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Test Helps Hight Drive To Provisional Pole At Gateway

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 24 2016
Robert High sped to the top spot in Funny Car qualifying on Friday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series)

Robert High sped to the top spot in Funny Car qualifying on Friday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

A one-day test delivered immediate dividends for Robert Hight Friday at Gateway Motorsports Park, where the 2009 NHRA Funny Car world champion earned the provisional pole for the fifth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.

Hight, of John Force Racing, pushed his Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS to a 1,000-foot pass in 3.893-seconds at 328.38 mph during Friday’s second qualifying session to lead the Funny Car field into Round 2 of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs in Madison, Ill., near St. Louis.

Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Chip Ellis (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were qualifying leaders in their respective categories at the 20th event of 24 on the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

After defeating two-time world champion Cruz Pedregon in Round 1 of last Sunday’s NHRA Carolina Nationals, Hight was trailered by point-leader Ron Capps of Don Schumacher Racing in the quarterfinals. The results at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., left High seventh in the Countdown, 101 points (five rounds of racing) behind Capps.

Hight and his team spent Monday testing new components at zMAX in hopes of finding a championship-caliber tune-up. The result was Friday’s two quickest runs.

“This was a big day for us, but it’s only one day,” said Hight, the 2010 AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals winner. “When you test on Monday and it was only us and John (Force), it’s hard to judge your performance. You don’t have other cars there. You don’t really know if you’ve improved until you go to the next racetrack. The Funny Car class is the most competitive it has ever been. To go out there and be No. 1 two runs in a row with all that we’ve changed on this race car just shows how good my team is.”

Hight blasted to the top of the field in the opening session with a 3.941-second run at 325.61 mph. Between rounds the team thrashed to get the Camaro together for the second session. Luckily, Hight was in the last pairing, running alongside reigning Funny Car champion Del Worsham.

After Hight’s second pass, the scoreboard showed the lone 3.8-second run of the day. Hight’s official time of 3.893-seconds at 328.38 mph earned him three more qualifying bonus points.

“You’re starting to see some smiles in the AAA pit,” Hight said. “I joked at the other end the only thing that’s the same in this race car is the driver; everything else is different. (Crew chief) Mike Neff realized it was do or die and we kind of dug ourselves a hole in Charlotte. We need to come out here and really perform and try to get right back in this thing. The six points we earned today will definitely help.”

Hight, who won earlier this year at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway, has 47 career poles but has not qualified better than third this season. If he holds onto the top spot Saturday, he will extend a streak of qualifying No. 1 at least once every year of his career.

DSR’s Jack Beckman is second in his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T at 3.907-seconds and 325.22 mph. The winner at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., “Fast Jack” fell to eighth in points after a first- round loss last weekend. Beckman won this event in 2012 en route to his only Funny Car world championship. Two-time 2016 event-winner Tim Wilkerson is third at 3.912-seconds and 325.61 mph in his Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang.

 Two-time world champion Matt Hagan of DSR is fourth and is followed by Houston-area winner Courtney Force and reigning world champion Worsham in fifth and sixth, respectively. Capps is seventh while zMAX winner and 16-time world champion John Force currently is slotted 15th.

 In Top Fuel, Crampton covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.733-seconds at 323.50 mph at the controls of his Lucas Oil dragster to take the qualifying lead. The Adelaide, South Australia, native has one pole this year and four in his career. Crampton posted a runnerup finish earlier this season in Sonoma, Calif., but still is chasing his first win of 2016.

“In the Countdown is when you want to start running your best,” said Crampton, 10th in points. “You can’t start a weekend much better than being on the pole and hopefully that will give us a softer first round draw on Sunday, but we can’t take anyone lightly anymore either. It doesn’t mean a huge amount in the big scheme of things to me, because now it’s about what we can do in the hot weather on Sunday.”

Doug Kalitta is second at 3.752-seconds and 325.92 mph in his Mac Tools dragster. A three-time St. Louis winner for Kalitta Motorsports, Kalitta has raced to three victories this season and is second in the standings. DSR’s Tony Schumacher, an eight-time world champ, is third at 3.757-seconds and 320.58 mph in his U.S. Army dragster. “The Sarge” is the winningest Top Fuel driver in NHRA history, a two-time Gateway champion and currently fifth in points.

Sonoma Raceway winner J.R. Todd is qualified fourth and followed by Phoenix-area winner Leah Pritchett. Two-time/reigning Top Fuel champion and point-leader Antron Brown is in the 12th spot.

Greg Anderson took the qualifying lead in Pro Stock with a quarter-mile pass of 6.607-seconds at 209.30  mph in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro. Anderson, second in points, has six poles this year and 86 in his career. A four-time Pro Stock world champion, Anderson posted a runnerup finish last weekend at zMAX and has notched seven wins this season.

 “We were right on the money and then we got the big weather swing tonight when the sun was hiding behind the clouds,” said Anderson, who won this event in 2004. “We hadn’t run a night session like this for quite a while so we were ready to come on up here and make some minor changes from the first run today and then we got the delay and that changed everything. You’ve got to race the conditions you have and I know this isn’t going to matter for Sunday, but that position on the ladder might matter come Sunday. The good news is we’ve got a great setup for both a hot track and for when the sun goes down.”

Shane Gray is second in his Gray Motorsports Chevy Camaro at 6.609-seconds and 209.65 mph. Gray, seventh in points, qualified No. 1 earlier this year at Route 66 Raceway but still is hunting his first victory of the season. Texan Alex Laughlin sits third at 6.610-seconds and 209.14 mph in his Gas Monkey Garage Camaro. Laughlin, 11th in points, did not make the Countdown cut but is seeking his first career victory.

 Vincent Nobile, a two-time 2016 runnerup, is fourth and is trailed by four-time 2016 runnerup Bo Butner. Point-leader and eight-time 2016 winner Jason Line, a two-time world champ, is sixth.

 In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Ellis rode his Pirana Z/Pippin Motorsports Buell to a quarter-mile pass in 6.850-seconds at 196.53 mph to earn the qualifying lead. Ellis, who won last weekend at zMAX and moved up to second in points, has 16 poles in his career and is two sessions away from his first in 2016. Ellis won this event in 2006 and finished a career-high third in points in 2007.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Ellis said. “This last week, we’ve just kept pinching ourselves to see if this has really happened. To come and do as well as we have so far and go low both rounds today, it’s exciting for our team. We work really hard and we’re a small team.”

Hector Arana, who raced to a runnerup finish at the season-opener in Gainesville, is second at 6.880-seconds and 195.34 mph aboard his Lucas Oil Buell. The 2009 world champion, Arana was the 2015 AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals runnerup.

Jerry Savoie and his White Alligator Racing Suzuki are third at 6.881-seconds and 194.88 mph. Savoie, the 2014 Gateway winner, is sixth in points. Three-time world champion Eddie Krawiec is fourth aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. Englishtown, N.J., winner Angelle Sampey, a three-time world champion, is fifth with five-time/reigning world champ and point-leader Andrew Hines in sixth aboard his Harley V-Rod.

Qualifying will resume Saturday with sessions at 1:45 and at 4:15 p.m. Fox Sports 1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage Sunday at 2 a.m., as well as three hours of live finals coverage starting at 2 p.m.

“Silly Season” in Pro Stock Motorcycle began this week when rookie Cory Reed, of Precision Service Equipment/Star Racing, announced plans to form his own team for the 2017 season. Reed’s new team will be closely aligned with Colorado-based Y-Not Racing Team. In a related announcement, Reed confirmed that his current teammate _ three-time NHRA Mello Yello Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Angelle Sampey _ will join him in the role of team manager.

“From Day One, it has been my dream to own and operate my own professional drag racing team and I’m happy to announce that we’ve moved a step closer to making that dream a reality,” Reed said in a statement. “While this has always been a long-term goal, some opportunities have recently become available that have accelerated our timetable. I’ve learned a lot about racing a Pro Stock Motorcycle in the last year and I look forward to continuing that education.

“I’m also excited to explore the business side of racing which is why my family and I have asked Angelle to help manage our team. Angelle has more than 20-years of experience out here, and she knows the sport inside and out. We both have the same goal of building a winning organization. I understand that this is a big project, but we’re committed to building a program that will have long-term success.”

Reed began the weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park 10th in points and Sampey is third aboard their Buells. Sampey stood fifth in Friday’s provisional qualifying standings while Reed was seventh.

George Bryce, founder/co-owner of Star Racing with wife Jackie, was taken aback by the announcement. “After weeks of talking with (partners) Jim and Annie Whiteley about 2017, we were really surprised to hear this decision after all of our recent success at the racetrack,” Bryce said in a statement. “After four No. 1 qualifiers at the last five events, getting both bikes in the top-10 and setting high mph and E.T. at most events, we’re just really surprised to hear they’re gonna go out on their own.

“At this time, we haven’t figured out what we’re doing next year or how we’re going to do it. We never thought we’d be going in this direction. We were told several times that we were racing with the Whiteley’s in 2017.”

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Friday’s provisional qualifying results after the first two rounds of time trials for the fifth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park, 20th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.  Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations:

Top Fuel _ 1. Richie Crampton, 3.733-seconds, 323.50 mph; 2. Doug Kalitta, 3.752, 325.92; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.757, 322.19; 4. J.R. Todd, 3.772, 322.04; 5. Leah Pritchett, 3.773, 322.42; 6. Shawn Langdon, 3.783, 325.30; 7. Brittany Force, 3.790, 320.20; 8. Clay Millican, 3.798, 323.35; 9. Wayne Newby, 3.801, 318.69; 10. Steve Torrence, 3.805, 323.19; 11. Pat Dakin, 3.805, 309.06; 12. Antron Brown, 3.808, 314.39.

Not Qualified _ 13. Kyle Wurtzel, 3.898, 307.79; 14. Kebin Kinsley, 3.901, 307.16; 15. Luigi Novelli, 4.106, 263.92; 16. Terry McMillen, 4.294, 201.73; 17. Scott Palmer, 4.307, 198.67; 18. Troy Buff, 6.333, 95.96.

Funny Car _ 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.893, 328.38; 2. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.907, 325.22; 3. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.912, 325.61; 4. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.914, 327.51; 5. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.918, 324.36; 6. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 3.929, 324.75; 7. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.933, 322.81; 8. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.974, 323.27; 9. Chad Head, Camry, 3.994, 320.36; 10. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.009, 314.68; 11. Brian Stewart, Mustang, 4.009, 290.82; 12. John Bojec, Toyota Solara, 4.037, 293.22.

Not Qualified _ 13. John Hale, 4.177, 279.09; 14. Brandon Welch, 4.257, 290.07; 15. John Force, 4.440, 193.29; 16. Tommy Johnson Jr., 4.470, 189.15; 17. Dale Creasy Jr., 4.559, 192.06; 18. Jack Wyatt, 11.019, 86.08.

Pro Stock _ 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.607, 209.56; 2. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.609, 209.65; 3. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.610, 209.14; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.611, 209.43; 5. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.621, 209.36; 6. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.622, 209.30; 7. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.625, 208.46; 8. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.636, 208.20; 9. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.646, 207.91; 10. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Dart, 6.648, 207.46; 11. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.667, 206.95; 12. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.695, 206.57.

Not Qualified _ 13. Mark Hogan, 6.783, 203.09; 14. Dave River, 6.925, 198.93; 15. Aaron Strong, 7.407, 135.27; 16. Alan Prusiensky, 7.489, 144.35.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.850, 196.53; 2. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.880, 195.34; 3. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.881, 194.88; 4. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.884, 193.88; 5. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.893, 195.87; 6. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.897, 193.65; 7. Cory Reed, Buell, 6.915, 194.13; 8. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.930, 193.32; 9. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.950, 193.57; 10. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.955, 193.05; 11. Angie Smith, Victory, 6.968, 191.35; 12. Hector Arana Jr., Buell, 6.974, 194.83.

Not Qualified _ 13. LE Tonglet, 7.000, 193.68; 14. Melissa Surber, 7.071, 191.19; 15. Joe DeSantis, 7.111, 187.99; 16. Matt Smith, 7.149, 162.88.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 24 2016
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