trails Hagan by 138 points.
In Top Fuel, Larry Dixon (RIGHT) has been impressive in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster all season by racing to 12 victories in 12 final rounds. Hot on his heels is FRAM dragster driver Cory McClenathan, who is searching for his first world championship crown after finishing second four times during his distinguished career.
Dixon, who won world championship crowns in 2002 and 2003 while driving for NHRA legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, is certainly ready to finish off the latest chapter of his career.
“I just try to keep my head down and just worry about the run in front of me,” Dixon said. “It's great to read the stories that everybody is doing, but at the same time, I need to just pay attention to what we are doing with our car and our team and just try and make every run as great a run as we can and hope that's enough. Keep it simple.”
McClenathan is optimistic that his experience and sheer determination will finally pay off in the form of an NHRA Full Throttle Series championship.
“You know, 89 points is still not insurmountable,” McClenathan said. “It's still a doable thing for me as far as I'm concerned. If Al‑Anabi slips up at all, or if Larry has a bad day with his car, then we are going to be right there when it goes into Pomona. We are going to go in business as usual: go out, get qualified, go for it Friday night, and then let everything kind of speak for itself on Sunday. Larry and I have had talks a lot in the past, we always like to leave it up to the cars, let the cars speak for themselves and that's what we are planning on doing.”
Seven-time Top Fuel world champ Tony Schumacher, who has won the last six crowns in a row, also remains in title contention. He trails Dixon by 154 points in his U.S. Army dragster and would need yet another miracle comeback in order to get the job done this season.
Greg Anderson is holding onto a 36-point lead in Pro Stock over defending world champion Mike Edwards. Anderson got hot in the playoffs and raced to back-to-back victories at Charlotte and Dallas and a runner-up finish in Reading to move into the series lead. The three-time world champ will certainly have his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP tuned to the win setting so he can post a victory for his Las Vegas-based team owner Ken Black, who has struggled with some health issues this year. Greg Stanfield and Allen Johnson also remain in title contention, as Stanfield sits 85 points back and Johnson trails by 137.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending event winner Hines has been tough during the second half of the season, advancing to seven consecutive final round appearances. The three-time world champ leads rookie LE Tonglet by 72 points. The two riders have met in the finals in all four playoff events with Tonglet holding a 3-1 edge on his NitroFish Gear Suzuki. However, Hines set a national record performance on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to bolster his lead with the 20-point bonus.