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Hight On Provisional Pole At Brainerd

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 16 2014

Robert Hight leads Funny Car qualifying in Minnesota . (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Tami Pope)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Funny Car point-leader Robert Hight began chipping away at a 10-year run of frustration at Brainerd International Raceway Friday, racing to the provisional pole during the opening day of qualifications for the 33rd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals.

Hight never has been No. 1 qualifier at the Minnesota facility, one of only three tracks where he has failed to advance to a final round. But after a tire-smoking first qualifying pass dropped him to 17th, Hight bolted to the top of the field with a 4.085-second 1,000-foot pass at 313.29 mph.

“Given we messed-up the first run to come out and go 4.08, it was pretty awesome,” said Hight, the 2009 NHRA world champion and driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang. “It shows that (crew chief) Mike Neff has a great handle on this car and he can make it do what he wants. It was an unbelievable run and exactly what we needed to do.”

Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) also were qualifying leaders at the penultimate event in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season.

“I didn’t think that run had a chance of staying on top,” said Hight, the first driver to complete a second-round pass. “I’m glad no one was offering to take bets on that because I would have lost. I went back and told Neff that I believe that will be top-half. I really figured everybody would step-up because it was cooling down.

“We were first pair and Bob Bode blew it up so I knew it was going to be 10 or 15 minutes before anyone else ran and that track temperature was just dropping. Hats off to my guys because that was pretty awesome. I’m pretty impressed with that run.”

Prior to his second pass Hight spent time with Neff and his computer. “I saw a run on his computer and he was looking at the 4.08 we ran in Sonoma (Calif.),” said Hight, of John Force Racing. “Given the circumstances of messing-up the first run we did exactly what we needed to do.

“And when you aren’t qualified you aren’t as amped-up. You’re not worried about cutting a light. There’s only a certain amount of (lane) area that has good traction so that was my focus; keeping it right down the middle. We did that and it was an unbelievable run. I even looked up at the scoreboard after I got the chutes out and saw that we ran a 4.08 and I thought that is exactly what we needed. Did I think it would be No. 1? Not a chance.

“But there’s rain in the forecast (for Saturday) so that makes for some extra pressure because you want to get in. You can’t be messing around and have rain get you.”

Two-time world champion Cruz Pedregon qualified second at 4.093-seconds and 308.21 mph in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry. Eleven-time Brainerd winner John Force, the 16-time/reigning world champion, was third with a 4.099-second pass at 311.77 mph in his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Mustang.

Top Fuel point-leader Kalitta earned the provisional pole with a 1,000-foot pass at 3.812-seconds and 322.96 mph at the controls of his Mac Tools dragster. Kalitta is seeking his sixth pole of the season and fourth at Brainerd.

“It was cooling off and with the four cars behind us anything could’ve happened,” Kalitta said. “I was real happy with the run. It was nice and straight. On the first run it dropped a cylinder and smoked the tires so it wasn’t really going anywhere. My guys made the right changes and (crew chief) Jim Oberhofer is definitely on his game this year tuning this thing. I’m real proud of him.”

Kalitta has two career wins in three final-round appearances at Brainerd and is aiming to keep some recent momentum going following his second victory of the season two weeks ago in Kent, Wash., near Seattle.

“This is a great event for the Kalitta family,” said Kalitta, who won the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in 2003 and 2005. “We’ve had good luck up here over the years. It would be great to get a win on Sunday.”

Reigning world champion Shawn Langdon sits second in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster with a 3.815-second pass at 321.27 mph. Rookie Richie Crampton qualified third in the GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster at 3.827-seconds and 320.97 mph. And Antron Brown, the 2012 world champion, is fourth in his Matco Tools dragster after posting numbers of 3.827-seconds at 316.38 mph for Don Schumacher Racing.

In Pro Stock, Johnson was quickest in his Magneti Marelli/Team Mopar Dodge Dart, covering the traditional quarter-mile distance in 6.614-seconds at 208.04 mph.

“The conditions got a little dryer and that helps the Pro Stock cars, so we absolutely murdered it in the first 330-feet on that run,” Johnson said. “Hats off to the team. They pulled that one off. I just pulled the levers and the parachute.”

With a successful Western Swing, Johnson has moved into second in the standings only 32 points behind series leader Erica Enders-Stevens. “We’re in Countdown mode right now, trying to get every single point we can,” said Johnson, the 2012 world champion. “The first run (Saturday) could be the best conditions of the weekend for our class, so it will be close.”

Enders-Stevens _ who sat out the last two national events to prepare for the upcoming six-race NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs _ qualified second with a 6.630-second pass at 207.69 mph in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro. Four-time world champion Greg Anderson, a native of Minnesota and three-time winner at Brainerd, qualified third in his Summit Racing Camaro at 6.632-seconds and 208.26 mph.

Qualifying continues Saturday with sessions at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to set the fields for Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations. ESPN2 will carry two hours of qualifying highlights Saturday starting at 11 p.m. (EDT). Three hours of elimination round coverage will air on ESPN2 Sunday at 9 p.m.

Friday’s qualifying results after the first two of four rounds of time trials for the 33rd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, 17th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations.

Top Fuel _ 1. Doug Kalitta, 3.812-seconds, 322.96 mph; 2. Shawn Langdon, 3.815, 321.27; 3. Richie Crampton, 3.827, 320.97; 4. Antron Brown, 3.827, 316.38; 5. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 3.835, 318.84; 6. Tony Schumacher, 3.836, 323.43; 7. Larry Dixon, 3.842, 320.13; 8. Brittany Force, 3.845, 319.07; 9. Spencer Massey, 3.860, 317.34; 10. Morgan Lucas, 3.883, 286.98; 11. Terry McMillen, 3.906, 318.99; 12. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.914, 306.19.

Not Qualified _ 13. Clay Millican, 3.987, 294.75; 14. Steve Torrence, 4.386, 186.00; 15. Chris Karamesines, 4.446, 193.99; 16. J.R. Todd, 4.718, 157.89; 17. Tim Cullinan, 5.063, 138.13; 18. Leah Pritchett, 5.542, 124.48; 19. Luigi Novelli, 12.368, 31.18.

Funny Car _ 1. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.085, 313.29; 2. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.093, 308.21; 3. John Force, Mustang, 4.099, 311.77; 4. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.110, 299.06; 5. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.138, 310.27; 6. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.138, 308.21; 7. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.151, 305.70; 8. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.154, 303.37; 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.157, 304.53; 10. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.162, 306.46; 11. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.198, 301.74; 12. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.203, 275.62.

Not Qualified _ 13. Del Worsham, 4.235, 293.03; 14. Dale Creasy Jr., 4.237, 290.76; 15. Chad Head, 4.277, 238.98; 16. Brian Stewart, 4.369, 273.50; 17. Bob Bode, 4.395, 235.19; 18. Jeff Arend, 4.813, 166.83.

Pro Stock _ 1. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.614, 208.04; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.630, 207.69; 3. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.632, 208.26; 4. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.633, 208.39; 5. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Dart, 6.636, 207.91; 6. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.645, 207.82; 7. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.645, 207.78; 8. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.659, 207.40; 9. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.666, 207.75; 10. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.669, 207.98; 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.669, 207.43; 12. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.723, 206.32.

Not Qualified _ 13. Deric Kramer, 6.788, 205.04; 14. Dave River, 6.790, 204.23; 15. Mark Hogan, 6.803, 201.79.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 16 2014
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