Not since Gary Scelzi pulled off an amazing Top Fuel run in 1997 has a rookie driver won both the NHRA Full Throttle championship title and the Auto Club Road to the Future Award. Pro Stock Motorcycle phenom LE Tonglet, winner of the first two playoff races in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship, has emerged with an opportunity to join Scelzi in the NHRA record book as a rookie world champ.
In the first two playoff events, at Indianapolis and last weekend at Charlotte, N.C., Tonglet rode his NitroFish Suzuki to victory over three-time world champ Andrew Hines. Tonglet, who started the Countdown in the seventh position, will try to keep his incredible Cinderella run going at the O'Reilly Super Start Batteries Fall Nationals next weekend at the all-concrete Texas Motorplex, the sport's first supertrack.
Tonglet, who is a leading candidate for the NHRA's top rookie award along with Pro Stock's Shane Gray and Funny Car's Jeff Diehl, will find out his fate regarding that $20,000 prize at the season-ending awards ceremony following the nationwide media vote. He can control his own destiny, however, with his pursuit of the world championship title, as he now sits in second place and trails Hines and his Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson team by 66 points.
"We're not even thinking about the Rookie of the Year anymore," Tonglet said. "We've got a bigger thing, the championship, on our minds. Hopefully, we just keep going rounds and we can run this good in Dallas."
Tonglet is in position to chase the championship and better his odds at earning the Auto Club Road to the Future Award thanks to fellow racer/team owner Kenny Koretsky, who partnered with Tonglet following his Indy win with a NitroFish sponsorship. Prior to that, Tonglet ended the regular season with a fizzle and admitted he didn't have the resources to make a run at the championship.
Now, he's making a major buzz on the track. If he's successful at earning the Full Throttle crown, the 20-year-old rider would become the youngest champion in history, taking that title away from Hines, who first won the crown in 2004 at age 21.
"With Nitro Fish behind us, we have a good shot," Tonglet said. "I'm still trying to believe that this is all happening. I owe it all to Kenny. Without him, we wouldn't be here."
In Top Fuel, Larry Dixon claimed his second straight playoff win and his 11th victory of the season in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster, increasing his series lead to 85 over veteran Cory McClenathan. Seven-time world champ Schumacher sits 148 back in his U.S. Army dragster. McClenathan and Schumacher will need to make a move at Dallas if they're to catch the runaway Dixon, who is chasing his third world championship title.
Jack Beckman posted a runner-up finish at zMAX Dragway in his Valvoline/Mail Terminal Services Dodge Charger and now trails 14-time world champ John Force by four points in the Funny Car world championship hunt. Matt Hagan and Ashley Force Hood are third and fourth, respectively. Charlotte winner Cruz Pedregon, a two-time world champ, has his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry running strong and may play a leading role in the championship outcome even though he is not Countdown eligible.
In Pro Stock, Anderson moved to second place in the standings with a convincing Charlotte victory in his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP over Greg Stanfield, who with Koretsky's NitroFish sponsorship, has also moved into the championship hunt after starting the playoffs in the eighth position. Series leader Mike Edwards lost in the first round at Charlotte to Jeg Coughlin. Both of those drivers remain in the championship mix. Edwards leads Anderson by 27, while Stanfield is 34 back and Coughlin is fourth and trails by 80.