Gateway Int'l Raceway event notes

Hight, Schumacher, Johnson, Phillips Win at AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at GIR MADISON, Ill. -- The title sponsor of the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway International Raceway got the most bang for its buck Sunday as ...

Hight, Schumacher, Johnson, Phillips Win at AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at GIR

MADISON, Ill. -- The title sponsor of the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway International Raceway got the most bang for its buck Sunday as defending NHRA Full Throttle Series Funny Car champion Robert Hight, also sponsored by AAA, beat Jack Beckman for his 15th career victory.

It was a strong weekend for John Force Racing with 14-time FC champion and two-time GIR winner John Force earning class top qualifier with an ET of 4.103 seconds at 307.23 mph, both track records. However, Hight beat Force, who is both his boss and his father-in-law, in the second round of eliminations.

"This has been an unbelievable week," Hight said in the Gateway media center after the race. "We've had a lot of fun in St. Louis. I've always wanted to come here and win in St. Louis and give a trophy back to the AAA of Missouri group. They support the Gateway folks and they've supported us all along. We just never had much luck here."

The California native and Dodger fan had the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at Busch Stadium on Wednesday prior to the Cardinals' contest against the Atlanta Braves. Hight said doesn't expect to hang up his driver's helmet for a ball glove anytime soon.

"To get to go to the St. Louis Cardinals' game and throw out of the first pitch, it just started out the week with so much fun. It wasn't a perfect pitch -- I called it an unintentional sinker -- but it got there.

"I learned something else about (Busch Stadium)," he said. "I saw how much this town rallies around the Cardinals, but yet they didn't boo the Atlanta Braves. It's like a religion here. But it's also the same way the NHRA fans are with their drivers and just the sport of drag racing as a whole."

The story of the event, however, is "The Professor" Warren Johnson earning his 97th career Pro Stock victory and his third at Gateway. The six-time NHRA world champion faced defending class champion Mike Edwards in the semi-finals, only to have Edwards break prior to his burnout. In the finals, Johnson faced defending race winner Jeg Coughlin Jr., coming off a Top Dragster victory here less than 30 minutes prior. Coughlin, a four-time champion himself, was the heavy favorite, but his JEGS-sponsored machine lost an engine at the line as Johnson cruised down the track for the improbable victory.

The win represents the first for Johnson since 2006 when he defeated Greg Anderson in Phoenix. It was the longest winless drought of the legendary racer's career. He is tied with his son, Kurt, with three Pro Stock wins here.

Johnson has been around long enough to know, as he puts it, there are no good losses and no bad wins. "It was one of those scenarios where everybody did something wrong and we were really just out there cruising," he said. "Every so often you have a case of where it just goes your way. It a lot of times it doesn't, so we'll take the good days with the bad."

Even though it has been more than four years since his last NHRA Pro Stock victory, he never felt like he had visited the Winner's Circle for the final time. "It's like with anything else, if you're diligent enough and keep your nose to the grindstone, it's going to happen. You get off on a performance tangent where you're a little off-center and it's just a matter of finding your way back. We're slowly crawling our way back. We'll turn the corner. We can see the corner, but we just can't see which way it's going yet."

In the Top Fuel class, it was business as usual as seven-time and defending champion Tony Schumacher racked up his 63rd career victory and his second at Gateway. "The Sarge" faced fellow second-generation driver Doug Kalitta, a three-time winner of this event, in the finals for the win. Schumacher has the most Top Fuel wins in NHRA history, followed by Joe Amato (52) and Larry Dixon (51). It is his second win of the season, the first coming in Gainesville, Fla., in March.

"We tested in Vegas and it ran great," Schumacher said. "We've gotten beat in some really good races this year. But (today) was great. We went out and outperformed everyone. We got a lucky break in the second round against (Pat) Dakin which, more often than not, you need that lucky break. It was a good day."

Michael Phillips returned to the Winner's Circle for the first time since his win at the now-defunct Memphis Motorsports Park last October. It was an all Louisiana final as the Baton Rouge native beat 20-year-old L.E Tonglet out of Metarie, whose brother, G.T., won in this class here in 2001. Although he didn't get the victory, Tonglet earned his way to the finals in impressive fashion beating top qualifier and defending class champion Hector Arana on a holeshot in the semi-finals with a .021 second reaction time.

"I've known that kid ever since he was a little baby and he's a real good rider," Phillips said. "He's on his game and he's gonna be tough.

The win represented the first Suzuki vs. Suzuki finals shootout in some time and Phillips said NHRA has provided the Suzuki teams with enough horsepower this season to give parity to the class.

"The races are going to be real competitive this year. We're not going to have just the V-rods and the Buells. Now the Suzukis are going to make a statement."

In the Get Screened America Pro Mod Series, Von Smith took the victory over Dennis Radford with a reaction time of .025 seconds and an ET of 5.933 seconds.

A number of NHRA Full Throttle Series track records at GIR were broken in addition to Force's. Top Fuel top qualifier Cory McClenathan set the ET record with a pass of 3.815 seconds and race winner Tony Schumacher set the class speed mark with his qualifying effort of 318.62 mph. In the Pro Motorcycle Class, Craig Treble set the speed record Friday with his 194.88 mph run.

-source: gir

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Warren Johnson , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Craig Treble , Cory McClenathan , Jack Beckman , Von Smith , Michael Phillips , Robert Hight