In a show of class dominance, Robert Hight leads a quartet of John Force Mustangs atop the Funny Car field after two days of qualifying at the 55th Annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil. Larry Dixon, Mike Edwards, and Hector Arana join Hight as Friday leaders who now head into Sunday with the qualifying leads.
In addition to qualifying sessions two and three of the five scheduled, the last of which was filled with drama, many improvements, and header flames under the lights, O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis also hosted the annual running of the Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle for Pro Stock Motorcycles. Andrew Hines defeated Hector Arana to claim the $25,000 top prize after Arana threw away the money round on a foul start.
A couple of drivers took substantial shots at his lead but Dixon’s Friday night 3.850 held on for the No. 1 spot, which would be his fifth of the season with the Jason McCulloch-tuned Alan Johnson racing/Al-Anabi dragster.
“I have egg on my face, because I said [Friday night] that the 3.85 wouldn’t hold up,” said Dixon. “I really thought that it would take an .80 or an .81 to take the pole tonight. There were a whole lot of .85s, and we just happened to be on the right side of them. We were trying to run a low-.80 as I’m sure a lot of other guys were, but for one reason or another it didn’t work.
“We’re going to run in race day-type of conditions tomorrow and work on our setup. I feel very fortunate to be low right now. Unless something crazy happens tomorrow, it might hold up.”
Antron Brown’s 3.852 came close to Dixon and later was supplanted for the No. 2 spot by Cory McClenathan, who regained the position he held directly behind Dixon Friday with a 3.851. It’s a close-knit field up top as five drivers qualified with 3.85s, with Tony Schumacher (3.855) and Morgan Lucas (3.859) right behind the top three.
Hight entered the final session atop the Funny Car field with his Friday 4.107, then watched boss John Force take it away with a similar pass at a better speed. When Hight’s turn came to run, he steered the Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang right back to the top with a 4.082 and was joined by the boss’ daughter, Ashley Force Hood, who ran 4.093 alongside him. Mike Neff squeezed into third, also ahead of his team owner, with a 4.093 in the day’s final pass.
“First off, 1, 2, 3, and 4 for our John Force Ford Mustangs — that’s never happened,” said Hight. “We’ve had it lined up before, and someone’s messed it up. It could get messed up tomorrow, trust me, but we’re 1, 2, 3, and 4 going into tomorrow at the biggest race of the year, that’s an accomplishment. It’s still not over yet because they’re calling for some clouds tomorrow, and if we have cloud cover, NHRA’s done a great job on this racetrack and there’s going to be a lot of 4.0s tomorrow. It could even shuffle tomorrow, the top spots.”
Del Worsham occupies the fifth spot and the first non-JFR position after reeling off a solid 4.109 in the Al-Anabi Toyota, now tuned by Dickie Venables. Behind him, in another Toyota, is reigning season champ Cruz Pedregon, who’s flexing his muscles and showing his intent to hold onto a spot in the countdown’s top 10 for a shot at defending his season title. Pedregon started the day third but slipped to sixth.
“It’s a big deal to outqualify Cruz [Pedregon] here,” added Hight.”Had I been No. 4 and Cruz had gone to No. 1, that changes everything; then we have to make up three rounds on Monday, and that is big. At the same time, you risk smoking the tires. All my other teammates, had we not stepped up tonight, would have bumped me. John [Force] already had by speed. Had Cruz stepped up and gone to No. 1, that would have made it 40-something points, which would have been three rounds on Monday.”
Mike Edwards is more than halfway to his 10th No. 1 spot of the season in Pro Stock, holding the lead through three of the five qualifying sessions with a stout 6.581 recorded Saturday morning. Edwards’ ART/Young Life Pontiac has been the class of the field through all three sessions, including a 6.623 in the day’s final pass.
“This morning’s run, condition-wise, was better; tonight was a little more humid,” said Edwards. “We made another great run this morning, but then we had a misfortune with the engine and changed it. We were still low of the round, but it wasn’t quite what we wanted.”
Hector Arana didn’t win the Pro Bike Battle final, but he did up the pressure on his two-wheeled peers by picking up a half-tenth over his Friday-leading pass, charting a 6.936 aboard his Lucas Oil Buell to front the pack heading into Sunday’s final two passes. Arana is gunning for his fifth No. 1 of the season.
Hines’ day also was highlighted by a position improvement as he moved past Matt Smith and into second place on the ladders with a 6.957 aboard the Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley Davidson after Smith could only muster a 6.968 in response from his NitroFish Suzuki.
Go to nhra.com for more on the U.S. Nationals.