COMMERCE, Ga. — Robert Hight will lead John Force Racing’s quest to earn its seventh consecutive victory to open the season in Sunday’s final eliminations at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Sr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also will lead their categories into tomorrow’s eliminations as No. 1 qualifiers at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event.
Hight, who has won four of the first six races in 2012, claimed his fourth No. 1 qualifying position of the season Saturday with a leading performance of 4.104 seconds at 308.35 mph in his Auto Club Ford Mustang. Hight teammates John Force and Mike Neff won the other two races to give the JFR team a stronghold on the winner’s circle this season.
“There’s a lot of cars that are bunched up there,” said Hight of the 43rd top qualifying effort of his career. “It’s going to be a tough, tough race tomorrow. I’m excited for it. You’re going to see a lot of close, side-by-side racing. When you win a race like this, it’s a little more special. You probably are going to need a few breaks along the way because anything can happen in this heat.”
Hight, a two-time Atlanta Dragway winner, will race Bob Bode in the opening round of eliminations. Hight teammate Neff, winner at last week’s event in Houston, fell victim to the tricky race conditions produced by track temperatures nearing 140 degrees and failed to qualify. It was Neff’s first DNQ since Dallas 2008.
Hight said he and crew chief Jimmy Prock went back to a baseline tuneup on the final qualifying attempt to prepare for what may be similar conditions on race day. The move was even more necessary once the team saw Neff’s Castrol GTX Mustang drop a cylinder and miss the 16-car starting lineup.
“[Prock] said, ‘We have to make a run down the track in 130-degree-plus track temperature,’ because we didn’t have that yesterday,” Hight said. “It was middle 120s. He said, ‘We’ve gotta go.’ I’ll be honest with you, I think the right lane is probably the preferred lane, so to run a .15 in the left lane there, that was a statement.”
In other first round pairings in Funny Car, No. 2 qualifier Ron Capps will race Daniel Wilkerson, Bob Tasca III will meet Johnny Gray and one of NHRA’s best rivalries will resume when two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon will meet 15-time world champ and seven time Atlanta Dragway winner John Force.
Schumacher took his first No. 1 effort of the season and 68th of his career in Top Fuel with his Friday track record time of 3.815 at a speed of 322.58 in his U.S. Army dragster. Schumacher, winless since Oct. 2010, has yet to win at Atlanta Dragway, the only track on the circuit where he has not visited winner’s circle. Schumacher will face journeyman Pat Dakin in the first round.
“We’ve got a great race car,” Schumacher said. “That last one, we just freed it up a ton to get down the racetrack, probably way over center. Being the No. 1 qualifier, we’re going to go out there and at least have a chance to run where we want to run, what lane we want, and all those good things that come with it. I’ve been saying all along we’re not going to go out and have any easy rounds, but at least it’s our choice when and what lane. We’re going to win one of these things. We’ve got a great car, a great team. We’ve just had terrible luck. If we go out and get a little luck, it will turn. It always does. I look forward to starting a winning streak tomorrow.”
In other Top Fuel first-round action, second qualifier Steve Torrence will meet J.R. Todd, third qualifier Shawn Langdon will face Clay Millican, and series leader Antron Brown will meet Doug Kalitta.
Defending Pro Stock world champ Line was the only top qualifier to improve his performance from Friday, powering his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP to a 6.607 at 209.04 to take his fourth No. 1 of the season and 28th of his career. Line will meet six-time world champ Warren Johnson in the opening round.
“It was obviously hotter out here today, but the NHRA crew did a great job,” Line said. “For a race track that was this hot, I’d say that their preparation work was phenomenal. We just tried to make good, safe runs today, and we feel very good about going into tomorrow’s eliminations. Our crew has done a great job all year long. I told [NHRA announcer Alan] Reinhart at the end of the track after the last run that I feel bad because I don’t think that I’ve held up my end of the deal. I’ve struggled to maintain the intensity it takes to be the best in this class. But I feel good about things now, and maybe this weekend will end up being a big turn-around for us.”
Several strong first round meetings are set in Pro Stock as No. 2 qualifier Allen Johnson will face four-time world champ Jeg Coughlin, series points leader Greg Anderson will meet Greg Stanfield and veterans Mike Edwards and Larry Morgan will race in a Pontiac vs. Ford showdown.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Arana Sr. earned his second-straight No. 1 of the season and 19th of his career with his Friday run of 6.894 at a track record speed of 193.82 on his Lucas Oil Buell. Arana will race Joey Gladstone in the first round.
“I really have to give credit to NHRA and the Safety Safari for doing an excellent job this weekend,” Arana said. “We still have to learn how to tune our bike for the warmer weather. We’re going to use this data for the upcoming races because this is the beginning of the summer with the heat. I think that my bike is tapped out right now. I’m getting as much out of her as I can get.”
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