NHRA Title Fights Tight With Three To Go

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Larry Dixon won his fifth Top Fuel Wally of the 2009 season last August at Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania. [Harry Cella Photo]
Larry Dixon won his fifth Top Fuel Wally of the 2009 season last August at Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania. (Harry Cella Photo)
MOHNTON, Pa. — With three races to go in NHRA’s Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship, the regular season leaders remain at the top of the standings. But in each of the four categories, a bit of momentum seems to have been gained by a few drivers who started the playoffs back in the pack.

With less than a few rounds of racing separating first, second, third and in some cases fourth place in each category, expect the intensity level to be at an all-time high at this weekend’s Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Pennsylvania’s scenic Maple Grove Raceway near Reading.

In Top Fuel, a trio of rivals will decide the championship. Series leader Larry Dixon won for the first time at Maple Grove last year and hopes to defend his crown in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster. The two-time world champ has won 11 times this year and hasn’t lost in a final-round meeting. A rare second-round exit at Dallas two weeks ago opened the door for second-place Cory McClenathan and third-place Tony Schumacher, the seven time defending world champ, with McClenathan 69 points back and Schumacher trailing by 94.

In Funny Car, 14-time world titlist John Force has led the way all season in his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang, but Don Schumacher Racing teammates Matt Hagan and Jack Beckman have crashed the 61-year-old driver’s championship comeback party in recent weeks. Hagan trails by 25 markers and Beckman sits 45 points back. Force’s daughter, Ashley Force Hood, is also very much in contention, only 68 behind her father.

Back-to-back victories at Charlotte and Dallas have put three-time Pro Stock world champ Greg Anderson within range of reeling in series leader and defending world champ Mike Edwards. The driver of the Summit Racing Pontiac GXP trails Edwards by 16 points.

The Pro Stock Motorcycle championship battle has come down to two riders. Red-hot rookie L.E. Tonglet has won the first three races in the playoffs, beating series leader Andrew Hines in all three final rounds. The NitroFish Gear Suzuki rider trails three-time world champ Hines, who rides the Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson, by 44 points.

LAST YEAR: Larry Dixon trumped rookie Spencer Massey for his fifth Top Fuel triumph of the season and his first at the Pennsylvania strip. In Funny Car, Bob Tasca III earned his second Wally with a final-round defeat of final Ford driver Mike Neff. With a win over Johnny Gray, Jeg Coughlin captured his sixth Pro Stock victory of the season. In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec ran down Michael Phillips, picking up his fourth Wally of 2009.

TRACK RECORDS: Top Fuel: 3.816 seconds, Tony Schumacher, August 2008; 316.67 mph, Tony Schumacher, August 2008…Funny Car: 4.109 seconds, Cruz Pedregon, August 2008; 302.41 mph, Frank Hawley, August 2008…Pro Stock: 6.583 seconds, Greg Anderson, August 2007; 209.88 mph, Greg Anderson, August 2007…Pro Stock Motorcycle: 6.897 seconds, Angelle Sampey, August 2007; 194.77 mph, G.T. Tonglet, October 2001.