Dixon falters with first-round loss



The NHRA POWERade Top Fuel championship picture has suddenly taken on a new face and it has all happened in the span of two races.

Three weeks ago, Larry Dixon and his Miller Lite team headed by tuner Dick Lahaie was on its way to a record-smashing season with seven wins out of 10 final rounds in the year's first 12 races. Dixon was leading Kenny Bernstein by a whopping 259 points for the top spot in the Top Fuel standings and showed no signs of slackening his pace.

But then after a shocking failure to qualify for the Sears Craftsman Nationals in Madison, Ill., Dixon again hit a major snag when he lost to Paul Romine in the first round of the Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals in Denver on Sunday, only his third opening-round loss dating back to the Matco Tools Supernationals in Houston in October 2000.

Kenny Bernstein, who won the Madison race following Dixon's DNQ, again used the opportunity given him and advanced to the semifinals on Sunday where he lost to eventual race runner-up Cory McClenathan. Bernstein has now whittled Dixon's lead from 259 to 119 points with 10 races remaining.

"We definitely made things tough on ourselves," Dixon said after his astonishing 5.00/280-to-5.06/280 loss to Romine. "But we've always said there are no guarantees whenever you come to the starting line and Paul Romine got down the track better than we did. Dick Lahaie is still the best tuner in the business and all this loss means is that we've got to get back to where we were all through the first half of the season. Nobody is ready to panic and we're looking forward to Seattle."

With the Denver-Seattle-Sonoma western swing now under way, Dixon's slumping performances are even more greatly amplified by the demanding three-in-a-row schedule the tour has now entered. For Bernstein, his semifinal finish was disappointing since he missed the chance to pick up as many as another 40 points on Dixon had he won the race.

"We want to win every race," said the King of Speed, who was making his final appearance as a driver at Bandimere Speedway on his "Forever Red" retirement tour. "But we picked up another 40 points on Dixon and that's important. A month ago I was beginning to think we had hardly any chance of catching him, so to be about five rounds behind him instead of the 13 rounds we trailed by after Columbus gives this race a whole new look."

It is still a lopsided longshot for Bernstein to come all the way back and overtake Dixon in the points. No driver in Top Fuel has ever trailed by as many points as Bernstein did at the season's halfway mark and come back to win the title. But, with the series moving to Seattle next week, where Bernstein was runner-up last year, and then to Sonoma, where KB won in 2001, the direction and momentum of the battle for Top Fuel supremacy could be on the brink of a major shift.

There may be more surprises to come.........................Dixon 1186 & Bernstein 1067.
And both of these guyz rule! 325mph! and then some!
Top Bottom