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Words and photos by Ian Tocher

You've got to hand it to Bill Bader; the man is a promoter. The same day NHRA Top Fuel point leaders Larry Dixon and Dick LaHaie are honored at Car Craft magazine's All-Star Drag Racing Team awards ceremony, Bader posts a whopping $100,000 challenge on for them to meet current IHRA fuel champs Clay Millican and crew chief Mike Kloeber in a best-two-out-of-three match race. With that offer, the IHRA prez effectively turned the tables on the awards, refocusing media attention to his champions and creating a buzz worthy of a Dave Matthews concert amongst fans.

IHRA president Bill Bader thinks Clay Millican (shown) was slighted when he lost out to NHRA rival Larry Dixon in fan and media balloting for inclusion in Car Craft magazine's 2002 All-Star Drag Racing Team.

Bader argued that Team Werner has the best recent record in Top Fuel -- bar none -- after scoring last year's championship and 15 wins in the last 16 IHRA events, including all nine held so far this year. No doubt that's an incredible record, but the Miller Lite/Prudhomme Racing Team hasn't exactly been in a slump either. Dixon finished a close runner-up to Kenny Bernstein in 2001 and now leads the Bud King with only five races left, plus he's been to 12 finals in 17 races this year (he DNQ'd once), winning seven of them.

Initially, it looks like Bader is correct -- Millican has been almost perfect -- but there are other factors at work. Of course Bader realizes the need to make some weight and blower drive adjustments. And he anticipates the "Yeah-but-Millican's-not-facing-NHRA-competitors" argument, suggesting that "when you consider that IHRA competition features IHRA teams versus IHRA teams, and NHRA competition features NHRA teams against NHRA teams, are not all things equal?"

Well, no, Bill, they're not.

I'm more than willing to give credit where credit is due and regular readers will surely recall I've sung the praises of Millican and Kloeber several times in this space. The record they've put together in IHRA Top Fuel is practically unbelievable if only because you'd think <i>something</i> would've gone wrong to make them falter by now. But the fact remains, beyond Bruce Litton and Paul Romine, there's really no serious adversity for Team Werner right now. And remember, Millican and crew only have to get through three rounds on raceday, while Dixon has to prevail in four trips down the strip -- against the likes of Bernstein, Schumacher, McClenathan, Russell, and Kalitta. Also, while it's true only a proportionate handful of serious threats to win are in each field, I think Dixon's still got a harder time of it against the bottom half of a Brainerd NHRA field than Millican faces at Cordova. Plus, Dixon's seven event wins required 28 win lights this year, while Millican has seen his light come on only (only!) 27 times.

So, you see, all things are not equal. Not by a long shot.

Larry Dixon and crew chief Dick LaHaie reportedly expressed interest in Bader's $100,000 challenge, but team owner Don Prudhomme is yet to weigh in on the offer.

But don't get me wrong here. Give these two crew chiefs and teams equal rules, equal conditions, and equal lanes and I think it'd be a toss-up as to who would walk away with the Benjamins. Millican entered the first three NHRA races this year as a tune-up to his IHRA title defense and fared quite well. Heck, he's still in the top-20 in NHRA points (18th), and he hasn't even entered a race there since June.

I don't think it's gonna' happen, though (and I suspect Bader is counting on keeping the $100K). Beyond the sheer logistics of agreeing on a time and place, Prudhomme's team would have a lot more on the line than the Werner gang, Bader, and the IHRA.

It's very similar to the situation John Force encountered a few years back when IHRA Pro Mod king Scotty Cannon offered a similar challenge to the reigning Fuel Coupe champ upon Cannon's entry to the NHRA ranks. The upstart (Bader or Cannon) makes a big publicity splash regardless of the outcome; if the favorite (Dixon or Force) declines, he looks "chicken"; if the favorite accepts and wins, it's no big deal for the upstart since that's what everyone expected; but if the favorite accepts and loses, it could deal a serious blow to his career and reputation, while the upstart gains instant notoriety. For these reasons, I think Prudhomme will politely decline Bader's invitation (and a sigh of relief in Norwalk will be heard all the way to Pomona).

P.S. Of course, if that $100,000 is really burning a hole in Bader's pockets, he could just add it to the Pro Mod points fund and try to build some loyalty in racers from his most-popular class. Maybe then, schemes like the Xtreme Racing League (can anyone say XFL?) won't draw instant converts based on little more than pie-in-the-sky Internet chatter.

The 2002 IHRA Pro Mod champ is destined to win $50,000 this season, with second place worth $20,000, third $15,000, fourth $10,000, and $9,000 for fifth-place. Now, how about using the suddenly freed up Dixon/Millican cash to double that first-prize money to $100K, give $35K to the runner-up, $25K to the third-place finisher, $15K to fourth, $13K to fifth, and divvy up the remaining $16,000 between sixth through 10th-place. Now, that might make some Pro Mod guys very happy and content; but I really don't think that's gonna' happen, either.

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