E-town bracing for another SuperNationals invasion
Larry Dixon won his 39th Top Fuel event two weeks ago to tie Kenny Bernstein's all-time mark. No. 40 could come this weekend at Englishtown, where Dixon has won two of three, writes Bill Stephens.
Since 1970, it's a race that's been called the Summernationals and the SuperNationals. The first edition of this storied NHRA national event was staged at the legendary U.S. Route 30 Dragway in York, Pa., before moving to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., which is now its permanent home.
The event had been moved from the heat of the summer to the onset of spring and now has been shifted to the first weekend of the summer solstice. It has had differing title sponsors, a myriad of contrasting weather conditions to confront and the family-owned facility at which it is held continues to fend off neighborhood challenges that seek to suspend one of drag racing's oldest and revered spectacles.
The NHRA's ProCare RX SuperNationals have come a long way. And making the Winner's Circle at Englishtown has always meant just a little bit more.
This weekend, the event's 38th chapter will be written at Raceway Park as the 2007 POWERade schedule hits E-town for the first time under the new Countdown to the Championship format. All four professional classes are on the SuperNationals lineup and here's a quick preview of what to look for:
It was two weeks ago in Joliet, Ill., that Larry Dixon broke through for a national event win after going nearly two years without one. It's impossible to lose sight of the fact that Dixon has won two of the past three races at E-town and won there as a rookie in 1995. If good vibrations are for real, you can't overlook Dixon as a threat on Sunday.
Brandon Bernstein's shocking DNQ in Joliet short-circuited what had been a strong spring for the former points leader. Defending event champion Hot Rod Fuller is back on top after his runner-up finish at Joliet and sophomore sensation J.R. Todd is third in the standings. At present, the Top Fuel power structure is being dominated by those four races.
Morgan Lucas will be a focal point after releasing tuner Rahn Tobler and bringing Richard Hogan over from Melanie Troxel's team. Troxel will be tuned by Lance Larsen and John Stewart as of this weekend and the changes are designed to revitalize both of the Evan Knoll-sponsored operations.
Meanwhile, David Grubnic is working at putting some distance between himself and Cory McClenathan and Whit Bazemore. Grubnic holds the No. 8 spot in the Countdown standings with Cory Mac and Bazemore knocking on the door.
With eight races remaining before the Elite Eight move on to the Countdown, the top of the Funny Car standings remains in a state of dormancy. Ron Capps enjoys a 140-point advantage over Robert Hight, which equates to seven rounds of racing. There may be more drama at the opposite end of the top eight, where Ashley Force, Del Worsham (the defending event champion), Jack Beckman, and Cruz Pedregon are within fighting distance for the eighth and final spot. Worsham currently owns that coveted hunk of real estate but his hot-and-cold 2007 may make him vulnerable from either direction.
And the real possibility of 14-time champion and four-time E-town winner John Force missing the Countdown becomes more and more conceivable as his woeful '07 track record refuses to reverse itself.
Greg Anderson continues to lead the Pro Stock points as he has since the season began. His teammate, reigning POWERade champion Jason Line (the defending event champion), has dropped to fourth in the standings while the only group that has shown any measurable success against Team Summit this year -- Cagnazzi Racing with Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Dave Connolly doing the honors -- is determined to put a stop to any Anderson-Line invincibility.
Coughlin beat Line on a holeshot in the Joliet final, and Connolly lost to Anderson one race previously in the Topeka, Kan., final. This is a genuine rivalry, with both teams knowing how important it is to establish their legitimacy before the Countdown begins. There are other formidable racers in Pro Stock at present, but on any given day, the Summit-Cagnazzi contretemps are generating the most heat.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
Five races into the PSM season, three-time champion Andrew Hines finally scored his first win of the year two weeks ago in Joliet. Matt Smith was his final-round victim, but Smith is still on top in the standings. Angelle Sampey and Karen Stiffer remain within reasonable distance from the points lead, but the key to success this year is making the Countdown, and right now, only 47 points separate the No. 6 rider, Chris Rivas, and the No. 10 rider, Steve Johnson. At that end of the spectrum, round wins are crucial.
What has happened to Antron Brown? 2007 has been a rough ride for the popular veteran and as he returns to Englishtown as the defending event champion, he's looking to pick up the pace that has condemned him to only two round wins so far this season.
Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com