Larry Dixon and Mike Edwards continued their winning ways in Chicago, Matt Hagan ended Robert Hight’s three-race Funny Car winning streak, and rookie sensation LE Tonglet broke through for his first Pro Stock Motorcycle win at the United Association Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Miller Welders. The winners emerged following a long and exhausting day at Route 66 Raceway just outside Chicago, which included multiple rain delays.
In much the same way that qualifying was interrupted, Sunday’s final eliminations were put on hold for nearly five hours after the first two rounds were completed in the NHRA Full Throttle classes, and the remaining teams not only had to wait out the storm but also to adjust for radically different track and atmospheric conditions throughout the day.
For the fans who braved the elements, the wait was well worth it as Dixon posted two of the best runs of the year and padded his Top Fuel points lead after driving the Al-Anabi dragster to his fifth win in 10 events this season. After posting a 3.78 in his semifinal win over Doug Kalitta, Dixon returned to stop archrival Tony Schumacher, 3.77 to 3.82.
“Obviously, this is big,” said Dixon. “Anytime you win, it is huge. The last couple of times we ran in the final, he has gotten the best of us. It was a long day, at the same time, not as long as Friday, and it was definitely worth the wait. This track is the gold standard when sun is off of it. It is awesome. And a final round under the lights is so cool. This is what I grew up on. My dad raced a bunch of times at Orange County and Lions at night. Our sport is so cool at night. I wish we raced through the summer on Saturday nights.”
With the victory, Dixon, who also stopped Tim Cullinan and Antron Brown, passed NHRA legend Joe Amato on the all-time win list by claiming his 53rd Top Fuel title and is second only to Schumacher’s 64.
“As for Joe Amato, I’m not worthy; that’s all I can say,” said Dixon. “He has so many wins and so many championships. To pass guys like ‘Snake’ [Don Prudhomme] and [Don] Garlits, these are all people I looked up to as a kid. For a lot of years, Joe Amato was the guy. Like I said, I’m not worthy.”
Hagan stopped Hight’s Funny Car winning streak at 15 rounds in convincing fashion. In his semifinal win against Ashley Force Hood, he posted a new national record of 4.022, which he backed up with a 4.035 in the final that bettered Hight’s 4.069. Hagan also drove his DieHard Dodge to wins over Tony Pedregon and Jeff Arend.
“This was [crew chiefs'] Tommy DeLago and John Medlen’s race,” said Hagan. “In the first race we won in Houston, I had to pedal the car, but not here. This weekend, I had a great race car. We tested some stuff recently, but they put what they know back in the race car this weekend. I told Tommy, ‘That’s the race car I’m used to.’ It’s great to have that confidence and great to set the record and win the race. DieHard is based here in Chicago, and [team owner] Don Schumacher lives here. How much better can it get?
“[The rain] was tough. In one round, they started us up and shut us off. Our guys had to go get fuel, and we had to try to not get out of rhythm. We had to keep our composure when things go wrong. I’m real excited about this year. Hopefully, we’ll be in the winner’s circle a few more times.”
Edwards continued his relentless assault on the Pro Stock class with his sixth win in 10 races. He qualified No. 1 and made three straight 6.60 runs in eliminations, but surprisingly, he did not have lane choice for the final. He and Jason Line ran identical 6.601 elapsed times in the semi's, and Line, in his 46th final, had recorded a faster speed, 208.46 to 207.94. Lane choice did not play a role in the outcome of the contest, however, as Edwards and Line locked horns in one of the best races of the day, regardless of class. After leaving together with nearly perfect reaction times, Edwards crossed the finish line first by four-thousandths, 6.594 to 6.599.
“That’s what Pro Stock is all about,” said Edwards, who trailed off the starting line .007 to .006. “The first thing Jason said to me was, ‘Man, you were late.’ What a great way to finish the day. We weren’t at our best today, but we managed to pull off another win. It just feels great. To think that I’m having a better year than last is just incredible. I can’t believe what is taking place. It is all very humbling to me.”
Edwards' six wins already have surpassed his 2009 total of five. He also extended his points lead over second-place Allen Johnson in the Full Throttle standings.
The evening’s biggest celebration was reserved for 20-year-old Tonglet, who joined his brother, GT, as an NHRA national event champion when he downed Steve Johnson in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final. Tonglet, who has been to the final round at two of the last three NHRA Full Throttle Series events, established himself as a serious threat for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award with his defeat of Johnson, 6.93 to 6.96. Tonglet, whose father and crew chief, Gary, is also a former Pro Stock Motorcycle finalist, also topped Wes Wells, David Hope, and Angie Smith.
“My emotions are so high right now,” said Tonglet. “I’ve been waiting for this day all my life. GT won a few times, but to have one of my own is awesome. We’re on a tight budget, and this might get us through New Jersey and maybe even Norwalk.
“I got to the final in St. Louis and cut a good light, and Michael Phillips motored around us. My brother, GT, coached me to stay calm for this final. I cut a .011 light and drove around Steve. To do that was just awesome.”
Frank Manzo backed up his victory in Saturday’s JEGS Allstars with another Top Alcohol Funny Car win Sunday. He remains unbeaten since debuting his Al-Anabi colors this season, winning 17 consecutive rounds to begin the 2010 season. Manzo made one of the quickest runs of his career, 5.45, after Mickey Ferro fouled.
Other Lucas Oil champions were Monroe Guest (Top Alcohol Dragster), James Caro (Comp), Gary Emmons (Super Stock), Peter Biondo (Stock), Don Higgins (Super Comp), Steve Furr (Super Gas), and Wayne Christopher, who won the Super Street title on a bye run after Don Carter was unable to stage his car for his semifinal bye.
Saturday: Dixon, Hight, Edwards, Treble maintain top Chicago spots
Friday: Dixon, Hight, Edwards and Treble lead after long day in Chicago