Force Hood Faces ‘Bummer’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 1 2009
Ashley Force Hood has a toughie in her first-round matchup on Sunday in Las Vegas. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Ashley Force Hood has a toughie in her first-round matchup on Sunday in Las Vegas. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

A blockbuster first-round pairing Sunday between Robert Hight and Ashley Force Hood looms as the potential pivotal point in their intramural battle for the 2009 NHRA Funny Car world championship.

Featuring teammates at John Force Racing, the Hight vs. Ford Hood matchup was set into motion following the conclusion of qualifying for the ninth annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race is Round 5 of the six-event Countdown to 1, the NHRA’s postseason playoff, and 23rd of 24 events on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule.

Rookie Matt Hagan held onto the No. 1 spot in Funny Car Saturday, as did Friday leaders Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), Larry Dixon (Top Fuel) and Hector Arana (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Points-leader Hight easily qualified No. 3 on the 16-car ladder, while Force Hood scrambled into the field on her fourth and final attempt to secure the No. 14 spot _ and a race opposite her brother-in-law.

“It’s kind of a bummer,” said Hight, whose best 1,000-foot lap in his Auto Club Ford Mustang was 4.065-seconds at 308.71 mph. “We all wanted to get in here and qualify near the top with both of our teams. That’s a tough first-round race because, besides my car, Ashley has got as good a car that is out there. You know that (crew chiefs) Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas will fix that thing. We’re going to have to go out there and make a good run.”

Hight began the weekend with a 13-point lead over Force Hood and her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. But he accumulated seven bonus points under the NHRA’s Countdown qualifying system to open a 25-point lead _ more than one round of racing _ over Force Hood. Her elapsed time of 4.197-seconds was equal to former JFR driver Gary Densham. Force Hood’s speed on her final attempt was 292.52 mph. But the NHRA tiebreaker is faster mile per hour for the event, and Force Hood was decidedly faster (303.23 mph) than Densham (288.64 mph) during time trials.

Hight and Force Hood both addressed the Las Vegas media after qualifying, and were joined by Hight’s daughter, Autumn. When asked who she would be rooting for, Autumn calmly proclaimed she would be pulling for her daddy. Aunt Ashley also touched on her 5-year-old niece’s attitude.

“If Robert wins (against her) then I want him to win the race,” said Force Hood, 26, who is attempting to become the first female Funny Car champion in the 40-year NHRA history of the class. “We want one of us to win this championship. It has come to the end and there are only a handful of rounds left. If it’s not going to be our team winning it then I want this Auto Club team to get it. Autumn just wants to celebrate in the winner’s circle (Sunday) night.”

Team-owner John Force, a 14-time Funny Car champion, also struggled to get down the track and qualified his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang at No. 11. Force, who is winless this season, will face nemesis and two-time champion Cruz Pedregon in the first round. The winner of that race will face the Hight vs. Force Hood victor.

Meanwhile, Hagan’s second No. 1 effort this season in Funny Car _ based on his Friday run of 4.030-seconds at 313.88 mph _ clearly was overshadowed by the Hight vs. Ford Hood saga. Hagan, driver of the Valvoline Engine Guarantee/Shelor.com Dodge Charger, will face New Zealand’s Grant Downing in the first round.

“We’ve had a great weekend so far, and the only way for us to top this off is with a win,” said Hagan, one of four nominees for the Auto Club Road to the Future Award, which recognizes NHRA’s rookie of the year. “This is a good team and a good car, and we showed that we can run in the heat this morning and we’ve got a good tune-up. I think that’s what Tommy (DeLago, crew chief) is going to do (Sunday). I think he’s going to go right back to what we did this morning and make it go right down the track.”

Hagan’s Friday pass at 313.88 mph was the fastest speed in NHRA history to 1,000 feet. Hagan, who drives for Don Schumacher Racing, could set a national speed record if he backs up that lap within 1 percent on Sunday.

“Whether we back it up or not it’s a record to me to be able to go that fast, and to hang onto something like that is pretty awesome,” said Hagan, whose third-round run in the heat of Saturday was clocked at 4.153-seconds and 305.08 mph. Hagan’s car lost traction during his fourth pass, but he ended two days of qualifying having earned six bonus points. 
In Pro Stock, Edwards bagged his category-leading 15th No. 1 qualifying position and now sits only a few points away from clinching his first NHRA championship. Edwards leads closest challengers Greg Anderson and Jason Line, both former champs and Summit Racing teammates, by 139 and 168 points, respectively.

“We’re looking to try and seal the deal,” said Edwards, driver of the A.R.T./Young Life Pontiac GXP. “This is a huge thing for us, and we’re all excited about it. We’re looking forward (to Sunday), and hopefully we can fulfill our dreams. No matter the outcome, it’s been an extraordinary year for us. We’ve worked real hard and now we’re in a position to do something we’ve never been able to do.”

Edwards earned the 21st No. 1 effort of his career with a track-record performance of 6.623-seconds at 207.75 mph. He needs to lead the second-place driver, currently Anderson, by at least 151 points following eliminations to secure the title.

Dixon claimed his ninth pole of the season in Top Fuel and 40th of his career with his Friday performance of 3.805-seconds at 318.24 mph in the Al-Anabi Racing Dragster. Dixon cut series leader Tony Schumacher’s lead by six points to 41. Schumacher, the six-time and reigning champion for DSR, qualified fourth is his U.S. Army Dragster with a pass at 3.839-seconds and 313.07 mph.

“You can pick up the nickels and the pennies and all that kind of points in qualifying, but you get 20 points per round on race day, and that’s what makes a big chunk,” said Dixon, a two-time Top Fuel champion. “At this point, I’m not looking any further than Morgan Lucas (in the first round). It’s a great car. It’s a Countdown car, so you’ve just got to go in there and race your own race and not get ahead of yourself. If we’re fortunate enough to go on to win the race, then obviously we’ll have made up some ground.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, series leader Arana earned his seventh No. 1 of the season on his Lucas Oil Buell at 6.979-seconds and 192.03mph from Friday. Arana’s closest championship challenger, defending champ Eddie Krawiec, qualified fourth on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod.

“Everything’s happening so fast this year,” Arana said. “I qualified No. 1 in 1994, I believe, and then I went through a dry spell, and now I have seven this year, so it’s awesome. I know that Eddie Krawiec is on my side of the ladder, so I just got to stay focused. All I need to do is stay consistent on my lights, and I should prevail.”

First-round pairings for professional eliminations Sunday for the ninth annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the 23rd of 24 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.

Top Fuel _ 1. Larry Dixon, 3.805-seconds, 318.24 mph vs. 16. Morgan Lucas, 3.978, 298.01; 2.Steve Torrence, 3.831, 314.17 vs. 15.Terry McMillen, 3.968, 304.87; 3. Antron Brown, 3.834, 317.42 vs. 14. Stig Neergaard, 3.963, 299.40; 4. Tony Schumacher, 3.839, 315.05 vs. 13. Urs Erbacher, 3.927, 301.33; 5. Cory McClenathan, 3.841, 318.47 vs. 12. David Grubnic, 3.912, 309.84; 6. Brandon Bernstein, 3.853, 317.27 vs. 11. Bob Vandergriff, 3.881, 307.44; 7. Shawn Langdon, 3.855, 314.02 vs. 10. Spencer Massey, 3.864, 313.66; 8. Thomas Nataas, 3.859, 307.65 vs. 9. Doug Kalitta, 3.863, 314.53. Did Not Qualify _ 17. Mike Strasburg, 3.990, 307.02; 18. Troy Buff, 3.994, 290.38; 19. Tim Cullinan, 4.023, 281.07; 20. Del Cox Jr., 4.054, 302.62; 21. Steven Chrisman, 4.073, 291.95; 22. Ron August, 4.191, 289.32; 23. Scott Palmer, 4.473, 200.14; 24. Chris Karamesines, 4.599, 178.85; 25. Lex Joon, 5.819, 270.16; 26. Rob Passey, broke.

Funny Car _1. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.030-seconds, 313.88 mph vs. 16. Grant Downing, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.211, 291.89; 2. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.041, 310.55 vs. 15. Gary Densham, Chevy Impala, 4.197, 290.76; 3. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.065, 308.71 vs. 14. Ashley Force Hood, Mustang, 4.197, 303.23; 4. Tony Pedregon, Impala, 4.098, 309.20 vs. 13. Jeff Arend, Toyota Solara, 4.167, 302.69; 5. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.107, 307.02 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Solara, 4.155, 306.12; 6. Cruz Pedregon, Solara, 4.114, 305.98 vs. 11. John Force, Mustang, 4.144, 302.28; 7. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.116, 297.22 vs. 10. Jim Head, Solara, 4.132, 305.84; 8. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.118, 305.01 vs. 9. Mike Neff, Mustang, 4.128, 302.62. Did Not Qualify _ 17. Jeff Diehl, 4.224, 296.70; 18. Bob Bode, 4.281, 262.85; 19. Jerry Toliver, 7.074, 279.15.

Pro Stock _ 1. Mike Edwards, Pontiac GXP, 6.623-seconds, 207.75 mph vs. 16. Kurt Johnson, Chevy Cobalt, 6.742, 206.45; 2. Vinnie Deceglie, Dodge Stratus, 6.660, 206.23 vs. 15. Rickie Jones, Stratus, 6.735, 204.98; 3. Ron Krisher, Cobalt, 6.668, 206.92 vs. 14. Ryan Ondrejko, GXP, 6.725, 204.29; 4. Greg Anderson, GXP, 6.670, 207.56 vs. 13. Ronnie Humphrey, GXP, 6.718, 206.54; 5. Johnny Gray, Stratus, 6.677, 206.20 vs. 12. Greg Stanfield, GXP, 6.693, 206.07; 6. Allen Johnson, Stratus, 6.679, 206.61 vs. 11. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Cobalt, 6.688, 206.35; 7. Rodger Brogdon, GXP, 6.680, 206.10 vs. 10. Warren Johnson, GXP, 6.685, 206.23; 8. Larry Morgan, Stratus, 6.681, 205.72 vs. 9. Jason Line, GXP, 6.683, 206.86.  Did Not Qualify _ 17. Matt Hartford, 6.747, 205.54; 18. Steve Spiess, 6.747, 204.35; 19. V. Gaines, 6.758, 203.68; 20. Gordie Rivera, 6.779, 202.73; 21. Danny Gruninger, 6.811, 203.06.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.979-seconds, 192.03 mph vs. 16. Mike Berry, Buell, 7.194, 186.05; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.990, 192.25 vs. 15. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 7.176, 190.30; 3. Matt Smith, Suzuki, 7.000, 190.48 vs. 14. Larry Cook, Buell, 7.165, 186.36; 4. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 7.023, 190.97 vs. 13. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.161, 188.75; 5. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.035, 190.43 vs. 12. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.103, 188.96; 6. Junior Pippin, Buell, 7.043, 187.96 vs. 11. Shawn Gann, Buell, 7.076, 188.33; 7. Michael Phillips, Suzuki, 7.051, 189.63 vs. 10. Douglas Horne, Buell, 7.075, 188.86; 8. David Hope, Buell, 7.061, 189.76 vs. 9. Craig Treble, Suzuki, 7.075, 190.06.  Did Not Qualify _ 17. Joe DeSantis, 7.266, 185.89; 18. James Surber, 7.303, 181.94; 19. Redell Harris, 7.424, 182.77; 20. Bailey Whitaker, 7.462, 182.26; 21. Katie Sullivan, 7.477, 178.95; 22. GT Tonglet, 7.695, 184.12.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 1 2009