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Hight, Edwards Clinch in Pomona

Info Manager | , RacinToday.com Saturday, November 14 2009
Larry Dixon and Tony Schumacher lined up against each other in Top Fuel on Friday. On Sunday they will fight it out for the championship. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Larry Dixon and Tony Schumacher lined up against each other in Top Fuel on Friday. On Sunday they will fight it out for the championship. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

RacinToday.com

Robert Hight clinched the 2009 NHRA Funny Car championship on Saturday thanks to bonus points earned in qualifying for this weekend’s season-ending event in Pomona Calif.

Also clinching was Mike Edwards in Pro Stock.

The championship in Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorccyle will be determined on Sunday in the final eliminations at Pomona.

In Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher and Larry Dixon are separated by just two points in a war that surely will be decided solely based on who goes the most rounds on race day with Cory McClenathan still maintaining an outside shot. The fight in Pro Stock Motorcycle is a little more one-sided as points leader Hector Arana needs only to win one round Sunday to become the third first-time NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series champion crowned this season.

Schumacher and Dixon brought an oft-delayed day to a stunning conclusion under the lights at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona when Schumacher took away Dixon’s low qualifying berth and his two-point point lead with a wild 3.772, the second quickest pass in NHRA history behind his own 3.771 from last year’s Richmond, race. Schumacher’s speed, 320.58 mph, was the second fastest in history, behind the 321.58 Dixon recorded earlier in the day to reset the national speed record. Although just two points separate them, both also have backups for new national records that would earn 20 bonus points and could complicate the situation.

“We’ve only had one other No. 1 this year and I think Larry has had nine, but if I had to pick one this was so monumental and so important at that exact time,” said Schumacher, “but neither of us wants to win it by the other guy going out. It would be great to win, but not the gratifying moments we’ve experienced in the past from winning the race. I think that both is us plan and anticipate on digging deep and meeting in the final to crown a world champion. This is the ultimate dream for us to be in this position. We’re both going to have to get in the car and cowboy up.”

Edwards and Hight claimed their first NHRA Full Throttle world championships at the close of qualifying for the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals. 
The points earned for Edwards’ No. 1 starting spot combined with 10 qualifying bonus points earned gives Edwards a 150-point lead over second-place Greg Anderson, which is more than enough to mathematically eliminate Anderson from championship contention (only 100 more points are available at the event). Though it is his first Pro Stock title, this is Edwards’ second overall NHRA crown; he also won the Modified Eliminator championship in 1981.

Edwards had the dominant car of the 2009 season, wheeling his ART/Young Life Pontiac GXP to five wins (Atlanta, Bristol, Seattle, Charlotte, and Richmond) in 10 final-round appearances. He was also the No. 1 qualifier 15 times during the season, including at the eight events leading into the season finale. He also held both ends of the national record at points during the season (he is the current e.t. holder at 6.509, but his 212.03-mph speed mark was bettered by Anderson later in the year).

Edwards also tied Greg Anderson’s single-season record for No. 1 starts at 16.

“I can say words, but they just don’t describe the feeling I have,” said an emotional Edwards. “It’s so exciting for me and it’s been such a long time coming, but it’s all worth it. It’s Roger Stahl and a bunch of guys who got together a couple of years ago and decided to give it our best effort. We decided we’d try one time to do it the right way and started our shop and we’ve all just kept pulling at the same end of the rope and here we are, living our dream.

“We knew over the winter we were a lot better, but until you get out here and run against the summit team, the Jegs team, the Johnsons and everyone you just don’t know. We started off well here and got on a roll. It wasn’t until the middle of the summer when we got four or five runners-ups and a couple of wins that I thought if we could keep our momentum going and keep fighting adversity that we knew we had a good chance.

“We made a lot of good decisions on the car and just tested and tested and tested. We did everything we could this year to make it happen, and it’s all paid off.
“There’s a lot of people behind this, and they all give me great opportunities. It’s been a long time coming, but it sure feels good right now. (The final run) just goes to show you what Terry Adams, Josh Robinson, Al Lindsay, and Nick and Paul and Carl and just the whole team can do — they’re fabulous. I feel like there’s times I’ve let them down, but they never gave up on me. They kept encouraging me and telling me that I could do it, and somehow I guess I believed them a time or two. I can’t forget my backbone, my friend, the one that keeps me in line and keeps encouraging me when I lose a little bit or get stressed out: my wife, Lisa. Thank you, Lisa, and thank you to my sister, Marilyn.”

Edwards is the 15th driver in NHRA history to win a Pro Stock championship. His previous best finish in Pro Stock was third, in 1996, when he also set his previous best for wins in a season at three. This is Edwards’ ninth top-10 finish of his career.

Minutes after Edwards accepted the Wally trophy emblematic of his title, Hight became the second of two first-time NHRA Professional champions crowned when he earned enough points in qualifying with his Auto Club Mustang to mathematically eliminate his closest points rival, teammate Ashley Force Hood, to claim the championship, the 16th for John Force Racing.

For Hight, who moved from clutch specialist on Force’s Funny Car to the cockpit in 2005, it’s been a relatively short ride to glory — a path that has included his being named the winner of the Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future award as 2005’s top rookie and a second-place points finished in 2006 and 2007 – but it’s been a rocky ride this season.

The fifth-year pilot struggled through the season’s first two thirds, winning just 12 rounds in the first 17 events and twice failing to qualifying, and needed a last-second near-miracle to qualify for the Countdown playoffs, which he got with a runner-up finish to Force Hood at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.

From there, though, crew chief Jimmy Prock found the magic that had eluded him all season and turned up the wick on his “Prock Rocket.” They won back to back in Charlotte and Dallas to kick off the playoffs, then returned to the winner’s circle in Las Vegas with a performance that all but sealed the championship.

Hight, the son in law of team owner John Force, who won 14 championships and was team owner for Tony Pedregon’s Funny Car title in 2003, is a former championship trapshooter, and finally has zeroed is on another title target.

Info Manager | , RacinToday.com Saturday, November 14 2009
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