Robert Hight (NHRA photo)
Robert Hight raced to the Funny Car lead Friday during a rain-shortened day of qualifying at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals.
Defending champion Hight powered his Auto Club Ford Mustang to a Gainesville Raceway track-record performance of 4.060 seconds at 310.13mph to move to the top of the 16-car qualifying order.
"A lot of guys went out there and [lost traction], but [crew chief] Jimmy Prock has got a good handle on this race car," Hight said. "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."
Tony Schumacher, Mike Edwards and Junior Pippin also were qualifying leaders in their respective categories at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event. NHRA officials were forced to cancel one qualifying round due to persistent rains, which lasted until just past noon.
Seven-time champion Schumacher also posted both ends of the track record in his U.S. Army dragster with a performance of 3.823 at 318.03 to pace Top Fuel qualifying.
"The track was fine, actually a lot better than what we just ran," Schumacher said. "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."
Schumacher, a three-time winner of the historic event, still gets goosebumps when he pulls to the line for a run at The Swamp.
"This is a big race," he said. "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."
Edwards, who will face Greg Anderson tomorrow in the continuation of the weather-delayed Pro Stock eliminations from Phoenix, covered the distance in 6.610 at 208.97 in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP to lead his category.
"We figured the track would be pretty good," said defending world champ 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."
The Edwards-Anderson matchup will be one of four quarterfinal rounds left over from Phoenix that will be completed during tomorrow's first qualifying session (noon). The semifinals will take place in the second qualifying round (2:45 p.m.). The two Phoenix finalists will then get an additional run tomorrow.
"[With Phoenix eliminations tomorrow], the focus does change," Edwards said. "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."
Pippin led Pro Stock Motorcycle with a 6.959 at 190.14 on his PiranaZ Buell.
"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," Pippin said. "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."
It is the first time Pippin has led his category since he joined the series in late 2007.
"For the last two years, we've really worked hard on it," Pippin said. "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."