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Renewed Dixon, Brown shake up Top Fuel title chase


Larry Dixon, steeled for another grueling National Hot Rod Association Countdown to the Championship like the one in which he triumphed last year, said after his Arizona Nationals victory Sunday, "It's a big day."

It was in performance. Dixon, the No. 1 qualifier, nicked new points leader Antron Brown by a mere nine inches, or eight-thousandths of a second, on the 1,000-foot course at Firebird International Raceway at Chandler, Ariz., near Phoenix.

He used a 3.955-second elapsed time at a 307.37-mph speed that was fastest of the meet in the Al-Anabi-Toyota Dragster to edge Brown's 3.96-second, 302.08-mph challenge in the Matco Tools-U.S. Army Dragster in one of the National Hot Rod Association's closest -- and significant -- side-by-side finishes to an event this season.

Both took advantage of Spencer Massey's failure to qualify for this fourth of six playoff races. Massey lost the lead he had swiped from Brown two races before, at Dallas, and dropped to third place behind Dixon, 25 points behind Brown.


Two more races remain in the Countdown -- the Oct. 27-30 Big O Tires Las Vegas Nationals and the Nov. 10-13 Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif. Only 91 points separate the top five racers. Del Worsham, Dixon's teammate, is 51 points off the pace at No. 4, and Tony Schumacher, 91 points out of the lead, is fifth.


But for Dixon, the day also was bittersweet. He lost a friend in a racing accident.

Before the final round, fans at Firebird stood in a moment of silence in tribute to two-time and most recent Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, who was killed Sunday in a multi-car accident at the IZOD IndyCar World Championships at Las Vegas Motor Speedway just three hours up the freeway.

For Dixon, the news from Las Vegas was so much more personal. The reigning and three-time Full Throttle Drag Racing Series champion became acquainted with Wheldon in Indianapolis when the IndyCar Series champion drove for Chip Ganassi Racing. In May, Dixon and his family participated with Wheldon and his in the annual charity fashion show that CARA -- the IZOD IndyCar Series' equivalent of drag-racing's DRAW -- stages each year as part of the Indianapolis 500 activities.

"It's tragic. The guy goes to work this morning to try to win five million bucks, and he doesn't come home. That's hard . . . That's really hard. I just feel for his family," a teary-eyed Dixon said of Wheldon.

While IZOD IndyCar operations ground to a halt, Dixon knew he has to focus for his next assignment, which will come in two weeks directly across the street from where Wheldon was killed Sunday. But he did take a moment to reflect on his achievement in Phoenix and the fact he pulled within 20 points of the lead he hasn't had once this season.

In winning for the first time since June 19 at Bristol, Tenn., where he beat Brown in their only other final-round meeting, Dixon said, "It was really nice to go some rounds and get back in this points game again," he said. "It's nice to in, but to have a shot at a championship, that's a big deal -- real big deal. Before the weekend, I was 108 points out of first."

He said he figured he would be in an opportune position if he could leave Firebird and head into the final two events "within 60-some points out of first." He said that would have "thrilled" him, "because that means you've got a shot. We obviously made more ground than that up. You never know what opportunities are going to happen, so to take advantage -- to win the race and get more points than anyone else, that's a good way to do it."

Said Dixon, "It's been a long time since we've won. You never know when you're going to get the next one."

He said it was satisfying "to be on the right end of a tight race. I've lost so many tight races. That's the way the mop flopped this week."

However, he was quick to say he will "save the pat on the back for Sunday night at Pomona and we'll see if we deserve it then." He said this result "got us back in the game."


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