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Hight Leads Off With Big Run In Vegas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 29 2011

Robert Hight connected on the opening day of qualifying at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Major League Baseball fan Robert Hight admittedly is still swinging for the fences in pursuit of a second NHRA Funny Car world championship.

Inspired by the grit displayed by the newly crowned World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, Hight sped to the provisional pole after two of four rounds of qualifications Friday for the 11th annual NHRA Big O Tires Nationals. Hight covered the 1,000-foot distance in 4.085-seconds and 311.27 mph on his second pass down The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the penultimate race of the NHRA’s six-event Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

“As long as I’m still mathematically in it going into Pomona (finale next month), that ‘s what is important,” said Hight, who began the day fifth in the standings, 58 points behind leader Jack Beckman. “You look at Game 6 of the World Series (Thursday) and what happened there, that’s a perfect example of why you don’t ever, ever give up. You battle to the last out, the last pitch and that‘s what the Cardinals did.”

The National League Champion Cardinals overcame two-run deficits in the ninth and 11th innings to defeat the American League Champion Texas Rangers, 10-9, in Game 6 and tie the best-of-seven series at 3-3.

“That was the most amazing game I have ever watched,” Hight said before the Cardinals wrapped up their 11th World Championship with a 6-2 win Friday night at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. “Coming back from being two runs down twice is the same attitude (owner/driver) John Force has taught me and everyone on our team. No matter what you don’t ever, ever believe you are out of it. We hope we don’t come down to that here in Las Vegas. As long as we have a legitimate shot leaving here, that is the mental attitude you have to have.”

Brandon Bernstein (Top Fuel), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Sr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also emerged as provisional No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories in the 21st race of the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season.

Hight, whose five wins this season include the April race in Vegas, was the slowest Funny Car during Friday’s first session after smoking the rear tires on his Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang . As such, Hight was the first Funny Car driver to make a run during the second session.

“That‘s one reason why I don’t gamble when I come to Las Vegas,” said Hight, the 2009 NHRA world champion for John Force Racing. “(Crew chief) Jimmy Prock and I talked and we were just hoping to get down the track since we didn’t in the first session. We were trying to get a run that was top-four. I would have never bet that run would have held up.”

Hight is aware he must clear two-time world champion Cruz Pedregon’s Snap-on Tools Toyota Solara and JFR teammate Mike Neff’s Castrol GTX Mustang before challenging co-leaders Jack Beckman and Matt Hagan – both of rival Don Schumacher Racing – for a shot at his second title.

“It’s (the championship) in the back of my mind,” said Hight, who earned three bonus points Friday. “I have to be careful and not over-think it. You saw what I did in Phoenix when I red-lit for the first time. It doesn’t do any good to worry about it or think about it.”

Beckman, driver of the Aaron’s/Valvoline Dodge Charger, began the day with a five-point lead over Hagan – who promptly bagged five bonus points during qualifying to deadlock his teammate for the lead with 2,362 markers. Hagan, driver of the DieHard Dodge Charger, and Beckman currently sit in the provisional second and 10th spots, respectively.

Bernstein, sixth in Countdown points, raced to the provisional No. 1 spot in a very competitive 27-car Top Fuel field after powering his Copart dragster to a 1,000-foot pass in 3.833-seconds and 321.27 mph.

“The car seemed like it didn’t even move because it was such a straight run,” said Bernstein, seeking his second pole of the season and 15th of his career. “The finish line comes so much quicker when you’re going 321 mph. The Copart team did a great job. We’ve been focusing on making four great qualifying runs and going rounds on Sunday. We’re a car that can run with all the guys who are in championship contention. This team needs a win, and that’s what we’re out here trying to do.”

Top Fuel points-leader Antron Brown raced his Matco Tools dragster to the provisional fifth spot, while Al-Anabi Racing teammates Larry Dixon and Del Worsham – second and fourth in the points chase – sit in the provisional seventh and ninth spots, respectively, after Friday’s sessions. Spencer Massey of DSR, third in the standings, is second after failing to qualify the FRAM/Prestone dragster at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler, Ariz., two weekends ago.

In Pro Stock, points-leader Line drove his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP to the provisional top spot with a quarter-mile run of 6.624-seconds at 208.07 mph. Line began the weekend with a 188-point lead over teammate Greg Anderson, the four-time/reigning world champion. Line, the 2006 world champion, will clinch his second title if he can leave Vegas with at least a 151-point lead.

“It’s a great way to start,” said Line, seeking his eighth pole of the season and third at this event. “The goal is to make a big rebound from Phoenix. We kind of stunk up the joint there, and we’re not going to do that two weeks in a row. We feel pretty good about things. We went to the finals (last year), but we were terrible here in the spring race and I tend to remember the bad races. But we have had good races here, and hopefully, this will be one of those.”

Arana Sr. powered his Lucas Oil Buell to a 6.924-second pass at 190.86 mph and the provisional top spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle. If it stands it would be his second No. 1 qualifier of the season, 17th of his career and third consecutive at the event.

“We’ve been working hard, and now it seems like things are finally lining up and going my way,” said Arana Sr., the 2009 world champion who is ninth in points. “Hector Jr. is struggling a little right now getting off the starting line. I told him, ‘I’m going to be right behind you. Either you take first or I’m going to take it from you.’ I know he wants it. And if he concentrates (Saturday), he should have the No. 1.”

Rookie of the year candidate Arana Jr., rider of the Lucas Oil Buell, began the weekend second in points, 10 behind 2008 world champion Eddie Krawiec and his Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson.

ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 10:30 p.m. (EDT) on Saturday. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise a three-hour eliminations show at 7 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday.

Friday’s results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the 11th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 21st of 22 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations.

Top Fuel _ 1. Brandon Bernstein, 3.833 seconds, 321.27 mph; 2. Spencer Massey, 3.856, 319.67; 3. Steve Torrence, 3.856, 317.49; 4. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 3.858, 321.88; 5. Antron Brown, 3.863, 318.54; 6. David Grubnic, 3.864, 311.41; 7. Larry Dixon, 3.866, 321.42; 8. Doug Kalitta, 3.872, 313.29; 9. Del Worsham, 3.879, 316.97; 10. Rod Fuller, 3.884, 317.79; 11. Dom Lagana, 3.885, 314.46; 12. Clay Millican, 3.890, 316.97.

Not Qualified _ 13. Ron August, 3.899, 316.90; 14. T.J. Zizzo, 3.899, 310.13; 15. Tony Schumacher, 3.902, 318.24; 16. Shawn Langdon, 3.903, 316.15; 17. Morgan Lucas, 3.937, 314.68; 18. Thomas Nataas, 3.939, 308.14; 19. Terry McMillen, 3.944, 312.64; 20. Troy Buff, 3.961, 304.05; 21. Cory McClenathan, 3.964, 307.79; 22. Ike Maier, 3.965, 305.36; 23. Pat Dakin, 3.967, 298.14; 24. Keith Murt, 4.006, 296.18; 25. Chris Karamesines, 4.032, 286.56; 26. Steven Chrisman, 4.195, 237.50; 27. Mike Salinas, 5.459, 138.34.

Funny Car _1. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.085, 311.27; 2. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.093, 310.05; 3. Melanie Troxel, Toyota Solara, 4.103, 310.20; 4. Alexis DeJoria, Solara, 4.121, 305.15; 5. Johnny Gray, Charger, 4.126, 311.99; 6. Cruz Pedregon, Solara, 4.126, 308.00; 7. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.141, 308.78; 8. Mike Neff, Mustang, 4.145, 309.98; 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.148, 299.46; 10. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.149, 303.64; 11. Jeff Arend, Solara, 4.162, 305.29; 12. Tony Pedregon, Chevy Impala SS, 4.166, 297.48.

Not Qualified _ 13. John Force, 4.180, 305.70; 14. Bob Tasca III, 4.187, 300.53; 15. Bob Bode, 4.193, 302.01; 16. Todd Lesenko, 4.198, 296.89; 17. Gary Densham, 4.234, 296.11; 18. Paul Lee, 4.269, 303.16; 19. Jeff Diehl, 4.337, 249.35; 20. Terry Haddock, 5.415, 136.47; 21. Jim Head, 6.723, 97.24.

Pro Stock _1. Jason Line, Pontiac GXP, 6.624, 208.07; 2. Mike Edwards, GXP, 6.627, 208.33; 3. Greg Anderson, GXP, 6.633, 208.14; 4. Ron Krisher, GXP, 6.638, 208.33; 5. Ronnie Humphrey, GXP, 6.650, 206.76; 6. Erica Enders, Chevy Cobalt, 6.652, 207.56; 7. Allen Johnson, Dodge Avenger, 6.654, 208.07; 8. Vincent Nobile, Avenger, 6.655, 207.50; 9. Greg Stanfield, GXP, 6.669, 206.95; 10. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.677, 206.86; 11. Rodger Brogdon, GXP, 6.683, 207.18; 12. Kurt Johnson, GXP, 6.683, 206.61.

Not Qualified _ 13. Steve Kent, 6.687, 206.07; 14. Shane Gray, 6.688, 206.35; 15. Warren Johnson, 6.693, 206.76; 16. V. Gaines, 6.701, 206.51; 17. Mark Wolfe, 6.708, 206.35; 18. Buddy Perkinson, 6.736, 204.63; 19. Grace Howell, 6.754, 204.82; 20. Gordie Rivera, 6.823, 202.09.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.924, 190.86; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.940, 191.84; 3. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.948, 193.93; 4. Hector Arana Jr., Buell, 6.963, 191.62; 5. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.970, 191.24; 6. Mike Berry, Buell, 7.014, 188.41; 7. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.018, 191.38; 8. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 7.019, 188.28; 9. Angie Smith, Buell, 7.030, 189.39; 10. Matt Smith, Buell, 7.031, 187.50; 11. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.065, 189.79; 12. Michael Ray, Buell, 7.075, 188.15.

Not Qualified _ 13. Bailey Whitaker, 7.076, 188.78; 14. David Hope, 7.077, 188.62; 15. Michael Phillips, 7.079, 190.43; 16. Shawn Gann, 7.085, 188.99; 17. Matt Guidera, 7.104, 187.99; 18. Justin Finley, 7.105, 186.69; 19. Karen Stoffer, 7.121, 180.16; 20. Joe DeSantis, 7.130, 184.62; 21. James Surber, 7.191, 184.22; 22. Wesley Wells, 7.244, 177.44; 23. Redell Harris, 7.262, 185.10; 24. Scotty Pollacheck, 7.265, 180.84; 25. Katie Sullivan, 7.281, 39.68; 26. Freddie Camarena, 7.307, 183.22; 27. Dawn Minturn, 7.363, 161.88.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 29 2011
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