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Words and photos by Jeff Leonard

Racers who earn their keep on the NHRA national event trail have had their weather problems of late. Rain was an on-and-off problem at Englishtown, but the race was completed after periodic stoppages. So it was a tired bunch of tourers who pulled into Topeka's Heartland Park facility for the next round of points chasing, NHRA style. And, you guessed it, they drug the rain clouds right into Kansas with them. Torrential rains on Friday forced cancellation of most of the Pro qualifying sessions on that day, and turned the grounds into a quagmire. It rained no more after Friday, but the damage to the usual qualifying process, not to mention the ground underfoot, was already done. With less room for error than usual, one could almost feel the tune-ups being backed down as crew chiefs took a "get it in first" approach. An accompanying result of losing one or more qualifying sessions is usually an increased number of upsets once eliminations get under way. And so it would be at Topeka.


It was business as usual at the top of the charts, as Larry Dixon Jr grabbed the top spot with a 4.58. Cory Mac was close behind with 4.61, his 322.42 standing as top speed of qualifying. Darrell Russell stood third best with a 4.68. Kenny Bernstein stood fifth best at 4.73, with the "girl power factor" next, Melanie Troxel (4.73) and Rhonda Hartman-Smith (4.74) in the next two spots. The Golden Greek, Chris Karamesines (below) ran a decent 4.78/312.78 lap for the #14 slot, and Scott Weiss held the bump at 4.99. The DNQ list showed Scott Hartley, Don Sosenka and Ken Zeal.

All the upper seeded cars advanced in the first round of Top Fuel, as Heartland Park suddenly took on the look of a one-lane track. Bernstein(4.63), Tony Schumacher(4.64), Dixon Jr(6.65 and Cory Mac(4.66) seemed to be the logical picks for the final round. But things started to go off-form when Bernstein pretty much took himself out against Schumacher. A no-water burnout led the Red One to attempt a Dick LaHaie 100 mph backup job, which turned out to be not a good idea. The front end started whipping side-to-side, and in trying to calm things down, KB accidentally hit the parachute eject button, and that, as they say, was that. Schumacher singled at 4.71, a number Bernstein could probably have beaten. Dixon had no such trouble in sidelining a tire frying Doug Kalitta with a 4.63, looking every bit the points leader in the process. Cory Mac continued his return to power by ousting Rhonda H-S with a 4.68, as the Fram Lady fell off to a 5.40. Darrell Russell ended the round by taking out Troxell with a 4.70.

Dixon kept on marching in the semis, winning a close one over Schumacher by a 4.65 to 4.75 count. Tony's .09-second holeshot almost got the job done, but not quite. Russell stepped up against Cory Mac, combining a big holeshot and a 4.76 to stop CM's late 4.71.


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