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Hight To Face One Swede Ride In Super Stockholm Elimination

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 26 2009
Robert High will take on an import driver in Sunday's Fall Nationals eliminations. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Robert High will take on an import driver in Sunday's Fall Nationals eliminations. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Ennis, Texas – Robert Hight’s quest for his first NHRA Funny Car championship goes global on Sunday.

Hight emerged from four rounds of professional qualifying at Texas Motorplex Saturday afternoon on-pole for the 24th annual O’Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals. Hight’s first-round opponent will be No. 16 qualifier Leif Helander of Sweden, an international man of mystery as far as Hight is concerned.

“Can’t wait to meet him (Helander) in the morning,” Hight said during a visit to the Media Center. “Still haven’t met him, or seen him. I’ll go over and wish him good luck.”

Sure. And quite likely, good-bye. Maybe in Swedish.

Hight secured the No. 1 position with the 4.109-second run at 305.56 mph he recorded during Friday’s second session. Helander, meanwhile, is at the tail end of a minimum-number 16-car field despite posting a “best time” of 10.185-seconds and 89.49 mph.

“I remember my first day at an NHRA event when I first qualified, so I’m excited for him,” said Hight, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang fielded by 14-time class champion John Force. “I’m glad he (Helander) qualified, but we’ve got to go out and do our job and try to beat him. He’s going to try to be whipping us, trust me. He’s over here in America, living the dream and drag racing in the Fuel Funny Car class. He’s got to be on top of the world.”

Helander, 65, is at least a long way from Matsfors, Sweden. He is a longtime Sportsman racer competing in a Nitromethane-powered Funny Car for the first time in the United States, although he said he has driven similar cars on six occasions in Europe.

None of the opponents over there, however, was named Robert Hight.

“I’m going to kick his ass…” said Helander, breaking into a laugh. “No, we’re here to learn a little. We made a lot of changes to the car and hope we can do better than today.”

Helander is driving a 2008 Chevrolet Camaro-bodied flopper owned by Todd Simpson of Plano, Texas, and tuned by Bode Smith. Helander, a custom painter by trade, said he has been racing Funny Cars in Sweden since 1978. His budget includes competing at this event and at Round 3 of the Countdown at Memphis Motorsports Park Oct. 2-4.

“I got (my) pension since March this year,” said Helander, sporting a black Starkotter Racing t-shirt. “Don’t tell anyone. I’m racing a little overtime at my age and don’t know how long I can do it.”

Hight, winner of last Sunday’s opening Countdown race at zMax Dragway at Concord, N.C., only covered the 1,000-foot distance once Saturday on a hot and slick track. Ambient temperatures in the mid-90s are forecast for Sunday, which should push track temps well past 130 degrees.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Hight said. “I think (crew chief) Jimmy Prock…he’s starting to race really smart. We’ve got to go down the track to win. Having to pedal it and all that is a big part of it, but we need to be going down the track under power.”

Sunday’s event is Round 2 of the National Hot Rod Association’s six-race Countdown to 1, and the 20th of 24 in the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. Larry Dixon retained the No. 1 spot he earned Friday night in Top Fuel, along with Mike Edwards in Pro Stock and Eddie Krawiec in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Plenty of bonus points were awarded during the four sessions under the NHRA’s new qualifying system. Points are awarded to the first, second and third-quickest times in each session.

Top Fuel

Dixon, the pole-sitter at 3.833-seconds and 312.93 mph in his Al-Anabi Racing Dragster fielded by Alan Johnson, failed to complete either of his 1,000-foot passes Saturday.

“Conditions were pretty warm,” said Dixon, a two-time Top Fuel champion who earned six bonus points in qualifying. “We went out and tried a few things, probably out-of-the box stuff on the first run and tried to go back to a normal setup and still got the tires loose. So we’ll calm her down a little bit more. If we’re fortunate enough to get to the semis, you’re going to be running around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. That’s about as hot as it’ll get for the day. But it’s race-day and anything goes at that point. You don’t care how ugly a run it is as long as you get that win light.”

Pro Stock

Edwards earned his 12th Pro Stock pole of the season and 18th of his career at 6.597-seconds and 209.88 mph in his A.R.T/Young Life Pontiac GXP. His first-round opponent will be V. Gaines, a non-Countdown competitor who qualified 16th at 6.700-seconds and 205.41 mph in his Kendall Oil Dodge Stratus.

A four-time winner this season, Edwards will be out to back-up his victory in the Carolinas last weekend. “Hats off to my guys for making some really good adjustments for this last run,” Edwards said. “We had like a 122-degree track temp and made just a phenomenal run. Hopefully we can make good decisions Sunday and see what happens.”

Pro Stock Motorcycle

Krawiec, who entered this  event trailing Carolinas winner Hector Arana by nine points, is on-pole at 6.908-seconds and 192.55 mph. Krawiec, the reigning class champion on his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod, outpointed Arana and his Lucas Oil Buell here, 8-7, during qualifying to basically hold serve heading into final eliminations.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 26 2009
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