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Rains Ease, NHRA Qualifying Begins

| , RacinToday.com Friday, March 12 2010
Tony Schumacher sped to the pole during the first round of Top Fuel qualifying at the Gatornationals on Friday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Tony Schumacher sped to the pole during the first round of Top Fuel qualifying at the Gatornationals on Friday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)


The rain let up Friday afternoon and the NHRA cars finally got onto the track for the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway in Florida.

Grabbing the poles were Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), and Junior Pippin (Pro Stock Motorcycle) during a day that was shortened to just one qualifying run for the pro cars.

Schumacher and High both set track records.

The rain did further postponed the remainder of Pro Stock eliminations from the NHRA Arizona Nationals, which will now be completed entirely on Saturday. In addition, due to water in the pits, most Lucas Oil Sportsman classes have been put on hold indefinitely. Only Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car, and Comp will make runs Saturday. If conditions permit, the other classes will return on Sunday; if not, they will be pushed to Monday.

Running alongside defending event winner Larry Dixon, Schumacher and his U.S. Army team made a statement with a 3.823 at 318.02 mph pass that gave him the No. 1 position.

Sophomore runner Shawn Langdon grabbed the provisional No. 2 spot with a 3.829, and Doug Kalitta, who is running a special Coors Extra Gold scheme in honor of local hero Darrell Gwynn, is currently third after posting a 3.846. Doug Foley and the Dote Family Racing team made a strong debut with a fourth-best 3.891. Steve Torrence, Antron Brown, Morgan Lucas, and Pat Dakin occupy the fifth through eighth spots. Terry McMillen landed in the 12th spot with an 8.085.

Only 14 cars made runs today, but more, including Chris Karamesines, are expected to make attempts on Saturday. Cory McClenathan and Bobby Lagana Jr. were the two drivers who were unable to crack the top 12 and will start from scratch on Saturday.

Hight reset both ends of the Gainesville Raceway Funny Car track records when he powered his Auto Club-backed Mustang to a 4.060 at 310.13 mph to nab the No. 1 spot in the ladder for now.

“A lot of guys went out there and shook, but Jimmy Prock has got a good handle on this race car,” Hight said. “We were hurting it a little bit in Phoenix, so he decided to put a new fuel pump on it, and he was even second-guessing himself a little after we had the threatening weather and one run today. But he stuck with it, and as you can see, it ran 310. It was a flawless run. If we can get some more conditions tomorrow, maybe we can lower that a little bit because there’s a lot of other cars out there that can do that. An .06 is a great start, and it’s definitely going to stay in the top four, five.

“This was the start of our big problems last year, and we learned a lot. That’s why I’m not going to get overconfident and too excited about what we’re doing now because this sport is very humbling; you can change in a hurry. We’ve just got to work hard and stay doing what we’re doing. We’re not changing a whole lot and refining what we have, and it’s awesome. That No. 1’s also a target out there because there’s a lot of Funny Cars that want that on the side of their car next year, so we’re going to have to do a good job to regain that this year.”

Hight’s John Force Racing teammates, John Force and Ashley Force Hood, follow the reigning champ on the charts with respective runs of 4.093 and 4.094. The JFR drivers are followed by the three Don Schumacher Racing entries: Matt Hagan (4.104), Ron Capps (4.110), and Phoenix winner Jack Beckman (4.135). Jeff Diehl landed in the important No. 12 spot, and his 7.705 will be the final time that will count towards the final order.

Del Worsham, Jim Head, defending event champ Bob Tasca III, Jeff Arend, and Paul Lee are the five drivers who enter Saturday not qualified and needing to bump into the field.

Edwards continues to just make it look easy, pacing the Pro Stock field with a 6.610 from his Penhall/Interstate/K&N GXP that gives him the provisional No. 1 after the first qualifying day. If it holds, this would be Edwards’ 12th straight start from the top spot, dating back to Brainerd last August.

If there is a bright spot for Edwards’ competitors it’s that his advantage over the rest of the field isn’t too big, just six-thousandths over engine customer Ron Krisher. Rodger Brogdon ranks third with a 6.629, and Vinnie Deceglie is the current No. 4 qualifier with a 6.631. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Warren Johnson, Shane Gray, and Greg Stanfield round out the quick eight. Allen Johnson is the final driver whose time will carry over the Saturday after he posted a 12th-best 6.670.

“We figured the track would be pretty good,” said Edwards. “Of course, it rained most of the day, but when it did dry off, we had cloud cover all day, so we knew the track would be cool. So we thought the track would be pretty good, and it was. It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t get both runs in, but tomorrow looks a lot better, so tomorrow will be a different day. I think conditions will be a whole lot better, so I think today is a little premature of what you’re going to see tomorrow.

“[With Phoenix eliminations tomorrow], the focus does change. You’re doing two things at once. It’s different. You know, you’re qualifying but you’re also racing, so your mindset’s going to be a little different, that’s for sure. It’s going to be a little nerve-racking because if conditions change a lot, we’ll have to make a lot of changes to these cars, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Pippin’s best start in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle competition is sixth, a position he started from in Reading and Las Vegas last year, but he is on his way to his first pole after posting a 6.959 that is a hundredth and a half better than the rest of his competitors.

“We just threw a Hail Mary at it to be honest with you, and, by golly, she went on down the boulevard, so I guess we’ll throw more Hail Marys at her,” said Pippin. “For the first pass I’ve made since Pomona [in November], we’re really happy and surprised. It felt good. I short-shifted a couple of gears, so there’s more in it. We’ll come out tomorrow and see if we can’t get faster because I’m sure the .95 won’t stand up, but it’s the best start we’ve had.

“We put the Pomona setup in it. This is a brand new engine and a brand new motorcycle, I mean, it’s a new chassis and everything. We’ve only made three pulls on the dyno. Rick Maney and Trent Griffin, I just can’t say enough about how hard they worked on it. These guys have worked so hard on the Pirana Z Buell. For the last two years, we’ve really worked hard on it. We’ve had some little glitches here and there, but hopefully it’s all coming together now. It’s not because of lack of effort, I’ll tell you that.”

Shawn Gann sit second after posting a 6.972 and is followed on the sheets by former world champ Matt Smith, who debuted his new Al-Anabi Racing program in fine fashion with a 6.986. Another former season titlist, 2008 champ Eddie Krawiec, is another thousandth back with a 6.987. David Hope is fifth, followed by reigning champ Hector Arana, Jim Underdahl, and Angie Smith. Darin McCurdy earned the 12th spot — the final time that transfers into Saturday — with a 7.140.

Three-time world champ Andrew Hines is among the riders who enter Saturday not qualified after he was only able to muster a 7.174. Also among those on the nonqualified list at this moment are last year’s seventh-place points finisher Karen Stoffer and veteran competitor Steve Johnson.

| , RacinToday.com Friday, March 12 2010
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