Dixon, Force Hood, Stanfield, Tonglet grab Indy gold
Thomasville, NC (7th September) – Xceldyne Valvetrain “Power Houses” Larry Dixon and Ashley Force Hood returned to the winner’s circle and were joined by first-time winners Greg Stanfield and LE Tonglet as the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil roared to its traditional Labor Day conclusion at O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis.
Tonglet joined a short list of rookies to win the U.S. Nationals—a hall of fame group that includes Dixon, Gary Beck, and Bob Glidden—while the win for Top Fuel superstar Dixon was his fourth at the event and his first since 2005 and Force Hood scored a repeat victory in Funny Car. For Dixon, the win meant an increase in the points lead in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs that began at this event and will continue for the next five events culminating with the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals later this year in California. The other winners used the event as a chance to gain ground on the incoming leaders and stake their claims for a title.
Dixon, who has had to accede the Indy spotlight to rival Tony Schumacher the last half of the last decade, jumped back into the solo spotlight with a dazzling run that included the No. 1 qualifying spot – the 46th of his career – and his 58th career win, capped with a 3.83, 319.60 to 3.87, 319.82 victory over Cory McClenathan. Dixon has now won all six of the races in which he was the No. 1 qualifier making him a perfect 24-0 in eliminations when the Al-Anabi dragster sits on the pole.
“I was able to appreciate what Tony has been able to do and the teams he was able to do it with,” said Dixon. “There’s no jealousy or anything like that. It’s more like, ‘I had to race him for the Indy trophy and I couldn’t get it done.’ There’s no hating on him or his team; we just weren’t good enough to beat him. It just makes you try that much harder when you get another shot at it.
“This means so much for me personally, from my dad racing here and all of the years with ‘Snake’ and how much it meant to him and now racing for Sheikh Khalid and especially the Johnson family for all they sacrificed at this event. And For Jason [McCulloch] to win his first Indy as a crew chief? I’m jacked up for him.”
Dixon, who has advanced to at least the semifinals in 14 of the 18 events so far this season, reached the final round, his 10th of the season, with victories over Indianapolis neighbor Bruce Litton, former Indy Alcohol dragster champ Steve Torrence, and Shawn Langdon with a trio of low 3.8-second performances, highlighted by a 3.81 in round one. By reaching the final, the 102nd of his career, Dixon also broke his tie with Schumacher as the class’ most prolific finalist.
McClenathan, who was the early qualifying leader this year but ultimately settled into the No. 2 spot behind Dixon, erased Terry McMillen, T.J. Zizzo, and Schumacher en route to the final round, the 64th of his career and his fourth at Indy. His semifinal conquest of Schumacher halted the world champ’s 18-round winning streak at Indy that encompassed four straight Big Go victories and denied Schumacher the chance to win his ninth Indy crown and break his class-leading tie with Top Fuel icon Don Garlits.
The John Force Racing team was assured its 10th Indy triumph when the final round boiled down to patriarch John Force and daughter Force Hood. Force, already a four-time winner (1993, 1996, 1998, 2002) squared off with Force Hood, who made history last year as Indy’s first female Funny Car winner but who also had scored her first ever win in competition at Indy in Alcohol dragster in 2004. The final was over early and decided in Force Hood’s favor when her dad’s Mustang faltered just off the line. Force maintained his incoming points lead and Force Hood moved from eighth to fourth with her fourth career Funny Car crown.
“This has just been an amazing day,” she said. “This may mean more than last year because we struggled so much this season. Last year we were on a roll – we had gone to some finals and won some races and were up high in the points—but this year it’s been the other end of the spectrum, but our team has stayed positive and we just said we’d use the start of the playoffs to turn it all around and forget the past.
“Maybe people don’t believe this, but the pressure really is off when you run a teammate when you run them later in the day, in a final round. When you start racing with multiple teams, that’s the best, ideal end of your day: Your two teams racing each other. Robert and I were able to do it last year here, and Dad and I this year. We were going up there and having fun.”
Force Hood, who beat teammate Robert Hight to take the crown last year, defeated Del Worsham, Paul Lee, and Jack Beckman to reach the final round, the 16th of her Funny Car career, running a best of 4.059 in round one against Worsham.
Force hasn’t won the Labor Day event since 2002 and had even failed to qualify at the event in 2007 and 2008. Force was appearing in his sixth Indy final and the 210th money round of his amazing career. The incoming points leader only built on that lead Monday after second-place Hight lost in round one and Force mowed past Brainerd champ Bob Bode – with a 4.09, his best run of the day—Cruz Pedregon, and, in a dramatic top-end semifinal, low qualifier Matt Hagan.
The wild, upset-filled nature of this year’s U.S. Nationals definitely spilled over to Pro Stock where Stanfield upset low qualifier Mike Edwards on a final-round holeshot, 6.665 to 6.627, thanks to a .020 to .084 holeshot. The victory is Stanfield’s fourth in the class and moved Stanfield to third place in points, 82 points behind Edwards.
“This is just a huge win for me, especially after coming so close here last year [in a.001-second loss to Jeg Coughlin in the final],” said Stanfield. “And it was really exciting for our Nitro Fish Gear team owner, Kenny Koretsky, who was the Pro Stock runner-up at the 2004 Indy [which was the 50th anniversary of the event].
“We came here with our first complete DRCE-3 engine, which makes more power than our old combination, and we also got the suspension straightened out to make good use of that extra power. We were struggling a lot earlier in the year, and I was beginning to doubt if I could get the job done. But I had promised Kenny that I’d get him at least one Wally this season, and I’m going to give him the trophy right after this race. I hope that we can win a few more.”
Stanfield, a four-time Super Stock champion who was the runner-up here last year, drove the Nitro Fish Pontiac past an out-of-shape Allen Johnson in the semifinals with a 6.64 that earned him final-round lane choice. Prior to that, Stanfield had trailered Warren Johnson and Jason Line with a pair of 6.62s.
Edwards, the Indy winner in 1988, hadn’t been back to the final round since then until he drove his Penhall/Interstate/K&N Pontiac from the No. 1 spot past Justin Humphreys, Johnny Gray, and V. Gaines to reach his 49th career Pro Stock final. Edwards actually had to cede lane choice to Gaines in the semifinals, but advanced with a subpar 6.65 after Gaines fouled.
A first-time Indy winner was assured in Pro Stock Motorcycle as Andrew Hines, who was runner-up here in 2008 in his only Indy final, took on rookie Tonglet. Tonglet, who’s in the thick of the battle for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future award as the year’s top first-year racer, didn’t even know a week ago if he’d be competing at the event after wounding the team’s only engine, but thanks to help from his engine builders – ironically, the Vance & Hines team – he was able to make it, and made the most of it. He scored his second career win and first at Indy with a 6.86, 195.22 decision over Hines’ 6.96, 194.13.
“In Brainerd, when we broke that engine, our season was over,” he admitted. “We weren’t coming here but Vance & Hines and Fuel Pak stepped up and helped us out. Even so, I never expected to be sitting here telling you all how good I feel right now.
“We knew the Harley-Davidson would put down a big number and we knew we needed to step up. We have been taking it easy on this engine all weekend but we finally got my dad [Gary] to lean on it and we outran Eddie [Krawiec] in the semi’s. Dad said, ‘We’ve come this far. We’re in it to win it.’ We’re still taking it race by race but after this, I think it’s safe to say we’ll be in Charlotte.”
Tonglet, who is tuned by his older brother, GT —who used to ride a Vance & Hines Harley – qualified his Suzuki No. 2 behind Hines and raced his way past Joe DeSantis, Chip Ellis, and Hines’ teammate, Eddie Krawiec, to reach the final, his third of the season. Tonglet had a best run of 6.87 in round two, but his semifinal 6.90 just missed lane choice against Hines,
Hines, who has been on a hot streak all summer with the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley, carried the momentum of his win in Brainerd three weeks ago into Indy, dominating all five qualifying sessions and resetting the national record at 6.815 en route to his 37th career final. On Monday, the second-generation rider powered past Wesley Wells, Steve Johnson, and, in a rematch of their Brainerd final, a broken Jim Underdahl with a pair of 6.92s and then a 6.89. Despite the final-round loss, Hines has an 81-point lead thanks to his qualifying heroics.