Dixon Gets Back To The Winner?s Circle; Scelzi, Coughlin, Hines Also Nab Wins

Larry Dixon tied legend Kenny Bernstein with his 39th career Top Fuel win Sunday, beating points leader “Hot Rod” Fuller with a 4.579 at 322.11 mph to capture the crown at the 10th annual Torco Race Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals. Dixon and family shared a raucous winner’s circle with fellow former POWERade champions Gary Scelzi, who won Funny Car, and Jeg Coughlin jr., who scored in Pro Stock. Reigning pro Stock Motorcycle champ Andrew Hines also joined in the celebration.

It had been 37 races since Dixon last won a Wally, dating back to September of 2005 in Indianapolis, so his unbridled joy was tempered with a strong dose of relief. Scelzi also seemed relieved to win once again as he made a little history of his own by becoming just the fourth racer in history to ring up double-digit wins in both nitro categories. Like Dixon, Coughlin last won in 2005, but after missing most of ’06, his time between victories spanned just 11 races. Hines ninth career win came at the expense of points leader Matt Smith.

Dixon’s 39th win in his 275th race was the first for crew chief Donnie Bender, who took over crew chief duties at the start of 2006. It was also the first for new sponsor SkyTel, who joined Don “the Snake” Prudhomme Racing in December.

Fuller got a great jump in the final, leaving Dixon with a .029-second reaction time to Dixon’s .063-second launch, but that was the last thing to go right for Fuller as his Fabick Caterpillar dragster lost traction almost immediately, allowing Dixon to streak away for the win.

“This was Donnie’s first win and I’m really glad to be a part of it,” Dixon said. “We didn’t have the greatest car when Dick-o (former tuner Dick LaHaie) left and Donnie got that promotion from offensive coordinator to head coach. I think we all expected it to take a little time for him to find a groove. I’m glad ?Snake? stayed with us and kept the faith.

“It’s awesome to give SkyTel a win. We were sitting there in December without a sponsor and we were all wondering what the future held when SkyTel came in there and took a shot with us. I hope they really enjoy this win.”

Fuller returns to the POWERade points lead for the third time this year. It was fairly easy to regain the lead here after former No. 1 racer Brandon Bernstein failed to qualify for this event. Fuller now leads Bernstein by 31 points.

Scelzi had a familiar opponent in the Funny Car final, facing teammate Ron Capps, who had beaten him in two out of three previous final-round tilts. Capps even entered the final as a favorite and enjoyed lane choice, but Scelzi’s Mopar/Oakley Charger was up to the task and he outraced Capps’ Brut Test Drive Dodge Charger down the quarter-mile, winning with a 4.838 at 321.42 mph to Capps’ 4.850 at 318.39 mph.

This was Scelzi’s 35th career win and 10th in Funny Car, which placed him next to Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein, and Mike Dunn as the only drivers with double-digit wins in both nitro categories.

“We hulked up on that one and just got after it,” Scelzi said. “Zippy [crew chief Mike Neff] told me he was going for it and I said, ‘Don’t throw it away,’ but as usual he knew exactly what to do and the car went right down the middle. It really accelerated from halftrack on and I knew we needed that because you can always count on Capps to have a great light. He’s awesome.

“God, I love this place. The track’s been great to me and it’s exciting to win one for papa Don [Schumacher, team owner] in his hometown. I know that means a lot to him. We started the year with a win and then we’ve been flat and you start to think you might be done. This has definitely given us life again.”

Both Capps and Scelzi got quicker as the day went along. Capps posted a 4.862, a 4.842, and a 4.823 in reaching his 50th career final, while Scelzi carded slightly slower times of 4.892, 4.886, and 4.881 in racing to his 56th career final.

Helped by second-place points earner Robert Hight’s first career DNQ, Capps extended his lead in the POWERade points to 140 points, a nice rebound from his DNQ last weekend in Topeka, Kan.

Entering the Pro Stock final as a slight underdog, Coughlin knew he’d need a great reaction time to upset reigning series champion Line and he delivered with a near-perfect .002-second launch, his best light of the day. The tactic worked as he took the win light on a holeshot, crossing in 6.658 seconds at 207.37 mph to Line’s 6.656 at 208.07 mph.

“How about that!” Coughlin shouted as he climbed from his Chevrolet Cobalt. “This is the ultimate feeling. I took almost a year off and raced Sportsman stuff and was lucky enough to win some big races but nothing compares to winning a Pro Stock race. I’m proud of my team and Victor Cagnazzi [team owner]. He finally has the team he’s dreamed of and I’m happy to be a part of it.

“My crew chief, Roy Simmons, and the guys gave me the best car I’ve ever had in a single race weekend. We won the Full Throttle award for having the most consistent car in qualifying and I had a great ride under me again today. It’s huge for a driver to know he has the car to win and we had it all weekend.

This was Coughlin’s 48th NHRA national event win and his 35th in Pro Stock. His win moved him around his Victor Cagnazzi Racing teammate Dave Connolly into second place in the rankings and now finds himself 179 behind leader Greg Anderson, who lost in the first round to former NBA star Tom Hammonds.

After struggling in the first four races of the year, Hines was overjoyed to break-through for his first win of the ’07 season, especially with all the executives from Harley-Davidson in attendance.

Hines could clearly see final-round opponent Smith during the race as the Torco Buell rider shot off the line with a .008-second light to Hines’ .024-second start, but his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod made a move at halftrack and Hines was able to pass Smith and win with a 6.959 at 192.11 mph to Smith’s 7.014 at 187.18 mph.

“My team pulled together 100 percent over the past month, did a bunch of testing, and totally turned this year around for us,” Hines said. “This was a huge win to let us know that all the hard work we’ve done has paid off. Plus, Jim McCaslin, the president of Harley-Davidson, and a bunch of other people were down from Milwaukee so it was cool to give them a big win.

“Our goal at the start of the season was to get into the top eight so we’d be in the Countdown to the Championship field. Now we’re fourth, I think, so we’re solidly in there. The V-Rod is running hard right now and I hope we can stay in this mode for the rest of the year.”

Smith, who has now been in four finals in five races, extended his lead in the POWERade points to 80 over Angelle Sampey, who is now in second place. Hines jumped from a tie for ninth to fourth place with his ninth career win.

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