DIXON WINS AGAIN - WORSHAM CLOSES GAP - ALLEN REPEATS - SAVOIE BEATS BROWN

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By Rob Geiger, NHRA.com The 5th annual Chicagoland Dodge Dealers NHRA Nationals had something no other race in 2002 has had: a repeat winner in Pro Stock. Bruce Allen became the first driver in the class to win two titles this season, turning back Tom Hammonds, who was bidding to become the 10th different winner this year. Top Fuel featured a familiar outcome as Larry Dixon defeated Kenny Bernstein while Del Worsham scored his second win of '02 in Funny Car and his second straight at this event when Scotty Cannon smoked the tires in the Funny Car final. Angelle Savoie defeated Antron Brown, 7.13 to 7.20, in a Pro Stock Bike final round in which both riders had .40 lights. Dixon gets to make the happy phone call to Miller's headquarters in Milwaukee once again as he matched his career-best total of single-season victories with win No. 6. Making the call all the more enjoyable is the fact he can tell the bigwigs his win came at the expense of beer rival Bernstein for the third time in four head-to-head finals this year. This race was a thriller with both men leaving hard and running side-by-side for half of the track until Dixon began pulling away to take the win with a 4.580 at 319.37 mph in front of Bernstein's 4.620 at 317.72 mph. By winning his 22nd national event, Dixon now has a stunning 33-4 record in eliminations this year and had increased his points lead over Bernstein to 203. "The most important thing for me was to win here in Chicago because this is as close as we get to Milwaukee so this is like Miller's headquarters," Dixon said. "There's no consolation in runner-up finishes to a beer rival so the fact it was Bernstein in the finals made it imperative for us to get the win. Plus, there were so many Miller guys here at the race they might not have let me back in the pits if we hadn't won the race. "The new Goodyear tires helped a lot. We're posting much better 60-foot times. We used to have .870s, now we have .820s and .830s. That's giving us a bunch right there. Those things helped this weekend turn out the way it did. "The lead we have in the points ain't enough. If it was Las Vegas [the second to last race of the year], it'd be enough but right now it doesn't mean much. I'd rather be in front than behind, but we're not going to celebrate anything more than this win right now." Dixon drove his Miller Lite rail to his ninth final in 10 races this season with a trio of 4.5-second passes when he needed them most. After a 4.65-second win over Yuichi Oyama in the opener, Dixon got even with Topeka winner Darrell Russell 4.57 to 4.61 in Round 2, drove away from Doug Herbert 4.59 to 4.68 in the semi's to earn lane choice over Bernstein in the finals, and then buried Bernstein with his 4.58 in the final round. Low qualifier Bernstein was consistent in reaching his fifth final of the season. The Budweiser driver beat Scott Weis with a 4.70 before Weis crossed the centerline and disqualified himself anyway. Then he posted back-to-back 4.63s in victories over Andrew Cowin and surprise semifinalist John Smith. Making his own tuning calls in the absence of recently-departed crew chief Rob Flynn, Worsham was the only driver to successfully defend his Route 66 title with a convincing 4.878-second, 312.21-mph victory over a tire-smoking Cannon. Worsham now has nine career wins, including one earlier this year at his title-sponsor's race in Phoenix. "There is still a lot of Rob Flynn and his tune-up in this car," Worsham said. "When he got to this team we were in a much different place then we are now and he's one of the main reasons we've run the way we have over the last few years. He's a good friend and his influence over this team has meant a great deal to us. "I love Chicago, what can I say. It's a special place for us and I don't really know why but we always run well here. It's kind of like Brainerd (Minn.); we always run well there also. I guess it's the atmosphere or the altitude or something. Whatever it is, I like it a lot." After opening the 2002 season with a runner-up finish and a victory in consecutive races, Worsham finally earned another trip to the money round at the race he won one year ago in his Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Pontiac Firebird. This time Worsham had to beat Tommy Johnson Jr., long-time tormentor John Force, points leader Gary Densham, and Cannon all with mid-4.8-second passes. Cannon reached his second career NHRA final round by powering his Oakley machine past Dale Creasy Jr., Frank Pedregon, and Topeka winner Tony Pedregon. Like Worsham, Cannon kept his car in the mid-4.8 second range but did yield lane choice to Worsham in the finals by .019-second. After nine events, the Pro Stock class finally has a repeat winner as Phoenix victor Allen bagged his 16th career victory here in Chicago with a huge holeshot win over former NBA player Hammonds. This one was decided at the line when veteran Allen coolly left in .436 seconds, well ahead of new full-time racer Hammonds' .510 start. The rest was academic as Allen won by a car-length with a 6.888 at 199.55 mph against Hammonds' 6.869 at 199.61 mph. "The field is so tight and there are 24-25 cars that can qualify and any one of them can win at any time," Allen said. "You don't even need to be lucky to win. When it's this close everyone has about an equal chance and you just have to hang in there. "We had a good weekend. We ran really, really good today and even in qualifying on Friday and Saturday. Plus, we maintained lane choice all day until the final and then we made a good run when we needed it. That's what it takes to win. "I'll say this about Tom; anyone who is good in one sport knows how to win and knows how to concentrate and get the job done when the pressure is on. Out here, just like in the NBA, you have to learn how to win. After you get beat every which way there is then you learn how to win. He's a good driver. He'll probably win the next race. He's that good." Reher-Morrison driver Allen piloted his Speedco Truck Lube Pontiac Grand Am past a red-lighting Mark "Cowboy" Pawuk, and a pair of quicker-leaving drivers -- Greg Anderson and V. Gaines -- to reach his 38th career final round. After four unsightly and consecutive failures to qualify, Hammonds, a three-time runner-up on the NHRA tour, came to life this weekend, qualifying No. 2 and rolling over Kurt Johnson, Gene Wilson, and Allen Johnson during the first three rounds of eliminations. The Pro Stock Motorcycle final was worth the price of admission all by itself. Savoie used her quickest lap of the weekend, a 7.139 at 185.33 mph, to inch away from her cousin, Brown, who also ran his best pass of the weekend but came up just short, losing with a 7.202 at 183.72 mph. This was Savoie's 24th career win and second of the season. The two-time defending series champion increased her POWERade points lead over Craig Treble to 74. "I'm almost embarrassed by how excited I get when we win and how much jumping around and carrying on I do at the other end," Savoie said. "But I still get every bit as excited as I did when we won our first race. That's the way it should be. You have to get up to beat these guys out here who are coming up and posting .40 lights against you every round. "I feel very confident about this CVEC Racing motorcycle right now but it's also a little scary because I beat myself up pretty good when we lose because of driver error and the way this bike is now I feel like the team has already won when we get here. It's up to me not to screw it up because the guys on my team give me an awesome bike every race." Savoie was unchallenged all day on her CVEC Racing Suzuki, effortlessly driving away from Fred Camarena, John Smith, and old rival Matt Hines. The match-up with Hines, a rubber match of sorts as each rider entered with 13 wins against the other, was the closest Savoie had en route to her 38th career final and she won by a relatively large .052-second. Brown, who is still searching for a title sponsor, picked up right where he left off in Englishtown, N.J., with impressive wins over Chris Reuter, Thomas Miceli, and No. 2 qualifier Shawn Gann to reach his 16th career final round.
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