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Hight In A Strong Position

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 2 2009
Robert Hight heats up the tires during Sunday's Countdown to 1 event at The Strip in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Robert Hight heats up the tires during Sunday's Countdown to 1 event at The Strip in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin/Senior Writer

Robert Hight says there is nothing lucky about his methodical march toward the 2009 NHRA Funny Car world championship.

“We have just outmuscled these guys,”  Hight said after defeating “Fast” Jack Beckman in Sunday’s final of the ninth annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals, penultimate round of the six-race Countdown to 1 playoff. Hight’s third victory in five Countdown races allowed him to leave The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a comfortable 105-point lead over runnerup/John Force Racing teammate Ashley Force Hood.

While Hight will head into the season-ending Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif., Nov. 12-15 with some separation, Tony Schumacher’s margin over Larry Dixon in Top Fuel suddenly has shrunk to a single point. Schumacher, the six-time and reigning Top Fuel champion, was unceremoniously ousted in the second round by Don Schumacher Racing teammate Cory McClenathan. Dixon advanced to the final round, where he was eliminated by rookie of the year contender Spencer Massey but still cut into Schumacher’s advantage.

Meanwhile, neither Mike Edwards nor Hector Arana – points-leaders in Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, respectively – could clinch Sunday. Victories by Larry Morgan in Pro Stock and Andrew Hines in PSM will keep the champagne celebrations for Edwards and Arana on hold for two weeks. Hight, son-in-law of 14-time Funny Car champion John Force, also figures to be toasting his first Full Throttle Drag Racing Series title at Pomona.

“I knew that we would figure this thing out and fix it,” said Hight, 40, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang.  “(Crew chief) Jimmy Prock has just done such a great job since the Countdown started, getting three wins in five races. That is stout. It has all been on performance. We have not gotten lucky. I haven’t had to pedal the race car. We have just outmuscled these guys.”

Hight, who began the weekend with a 13-point lead over Force Hood, trailered his teammate and sister-in-law in the first round with a pass at 4.114-seconds and 309.06 mph. Force Hood, driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, ran 4.338-seconds at 283.37 mph. Hight later pulled out a close final-round victory over Beckman, who drives for Don Schumacher Racing, in a fire-spewing, side-by-side 1,000-foot race.

“It’s amazing what a win can do and get that confidence back,” said Hight, who ran 4.125-seconds at 304.46 mph to edge Beckman’s Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger at 4.154-seconds and 303.16 mph. It was Hight’s 14th career victory and second at the Vegas track.

“That was a close race in the final,” said Hight, who ran the quickest elapsed time of every elimination round. “All the runs this weekend the car was on its performance. The championship isn’t over yet, but to have a 105-point lead gives you a lot of confidence. You hate to make predictions, but way back in Bristol (in mid-May) I said this car is too good and this team is too good and we will still contend for the championship. Back then we weren’t even in the top 10. Sometimes those predictions can come back to bite you, but I believed in our team and now here we are. I may not qualify at Pomona and be out of it, because anything can happen, but the way our car is running right now I like our chances.

“I think the only person that really has a chance is Ashley. I still believe if she would have beat me first round she would be standing here (as the winner). That is a great race car. They are the reason we are in this Countdown. They fixed us.”

Hight solidly outran Boss Force, who smoked the tires on his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang, in the second round. In the semis, Hight laid down the quickest Funny Car lap of the day under the hottest conditions _ a blistering 4.080-seconds at 312.57 mph to Tim Wilkerson’s 4.233-seconds at 285.41 mph.

In Top Fuel, Massey earned his second victory of the season by beating Dixon, team-owner Don “The Snake” Prudhomme’s former driver for 14 seasons. Massey powered his U.S. Smokeless Dragster to a pass in 3.827-seconds at 314.53 mph to eliminate Dixon, whose Al-Anabi Racing Dragster lost traction at the start and posted a 5.503-second pass at 174.87 mph.

“It’s unbelievable just being able to get to the final round,” said Massey, a 27-year-old resident of Fort Worth, Texas. “Every race car out here is capable of winning races. The competition is so tight. Every round was a key round and meant something because for points, we’re down to the wire.

“It means a whole lot to me personally and to ‘Snake’ and everybody because we’ve been struggling here in the Countdown; we just haven’t been on our game. So it’s nice to come in here and throw down these good numbers and go A to B and not beat ourselves because that’s what we’ve really been doing all year long. We got a handle on it, and now we’ve got some momentum.”

Massey defeated fellow-rookie Shawn Langdon, Steve Torrence and Brandon Bernstein en route to the final. Massey is among four rookies eligible for the Auto Club Road to the Future Award, including Langdon; this weekend’s Funny Car top qualifier Matt Hagan and Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Doug Horne.

Dixon – a two-time Top Fuel champion while driving for Prudhomme – began the weekend 47 points behind Schumacher. But Dixon’s deficit is now down to one point (2,485-2,484) with four rounds of racing remaining. McClenathan is third in the title chase, 48 points back.

Schumacher  posted a more-than-respectable pass at 3.868-seconds and 318.84 mph, but McClenathan was a bit better at 3.860-seconds and 316.67 mph. “Man, that was a tough way to go out,” said Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Dragster. “You have to tip your hat to Cory and his team. They did what they had to do.”

“The Sarge” agonized post-race over an uncharacteristically slow move off the starting line. “I’m actually pretty upset with myself,” Schumacher said. “I probably did too much thinking out there. That’s not how you should perform when you’re going for a championship. We just have to deal with it.”

Prior to his loss to Cory Mac and the FRAM Tough Guard Dragster, Schumacher recorded his 500th career round win over Urs Erbacher. Schumacher is only the eighth professional driver in NHRA history to accomplish the feat.

In Pro Stock, Morgan scored his first win since 2002 and 10th of his career, outrunning first-time finalist Rickie Jones in the final. Morgan posted a 6.720-second pass at 205.69 mph in his Lucas Oil Dodge Stratus to hold off Jones’ Elite Motorsports Stratus, which trailed at 6.794-seconds and 203.16 mph.

“I threw a hundred dollars in a slot machine and won $1,200, and I thought I might be pretty lucky here,” said Morgan, who beat Jason Line, Edwards and Greg Stanfield in earlier rounds. “I felt relaxed all day and everything was going our way. We put ourselves in a position to win and I guess I drove well enough to beat the bad guys out here.”

Edwards, driver of the A.R.T./Young Life Pontiac GXP, now holds a 139-point lead over second-place Greg Anderson, a three-time champion. Edwards needs only to qualify at the season-finale to clinch his first series title.

Hines, a three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion, posted his third win of the season and 18th of his career when series-leader Arana fouled at the start of the final aboard his Lucas Oil Buell.

“I felt really good today,” said Hines, who rode his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod to earlier round wins over Fred Camarena, Horne and Matt Smith. “For some reason, I get into these races and get all caught up in the battles and rivalries, but today I was relaxed. Today, I didn’t really care. I just went out there to ride and have fun. I had no pressure.

“In the final, Hector must have been rattled. He did a neutral burnout. He didn’t put the bike in gear, and that’s never a good thing. When I heard that, I had a feeling that I was going to get the win light.”

With the runnerup finish, Arana increased his series lead to 54 points over defending champ Eddie Krawiec, Hines’ H-D teammate. Arana defeated Krawiec  in a semifinal match via a hole shot.

Final finish order (1-16) for professional categories at the ninth annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race is the 23rd of 24 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.

Top Fuel _ 1. Spencer Massey; 2. Larry Dixon; 3. Cory McClenathan; 4. Brandon Bernstein; 5. Tony Schumacher; 6. Antron Brown; 7. Doug Kalitta; 8. Steve Torrence; 9. Shawn Langdon; 10. Urs Erbacher; 11. David Grubnic; 12. Morgan Lucas; 13. Terry McMillen; 14. Bob Vandergriff; 15. Stig Neergaard; 16. Thomas Nataas.

Funny Car _1. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang; 2. Jack Beckman; 3. Tim Wilkerson; 4. Del Worsham; 5. Ron Capps; 6. Tony Pedregon; 7. Matt Hagan; 8. John Force; 9. Jim Head; 10. Gary Densham; 11. Grant Downing; 12. Jeff Arend; 13. Ashley Force Hood; 14. Mike Neff; 15. Cruz Pedregon; 16. Bob Tasca III.

Pro Stock _ 1. Larry Morgan, Dodge Stratus; 2. Rickie Jones; 3. Greg Stanfield; 4. Ron Krisher; 5. Mike Edwards; 6. Greg Anderson; 7. Rodger Brogdon; 8. Jeg Coughlin Jr.; 9. Vinnie Deceglie; 10. Allen Johnson; 11. Johnny Gray; 12. Jason Line; 13. Kurt Johnson; 14. Ryan Ondrejko; 15. Warren Johnson; 16. Ronnie Humphrey.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson; 2. Hector Arana; 3. Eddie Krawiec; 4. Matt Smith; 5. Karen Stoffer; 6. Shawn Gann; 7. David Hope; 8. Douglas Horne; 9. Larry Cook; 10. Steve Johnson; 11. Craig Treble; 12. Jim Underdahl; 13. Mike Berry; 14. Freddie Camarena; 15. Junior Pippin; 16. Michael Phillips.

LAS VEGAS _ Sunday’s final results from the ninth annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

Top Fuel _ Spencer Massey, 3.827 seconds, 314.53 mph def. Larry Dixon, 5.503 seconds, 174.87 mph.

Funny Car _ Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.125, 304.46 def. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.154, 303.16.

Pro Stock _ Larry Morgan, Dodge Stratus, 6.720, 205.69 def. Rickie Jones, Stratus, 6.794, 203.16.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.998, 190.70 def. Hector Arana, Buell, foul.

Top Alcohol Dragster _ Shawn Cowie, 5.353, 267.69 def. Brandon Johnson, 5.455, 252.24.

Top Alcohol Funny Car _ Daniel Oliver, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.658, 254.09 def. Alexis De Joria, Ford Mustang, 5.641, 255.63.

Competition Eliminator _ Dan Fletcher, Chevy Cobalt, 8.463, 122.39 def. Ross Wilson, Pontiac Sunfire, foul.

Super Stock _ David Bogner, Dodge Daytona, 9.657, 139.07 def. Chuck Stubeck, Plymouth Roadrunner, foul.

Stock Eliminator _ Jody Lang, Chevy Malibu wagon, 13.178, 96.79 def. Toby Lang, Chevy Chevelle, 11.937, 107.54.

Super Comp _ Troy Coughlin Jr, Dragster, 9.061, 174.62 def. Anthony Castillo, Dragster, 9.068, 169.78.

Super Gas _ Max Tafoya, Chevy S-10, 10.094, 153.39 def. Val Torres, Chevy Camaro, 10.091, 157.50.

LAS VEGAS _ Final round-by-round results from the ninth annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

Top Fuel _ Round 1 _ Doug Kalitta, 3.889, 309.56 def. Thomas Nataas, broke; Spencer Massey, 3.836, 316.38 def. Shawn Langdon, 3.932, 298.73; Brandon Bernstein, 3.890, 310.98 def. Bob Vandergriff, 6.710, 102.81; Cory McClenathan, 3.865, 316.75 def. David Grubnic, 4.855, 186.02; Larry Dixon, 3.834, 318.24 def. Morgan Lucas, 5.188, 134.63; Steve Torrence, 3.900, 305.36 def. Terry McMillen, 5.977, 105.80; Antron Brown, 4.012, 247.66 def. Stig Neergaard, 6.954, 86.18; Tony Schumacher, 3.844, 319.07 def. Urs Erbacher, 4.028, 289.45.

Quarterfinals _ Bernstein, 3.882, 311.85 def. Brown, 3.894, 311.34; McClenathan, 3.860, 316.67 def. Schumacher, 3.868, 318.84; Massey, 3.878, 314.02 def. Torrence, 7.880, 105.36; Dixon, 3.849, 315.34 def. Kalitta, 3.909, 313.22.

Semifinals _ Massey, 3.849, 315.34 def. Bernstein, 3.898, 311.41; Dixon, 3.845, 314.61 def. McClenathan, 3.844, 316.38.

Final _ Massey, 3.827, 314.53 def. Dixon, 5.503, 174.87.

Funny Car _ Round 1 _Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.159, 299.00 def. Jim Head, Toyota Solara, 4.146, 307.44; Del Worsham, Solara, 4.163, 304.19 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 5.057, 162.63; Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.131, 303.50 def. Grant Downing, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.244, 284.21; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.130, 305.08 def. Gary Densham, Chevy Impala, 4.208, 292.52; Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.114, 309.06 def. Ashley Force Hood, Mustang, 4.338, 283.37; Tony Pedregon, Impala, 4.271, 283.85 def. Jeff Arend, Solara, 4.331, 280.89; John Force, Mustang, 4.662, 220.80 def. Cruz Pedregon, Solara, 4.855, 230.57; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.430, 261.12 def. Mike Neff, Mustang, 4.691, 200.44.

Quarterfinals _ Beckman, 4.210, 285.41 def. Hagan, 4.242, 287.35; Wilkerson, 4.163, 301.40 def. Capps, 4.157, 303.78; Hight, 4.125, 309.42 def. Force, DQ-CCL; Worsham, 4.232, 269.67 def. T. Pedregon, 4.176, 303.64.

Semifinals _ Beckman, 4.359, 262.90 def. Worsham, 8.613, 77.85; Hight, 4.080, 312.57 def. Wilkerson, 4.233, 285.41.

Final _ Hight, 4.125, 304.46 def. Beckman, 4.154, 303.16.

Pro Stock _ Round 1 _ Larry Morgan, Dodge Stratus, 6.698, 206.01 def. Jason Line, Pontiac GXP, 6.726, 206.16; Rodger Brogdon, GXP, 6.780, 204.39 def. Warren Johnson, GXP, 6.804, 204.29; Jeg Coughlin Jr., Chevy Cobalt, 6.715, 205.54 def. Allen Johnson, Stratus, 6.706, 205.76; Greg Stanfield, GXP, 6.709, 205.76 def. Johnny Gray, Stratus, 6.722, 205.60; Greg Anderson, GXP, 6.679, 206.86 def. Ronnie Humphrey, GXP, foul; Rickie Jones, Stratus, 6.724, 205.91 def. Vinnie Deceglie, Stratus, 6.698, 205.60; Mike Edwards, GXP, 6.655, 207.21 def. Kurt Johnson, Cobalt, 6.728, 204.85; Ron Krisher, Cobalt, 6.674, 206.42 def. Ryan Ondrejko, GXP, 6.770, 203.71.

Quarterfinals _ Jones, 6.718, 205.57 def. Brogdon, 6.724, 205.76; Stanfield, 6.712, 205.63 def. Anderson, 6.705, 206.48; Krisher, 6.685, 206.35 def. Coughlin, 6.730, 204.91; Morgan, 6.720, 205.69 def. Edwards, 6.677, 207.59.

Semifinals _ Morgan, 6.729, 205.19 def. Stanfield, 6.801, 195.42; Jones, 6.716, 205.82 def. Krisher, foul.

Final _ Morgan, 6.720, 205.69 def. Jones, 6.794, 203.16.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ Round 1 _ David Hope, Buell, 7.081, 185.18 def. Craig Treble, Suzuki, 7.141, 188.57; Douglas Horne, Buell, 7.094, 189.26 def. Michael Phillips, Suzuki, foul; Shawn Gann, Buell, 7.116, 187.23 def. Junior Pippin, Buell, 7.251, 184.62; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.103, 189.66 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.127, 188.46; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 7.025, 191.19 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, foul; Matt Smith, Suzuki, 7.073, 189.04 def. Larry Cook, Buell, foul; Hector Arana, Buell, 7.058, 190.81 def. Mike Berry, Buell, 7.183, 184.35; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.081, 192.11 def. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 7.198, 188.86.

Quarterfinals _ Hines, 7.001, 191.76 def. Horne, 7.122, 187.94; Smith, 7.037, 189.44 def. Gann, 7.110, 186.87; Arana, 7.021, 190.75 def. Hope, 7.113, 186.18; Krawiec, 7.046, 190.70 def. Stoffer, 7.090, 190.16.

Semifinals _ Arana, 7.039, 190.89 def. Krawiec, 7.028, 190.86; Hines, 6.992, 191.62 def. Smith, 7.044, 189.90.

Final _ Hines, 6.998, 190.70 def. Arana, foul.

LAS VEGAS _ Top 10 point standings for NHRA professional categories following the ninth annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

Top Fuel _ 1. Tony Schumacher, 2,485; 2. Larry Dixon, 2,484; 3. Cory McClenathan, 2,437; 4. Antron Brown, 2,405; 5. Brandon Bernstein, 2,383; 6. Spencer Massey, 2,337; 7. Morgan Lucas, 2,300; 8. Shawn Langdon, 2,289; 9. Doug Kalitta, 2,270; 10. Clay Millican, 2,093.

Funny Car _ 1. Robert Hight, 2,485; 2. Ashley Force Hood, 2,380; 3. Tony Pedregon, 2,372; 4. Jack Beckman, 2,371; 5. Ron Capps, 2,358; 6. Tim Wilkerson, 2,353; 7. Del Worsham, 2,299; 8. Bob Tasca III, 2,294; 9. John Force, 2,268; 10. Mike Neff, 2,235.

Pro Stock _1. Mike Edwards, 2,594; 2. Greg Anderson, 2,455; 3. Jason Line, 2,406; 4. Greg Stanfield, 2,348; 5. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,344; 6. Ron Krisher, 2,303; 7. Allen Johnson, 2,278; 8. Johnny Gray, 2,267; 9. Kurt Johnson, 2,215; 10. Rickie Jones, 2,111.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Hector Arana, 2,525; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 2,471; 3. Andrew Hines, 2,372; 4. Matt Smith, 2,334; 5. Michael Phillips, 2,288; 6. Douglas Horne, 2,262; 7. Karen Stoffer, 2,213; 8. Shawn Gann, 2,209; 9. Craig Treble, 2,168; 10. Matt Guidera, 2,020.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 2 2009
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