Larry Dixon (Top Fuel) qualifies No. 1 for U.S. Nationals; also Greg Anderson (PS), Chip Ellis (PSM)

Photo courtesy NHRA

BROWNSBURG, Indiana – It’s been quite a career ride for Top Fuel driver Larry Dixon, but none more challenging than the last 5 1/2 years.

In that time, Dixon went from winning his third Top Fuel championship in 2010 to going winless and finished fourth in the standings in 2011.

Then came a dark three-year period, when he competed in just three races in 2012 and only nine races in both the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

But make no mistake about it: Dixon is back in 2015 – in a big way.

Even though he’s failed to win in the five final rounds he’s appeared in thus far this season, he’s been one of the strongest drivers in the category, back to full-time status driving for Bob Vandergriff Jr.

The high point, though, came Sunday, as Dixon earned the No. 1 qualifying position in Top Fuel for Monday’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Dixon topped the 22-driver field for the biggest race of the season in the NHRA with a best elapsed time of 3.744 seconds at 326.00 mph.

It was Dixon’s second No. 1 of the season, the 53rd of his career and fourth at the U.S. Nationals, the NHRA’s biggest race of the season.

“I know I had great opportunities driving for Don Prudhomme and Alan Johnson and felt real blessed for those opportunities,” Dixon said. “We had a lot of wins, championships, a lot of great teams and a lot of fun – but then it’s over.

“An opportunity presented itself with Bob (Vandergriff). I started out part-time last year and full-time this year. … All of us, we’re trying to take advantage of the situation we’re in. The car is running great, we’ve got some poles, got to several final rounds, we’re up in the points and we want to take advantage of the opportunity that’s in front of us, not just for this race but also for when the playoffs start. We have a chance at another title.”

Billy Torrence (3.771 seconds, 323.58 mph) qualified No. 2, followed by his son, Steve Torrence (3.778/326.08), Dave Connolly (3.793/323.58) qualified No. 4 and J.R. Todd (3.795/323.58) took the No. 5 spot.

In addition, defending and eight-time NHRA national Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher, who qualified ninth (3.812/322.88), is looking to break the U.S. Nationals’ all-time victory record.

Schumacher is currently tied with Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden, with nine wins at Indy in their respective careers.

In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson will go into Monday’s eliminations as the No. 1 qualifier. Anderson topped the field with an elapsed time of 6.562 seconds at 210.70 mph.

Jonathan Gray (6.567/210.05) was second-quickest, followed by Drew Skillman (6.569/210.37), defending Pro Stock champ Erica Enders (6.571/210.54) and Allen Johnson (209.26/210.28).

And in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Chip Ellis took the top spot in qualifying with a time of 6.855 seconds at 195.73 mph. Defending PSM champ Andrew Hines (6.879/193.29) was second-quickest, followed by Jerry Savoie (6.896/194.35), Angelle Sampey (6.899/193.65) and Matt Smith (6.900/191.67).

Here’s the first-round pairings for Monday’s eliminations of the 61st annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals:

Top Fuel — 1. Larry Dixon, 3.744 seconds, 326.00 mph  vs. 16. Doug Kalitta, 3.995, 290.63; 2. Billy Torrence, 3.771, 323.58  vs. 15. T.J. Zizzo, 3.942, 278.98; 3. Steve Torrence, 3.778, 326.08  vs. 14. Richie Crampton, 3.892, 305.15; 4. Dave Connolly, 3.793, 323.58  vs. 13. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.887, 315.78; 5. J.R. Todd, 3.795, 323.58  vs. 12. Antron Brown, 3.868, 318.69; 6. Morgan Lucas, 3.795, 320.13  vs. 11. Leah Pritchett, 3.840, 320.66; 7. Brittany Force, 3.798, 319.60  vs. 10. Pat Dakin, 3.817, 319.75; 8. Shawn Langdon, 3.806, 319.29  vs. 9. Tony Schumacher, 3.812, 322.88.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Kebin Kinsley, 4.035, 280.78; 18. Luigi Novelli, 4.163, 275.90; 19. Terry McMillen, 4.339, 263.41; 20. Wayne Newby, 4.387, 189.36; 21. Clay Millican, 4.838, 299.26; 22. Chris Karamesines, 4.900, 294.82.

Funny Car — 1. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.936, 323.74  vs. 16. Bob Bode, Toyota Solara, 4.736, 178.10; 2. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.971, 322.96  vs. 15. John Bojec, Solara, 4.211, 297.55; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.976, 318.32  vs. 14. John Hale, Charger, 4.196, 306.88; 4. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 3.978, 322.11  vs. 13. Chad Head, Camry, 4.157, 300.20; 5. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.998, 319.75  vs. 12. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.152, 293.28; 6. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.000, 314.97  vs. 11. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.113, 314.09; 7. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.017, 305.91  vs. 10. John Force, Camaro, 4.090, 309.49; 8. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.023, 315.49  vs. 9. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.033, 317.34.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Justin Schriefer, 6.780, 116.48.

Pro Stock — 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.562, 210.97  vs. 16. Aaron Stanfield, Dodge Dart, 6.636, 208.88; 2. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.567, 210.21  vs. 15. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.630, 209.62; 3. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.569, 210.37  vs. 14. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.628, 209.20; 4. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.571, 210.54  vs. 13. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.620, 209.01; 5. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.576, 210.28  vs. 12. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.612, 209.07; 6. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.579, 210.37  vs. 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.605, 209.95; 7. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.580, 210.14  vs. 10. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.602, 208.84; 8. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.582, 210.50  vs. 9. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.588, 209.95.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Matt Hartford, 6.647, 208.39; 18. John Gaydosh Jr, 6.681, 206.48; 19. Kenny Delco, 6.706, 206.80; 20. Steve Schmidt, 6.824, 203.19; 21. Wally Stroupe, 6.962, 199.40.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.855, 196.22  vs. 16. Angie Smith, Victory, 7.011, 189.52; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.879, 194.30  vs. 15. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.998, 191.21; 3. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.896, 194.74  vs. 14. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.978, 192.52; 4. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.899, 193.68  vs. 13. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.967, 191.08; 5. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.900, 192.19  vs. 12. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.962, 191.76; 6. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.903, 195.73  vs. 11. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.915, 194.21; 7. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.903, 195.65  vs. 10. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.915, 195.62; 8. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.905, 195.45  vs. 9. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.908, 194.74.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Redell Harris, 7.064, 189.98; 18. Mike Berry, 7.075, 188.46; 19. Lance Bonham, 7.430, 185.15; 20. Joe DeSantis, broke.

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Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)