Hight Fires Back By Winning Carolinas Nationals
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Concord, N.C. – A lot of people were not crazy about the way in which Robert Hight earned his berth in the NHRA’s Countdown to 1. In fact, a lot of people said, Hight did not earn that berth at all.
But not many claimed that Hight was not worthy of inclusion in the Countdown because of the way he drove in the races leading up to the Countdown, and on Sunday at the zMAX Dragway, Hight proved those people right.
Hight blew through the Funny Car field to win the Carolinas Nationals, which is the first race of the Countdown. Hight knocked off Jerry Toliver, Bob Tasca III, Ashley Force Hood and finally, rookie Matt Hagan to get the victory.
“It’s unbelievable, the timing we’ve got right now,” Hight said, “because at the start of the year we stunk the place up. You start to begin to wonder if you can win.”
So much for that.
Also winning in the upset-crazy opening event of the six-race playoff were Cory McClenathan in Top Fuel, Mike Edwards in Pro Stock and Hector Arana in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Hight headed to the U.S. Nationals two weeks ago outside of the 10-driver Countdown field.
He needed some bad luck by then 10th-place Cruz Pedregon and at least a trip of his own to the finals at O’Reilly Motorsports Park.
Pedregon went down early and then it was up to Hight.
Hight advanced to the semifinals and then faced off against the guy who owns his car, John Force.
On the green light, Force spun his tires and lurched toward the wall while Hight made a clean run. Pedregon, his brother and fellow Funny Car driver Tony Pedregon, immediately accused Force of taking a dive which put Hight into the Countdown and Cruz on the outside.
Also piling on were television announcers, other competitors and fans.
Hight Sunday said that he felt no need to answer those who criticized his route to Countdown. He said the answers should come from the car and, “Luckily I got a great race car right now and it’s doing the talking for me.”
The victory moved Hight from 10th to third in the points.
It was his first victory of the season. Credit all his recent success, he said, to moves by Force designed to shake up the team.
“It’s been a crazy month,” Hight said. “With all the switching we did, with me going to John’s car and vice versa, it has been crazy. But for whatever reason, it all worked out. John Force, he’s not a tuner but he definitely knows how to shake things up … and it has worked.”
So now, Hight will head to Dallas for the second round of the Countdown just 28 points out of the Funny Car lead, which is owned by Tony Pedregon.
In Top Fuel;
McClenathan’s victory was his first since the first race in Las Vegas last year.
The victory moved him to the top of the standings. He will lead Antron Brown by 10 points when the series gets to Dallas next weekend.
“My God, it’s been so long,” McClenathan said of the victory. “Going a year and a half without winning a race is a long time.”
Brown went from hot pick to win the Countdown to ice cold as he was ousted in the first round by 15th-seeded Terry McMillan.
Brown smoked the tires right off the line and it was over just like that.
“That’s drag racing,” Brown said. “You can go from hero to zero real quick in this sport. We will get it back together.”
Brown was not the only big dog to be ousted early Sunday.
Larry Dixon was the next favorite to go down as he lost to McClenathan in the second round. Dixon was the second seed at zMAX and second in points when the day started. He exited in fourth place.
“Not just another round,” McClenathan said after beating Dixon. “It’s the Countdown.”
Just as things appeared to be going Tony Schumacher’s way, the six-time champion was ousted by Shawn Langdon in the semifinals. It was Langdon’s first career final round.
In Funny Car;
The Funny Car point leader also made an early exit Sunday as Tony Pedregon was beaten by rookie non-Countdown driver Matt Hagan.
Also going down in the first round was John Force, who lost to Jim Head.
“My car rattled and threw up,” Force said.
Force got a bit of revenge in the second round when his daughter took Head down.
The first round also claimed Ron Capps, who smoked the tires in his run against Bob Tasca III.
Cruz Pedregon, the No. 1 qualifier, was dumped by Hagan, the No. 13 qualifier, in the semifinals.
Ashley Force Hood’s run was ended in the semifinal when she was beaten by teammate Hight.
In Pro Stock;
The victory by Edwards was his fourth of the season. It moved him to the points lead for the first time in his career.
“To be in the lead is a dream come true for me,” he said. “We’ve got five more to go but I like our position.”
Jeg Coughlin became the third points-leader to go down in the first round when he was beaten by Jason Line.
Line, second in points before the weekend started, went down in the second round when he was beaten by Allen Johnson who was the fourth seed at zMAX.
Johnson’s hopes for a trip to the finals were crushed when he red-lighted against Edwards in the semi.
Edwards went 6.661 in the final to beat Stanfield in the final.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle;
The points-leader in bikes did not go out in the first round but Andrew Hines, second in points, did. Hines red-lighted against Junior Pippin.
Pippin’s day ended in the second round when he red-lighted and lost to Stoffer.
Points-leader Eddie Krawiec went down in the semi final when he was beaten by Arana.
Stoffer, who had mad it to the finals by being superb at the starting line, lost when she jump the start of the final to hand the victory to Arana.
It was the second straight victory for Arana as he won the U.S. Nationals two weeks ago.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgNo Comment