Schumacher, Hight, Edwards, Pippin Lead Rain-Plagued Opening Day

By Candida Benson, National DRAGSTER Associate Editor

Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), and Junior Pippin (Pro Stock Motorcycle) grabbed the provisional poles in their respective classes following a rain-shortened opening day at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.

After rain washed out all of Thursday’s activities, it appeared the same fate awaited competitors today with rain starting early in the morning and continuing until about 1 p.m. Fortunately, skies cleared around 1:15, and the NHRA Safety Safari was able to get the track dry and in fine condition for a single qualifying run to kick off the annual East Coast opener. Though competitors and fans had to wait several hours after the original start time it was well worth it because conditions were fantastic and the runs put on the boards reflected that with both ends of the track records being broken in both of the nitro categories.

The rain did create a little more havoc than just the limiting of runs today. It 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 on-track nemesis and 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 and both ends of the Gainesville Raceway track record.

“The track was fine, actually a lot better than what we just ran,” said Schumacher. “There was definitely room in the car, no questions asked. That was a good run, and it was fairly soft; just a nice, easy run down the racetrack. I’m kind of surprised the other cars didn’t do better. There’s probably a lot more track than they thought. It’s a good track, a good facility.

“Three No. 1 qualifiers are defending champs? That’s a great stat that I won’t even think about on Sunday because we’ve won this race before. This is a big race. It’s like Indy and Pomona, the list of people who have won this one is amazing. People spend extra time and energy to win this one. I don’t know how we dig any deeper than we dig normally, but this is Gainesville. It’s an amazing place, an amazing crowd, a great track, and I just love winning this one. It’s a great trophy to put on your shelf.”

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,” said Hight. “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 teammates, John Force and Ashley Force Hood, follow the reigning champ on the charts with respective runs of 4.093 and 4.094. The John Force Racing trio is 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, once again 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.”

One of the surprises of the first qualifying session was Greg Anderson, who had troubles early and slowed to a 12.818 that places him 22nd out of 24 cars at the event. Bob Yonke, one of the eight drivers still in contention for the NHRA Arizona Nationals title that will be up for grabs Saturday, also struggled on his run and enters Saturday outside the field. Others on the outside looking in include Kurt Johnson, Justin Humphreys, and Steve Spiess.

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.

Top Fuel Dragster

 Psn  Driver               Vehicle                            ET   Speed
   1. Tony Schumacher      U.S. Army Dragster              [email protected] 318.02&
   2. Shawn Langdon        Lucas Oil/Speedco Dragster      3.829  317.12
   3. Doug Kalitta         Technicoat Dragster             3.846  315.49
   4. Doug Foley           DAM Dragster                    3.891  312.35
   5. Steve Torrence       Simple Mobile Dragster          3.893  311.99
   6. Antron Brown         Matco Tools Dragster            4.208  203.40
   7. Morgan Lucas         Geico Powersport/ Lucas Oil Dr  4.258  245.76
   8. Pat Dakin            Commercial Metal Fabrications   4.458  192.60
   9. David Grubnic        Kalitta Motorsports Dragster    4.520  169.23
  10. Brandon Bernstein    Copart/Lucas Oil Dragster       7.784   84.15
  11. Larry Dixon          Al-Anabi Racing Dragster        8.004   83.38
  12. Terry McMillen       Amalie Oil Dragster             8.085   85.83
          --------- Not Qualified ---------
  13. Cory McClenathan     Fram Tough Guard Dragster       8.407   78.10
  14. Bobby Lagana Jr.     NTB Dragster                    8.798   82.14
 @ = Track ET Record

Top Fuel Funny Car

Psn  Driver               Vehicle                            ET   Speed
   1. Robert Hight         AAA of So. Cal Mustang          4.060  310.13
   2. John Force           Castrol GTX Mustang             4.093  307.72
   3. Ashley Force Hood    Castrol GTX Mustang             4.094  308.99
   4. Matt Hagan           DieHard Charger                 4.104  304.12
   5. Ron Capps            NAPA Auto Parts Charger         4.110  303.64
   6. Jack Beckman         Valvoline/MTS Charger           4.135  306.05
   7. Tim Wilkerson        Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang       4.136  300.00
   8. Bob Bode             Alard Machine Products Impala   4.165  292.65
   9. Tony Pedregon        Quaker State Impala             4.198  302.21
  10. Melanie Troxel       In-N-Out Burger Charger         4.255  271.41
  11. Cruz Pedregon        Snap-On Solara                  7.435   83.43
  12. Jeff Diehl           Ideal Racing Monte Carlo        7.705   92.33
          --------- Not Qualified ---------
  13. Del Worsham          Al-Anabi Racing Solara          7.967   82.70
  14. Jim Head             Head Racing Solara              8.114   80.12
  15. Bob Tasca III        Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang   8.455   77.18
  16. Jeff Arend           DHL Solara                      9.131   77.45
  17. Paul Lee             Jim Dunn/Canidae/Lucas Oil Imp 11.867   76.33

Pro Stock

 Psn  Driver               Vehicle                            ET   Speed
   1. Mike Edwards         Penhall/K&N/Interstae GXP       6.610  208.97
   2. Ron Krisher          Valvoline Cobalt                6.619  207.91
   3. Rodger Brogdon       Kent Services & Trucking GXP    6.629  208.26
   4. Vinnie Deceglie      Mountain View Tire Avenger      6.631  207.53
   5. Jeg Coughlin Cobalt                 6.642  208.49
   6. Warren Johnson       K&N Filters GXP                 6.650  207.91
   7. Shane Gray           Gray Motorsports GXP            6.654  206.83
   8. Greg Stanfield       Nitrofish GXP                   6.655  207.69
   9. Johnny Gray          Gray Motorsports GXP            6.660  206.42
  10. Jason Line           Summit Racing Equipment GXP     6.661  207.59
  11. Larry Morgan         Lucas Oil/Summit Mustang        6.661  206.95
  12. Allen Johnson        Mopar/J & J Racing Avenger      6.670  207.62
          --------- Not Qualified ---------
  13. Rickie Jones         Elite GXP                       6.684  206.26
  14. Kurt Johnson         Mark Chriastopher Cobalt        6.685  207.02
  15. Justin Humphreys     RaceRedi Motorsports GXP        6.700  207.11
  16. John Nobile          Nobile Racing Mustang           6.709  205.35
  17. John Gaydosh Jr      Gaydosh Performance GTO         6.880  199.88
  18. Bob Benza            BNB Racing GXP                  8.083  116.61
  19. Ronnie Humphrey      Pro Stock Grills/THM GXP        8.614  169.15
  20. Erica Enders         Mustang                        11.251   78.61
  21. V. Gaines            Kendall Oil Avenger            12.456   69.95
  22. Greg Anderson        Summit Racing Equipment GXP    12.818   66.89
  23. Steve Spiess         Billet Specialties Cobalt      15.402   75.67
  24. Bob Yonke            Adrenaline Motorsports GXP     32.803  401.86

Pro Mod

 Psn  Driver               Vehicle                            ET   Speed
   1. Jay Payne            FireIce *'68 Camaro             5.887  241.28
   2. Melanie Troxel       *'63 Corvette                   5.888  236.71
   3. Mike Knowles         '63 Corvette                    5.909  244.60
   4. Kenny Lang           *'53 Corvette                   5.924  241.24
   5. Michael Gullqvist    Pro Care RX '68 Camaro          5.933  244.47
   6. Tony Pontieri        QualityPlus Compressors *'69 C  5.957  241.07
   7. Rickie Smith         '68 Camaro                      6.007  236.88
   8. Chip King            '69 Daytona                     6.017  236.46
   9. Ed Hoover            Trussell *'68 Camaro            6.019  235.84
  10. Tim Tindle           *'67 Mustang                    6.044  236.13
  11. Roger Burgess        ProCare RX *'05 Corvette        6.423  239.40
  12. Joe Baker            *'68 Firebird                   6.974  148.28
  13. Brad Personett       Big Stuff '68 Camaro            7.102  145.06
  14. Khalid Balooshi      *'68 Camaro                     7.548  113.98
  15. Rick Distefano       *'70 Camaro                     8.492  108.87
  16. Adam Flamholc        *'68 Camaro                     8.740  107.87
          --------- Not Qualified ---------
  17. Dennis Radford       '70 Duster                     10.140   88.76
  18. Mike Castellana      Al-Anabi '70 Camaro            10.313   85.22
  19. Von Smith            Dr. Moon /Al-Anabi '68 Camaro  10.829   76.38
  20. Mike Janis           Eaton '68 Firebird             11.074   82.71
  21. Raymond Commisso     *'63 Corvette                  11.184   77.16
  22. Danny Rowe           '68 Camaro                     11.509   69.82
  23. Troy Coughlin        Jeg's '68 Camaro                 NT
  24. Scott Ray            Ohio Crankshaft '53 Corvette     DQ
  25. Burton Auxier        Al-Anabi '68 Firebird            DQ   

 * = Supercharged Engine

Pro Stock Motorcycle

 Psn  Rider                Vehicle                            ET   Speed
   1. Junior Pippin        Pirana Z Buell                  6.959  190.14
   2. Shawn Gann           Rum Bum Racing Buell            6.972  190.70
   3. Matt Smith           Al-Anabi Racing Buell           6.986  190.35
   4. Eddie Krawiec        Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines   6.987  191.51
   5. David Hope           VRoom Racing Buell              7.000  189.66
   6. Hector Arana         Lucas Oil Buell                 7.059  190.40
   7. Jim Underdahl        Suzuki Extended Protection Suz  7.067  188.20
   8. Angie Smith          Coffman Tank Trucks Buell       7.083  185.38
   9. Douglas Horne        Horne Racing Buell              7.086  184.93
  10. Craig Treble         Valvoline Motorcycle Oils Suzu  7.093  189.10
  11. LE Tonglet           Buell                           7.127  187.16
  12. Darin McCurdy        Darin McCurdy Racing Suzuki     7.140  188.60
          --------- Not Qualified ---------
  13. Steve Johnson        Steve Johnson Racing Suzuki     7.148  190.97
  14. Mike Berry           MB Machining/ LAT Racing Oil B  7.148  186.61
  15. Andrew Hines         Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines   7.174  189.55
  16. Wesley Wells         Kendall Suzuki                  7.266  185.66
  17. James Surber         South County Cycles Racing Bue  7.366  186.33
  18. Katie Sullivan       Sullivan Family Racing Susuki   7.459  181.84
  19. Joe DeSantis         Team Joey D Suzuki              7.471  179.14
  20. Karen Stoffer        Geico Suzuki                    8.496  107.08
  21. Redell Harris        Master P/No Limit Record Buell   NT

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