INDIANAPOLIS, IN --- For only the second time in its glorious history the Mac Tools US Nationals has been postponed due to persistent rain and deteriorating track conditions. NHRA officials announced this morning that the 58th running of “The Big Go” will be completed with final qualifying on Saturday, September 8th and eliminations on Sunday, September, 9th. The four Full Throttle Drag Racing Series previously qualified fields will be re-opened with all currently entered teams getting two qualifying runs on Saturday to make the race on Sunday.
“The persistent weather has affected the racing surface and we have chosen to make the tough decision to postpone the race until next weekend,” said Graham Light, NHRA senior vice president racing operations. “We are planning to run the remainder of the event next weekend on Saturday and Sunday."
This move by NHRA helped a number of previously non-qualified drivers including Ford-backed Pro Stock racer Larry Morgan who actually fell out of the Top Ten and would have missed the Countdown if the race would have been contested today. The move also gives two-time NHRA Full Throttle Championship driver Cruz Pedregon new life as he battles to stay in the Top Ten, currently 8th in the points as well as two-time Mac Tools US Nationals champion Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang.
“You don’t get many second chances in drag racing. Usually you lose a round and you are out of here. If you don’t qualify you are out of here. Getting to try and qualify is big but if we don’t get my car fixed we could be having this conversation next Saturday night and if my car is still running the way it is we won't be in the field,” said Hight, from the Lucas Oil Raceway media center.
“We have to look back at how we ran at the beginning of the year and get my Auto Club Ford Mustang back on track. We have been making a lot of races here and you go down the track one time in qualifying and it gets you qualified. Sooner or later that gets you. Indy is a different race because it has five qualifying sessions. If this would have been a normal race where you only get four I doubt they would have reopened qualifying. I don’t know the reasoning behind that and I don’t make those calls. I am glad they gave us and some more teams another shot.”
Hight knows that he is not the only driver who benefits from this decision. Along with Cruz Pedregon and Larry Morgan having re-newed life to get into the qualified fields there are a number of first round match-ups that are now no longer on the table most notably Don Schumacher Racing teammates Ron Capps and Matt Hagan. Capps wants to hold onto the top spot in the Countdown and the 2011 Funny Car champion is fighting to make the Countdown. Most likely the ladder will be shuffled next Saturday.
“Everyone is getting the same gift that I am. I am locked into the Countdown. There is a shot that I could go to No. 1. If Capps falls early and we can gain more than 60 points I think, I still have a shot at that No. 1 in the Countdown. That is huge because that is a 30 point lead. That somewhat affords you a bad race in the Countdown. It still goes back to if my car is not performing we are not going to get there,” said Hight.
It was also announced today that the Funny Car Traxxas Nitro Shootout will be contested next Saturday. For Hight that could mean extra pressure when you consider he is the No. 2 qualified driver in the Shootout but is also racing to qualify for the Mac Tools US Nationals.
“(The pressure) is no different than it would have been yesterday. I have seen John (Force) in this same position when Austin Coil was his crew chief back in 2007. He didn’t make the show because he was in the Skoal Showdown in the first round trying to win that thing. Back then they didn’t have the Top 12 provision. It was the Top 16 back then and with two night sessions to get into the field you had to run a low number and it was really hot on Sunday,” said Hight. “John made the best run on Sunday that year and wasn’t good enough to qualify. Everybody else made their good qualifying runs during the night sessions. It is a little different scenario now with the Top 12 implication. There are 20 cars here I have to do better than four cars and then we are in.”
By concluding the Mac Tools Nationals next weekend the NHRA in effect is setting up a six races in six weeks scenario with four of those races being the first four races of the Countdown. Hight the consummate pro and racer’s racer is not worried about the long schedule.
“In all honesty it is more positive for me because if I had my way we would race every week. I don’t need a weekend off going into the Countdown. As a driver and someone who loves to drive and race, I would race every weekend if I could. This doesn’t change anything,” said Hight. “(Crew chief) Jimmy Prock will spend the next 40 hours on that computer. This week it will be 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and he will be on that computer. He will be looking at runs from early in the year, runs from our teammates, and he’ll give it a good shot our first run on Saturday. It will go out there and be close. I always believe in my crew chief. Going into yesterday I believed if we got that first run that would put us in. I believe in Jimmy.”
Hight’s teammates will hold onto their now provisional qualifying positions with rookie Courtney Force, current No. 1 qualifier, having to hold off the charge from her Funny Car competitors for two more sessions. John Force, No. 7, and Mike Neff, currently 10th, will both be trying to move up as well as win the Traxxas Shootout.
Source: John Force Racing