Dixon on hot streak, Johnson wins 88th

By Jeff Birchfield

STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   Larry Dixon continued a remarkable early season run in the Top Fuel class at the Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway winning his fourth race out of six events held this season on the NHRA Powerade tour.
   Before the Pro Stock eliminations got started only one driver, Warren Johnson, was seen working hands-on with his race car. At the end of the day, only Johnson had a winner's trophy in hand.
   Dixon, a 35 year-old driving for the legendary Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, won the Top Fuel final round over Darrell Russell to score a 20th career win and improve to 16-2 in elimination rounds this season.
   "Our car was just flying," said the pilot of the Miller Lite Dragster. "I just had to get in it and drive. I'm so glad we won here. Rusty Wallace, I've been to some races when he won over at the speedway and been in the winner circle shots. I talked to him last night and he told me to, 'Put it on them.'"
   "I'm thrilled to death. We broke an input shaft at the last race to get put out in the first round, but we came here to get up on the horse and ride. We qualified great and ran good all day. I don't know if anyone realizes how tough it is to make that many runs during the course of the six events with qualifying and racing and not have anything dumb happen."
   To get to the final round, Dixon had to dispose of Roger Dean in the first round, Melanie Troxel in the quarterfinals and Cory McClenathan in the semis.
   For car owner Prudhomme, it was his 82nd career win, 49 as a driver and 33 as a team owner. His Funny Car team driven by Ron Capps won that division in the MAC Tools Thunder Valley Nationals last year.
   This also marked the final stop at Bristol for Kenny Bernstein as a driver. The defending Top Fuel champ was knocked out in the second round by David Grubnic. Defending event winner Doug Kalitta bowed out in the same round, losing to Russell.
   "It's too bad," said Kalitta, driving for the event sponsor. "We had a great opportunity to go to the end and came up a little short. We just have to recover and go to the next race."
   With the win, Dixon now leads the NHRA Powerade point standings 604-478 over second place Bernstein.
   Johnson furthered his record as Pro Stock's all-time winningest driver pedaling his GM Goodwrench Pontiac to a final round win over Ron Krisher in a race which they ran near identical speeds, 198.41 mph for Johnson to 198.15 for Krisher.
   Johnson, nicknamed 'The Professor', became the sixth different Pro Stock winner in six races this season.
   "We're not the fastest car, but, round-for-round, we're hanging in there," said Johnson, the defending and six-time NHRA Pro Stock champion. "We got pretty aggressive in the final round and it paid off. I guess you call six different winners, parity.
   "We would like to break out and win three or four of these things, but you look at it up close and the competition is out there. Everybody has got to be on their game, not only the driver, but the guys calling the set-ups. It all has to come together or you're not going to win consistently out here."
   Local entry Tom Lee of Kingsport, driving the Greeneville-based Johnson Racing Dodge lost in the first round of eliminations to Jeg Coughlin, Jr.. Coughlin's brother Troy, who set fast time in Friday qualifying, was eliminated one round later by Mike Edwards.
   Warren Johnson's march to the final round went through Gene Wilson in the opening round, George Marnell in the second round and V. Gaines in the semis.
   Johnson, who hails from Sugar Hill, Ga. now takes a 65-point lead in the NHRA Powerade point standings over Jim Yates to the tour's next stop at his home track of Atlanta next weekend.