SCHUMACHER SETS THE PACE IN QUALIFYING AT 18TH ANNUAL O'REILLY MID-SOUTH NATIONALS Hight leads the way in Funny Car, Kurt Johnson in Pro Stock and Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle MEMPHIS -- Tony Schumacher is not going to let his POWERade ...
SCHUMACHER SETS THE PACE IN QUALIFYING AT 18TH ANNUAL O'REILLY MID-SOUTH NATIONALS
Hight leads the way in Funny Car, Kurt Johnson in Pro Stock and Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle
MEMPHIS -- Tony Schumacher is not going to let his POWERade Series Top Fuel championship go without a fight.
The pilot of the U.S. Army dragster, second in the POWERade Series standings, set the top qualifying mark of 4.610 seconds at 309.56 mph on Friday and it held up through the final two rounds of Saturday at the 18th annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park.
The other top qualifiers at the $1.6 million event, the 17th of 23 on the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, were Robert Hight (Funny Car), Kurt Johnson (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
In a wildly competitive season across all four categories in the POWERade Series -- there have been a total of 23 lead changes and 15 different drivers who've led their category for at least one week -- the potential is there for lead changes in every category on Sunday.
"We've got such a big points race going on right now," Schumacher said. "It's a big, big race tomorrow."
Schumacher's 70-point deficit entering the weekend -- already reduced to 64 points based on qualifying (first-place Doug Kalitta qualified 10th) -- was the largest in any of the four categories but the script that places him back on top of the standings by Sunday night is easily written.
His new teammate in the Don Schumacher Racing stable, Melanie Troxel, faces off against first-place Doug Kalitta in the first round of final eliminations Sunday. A win by Troxel over Kalitta combined with Schumacher running the table and winning the event would put the Sarge back on top of the Top Fuel standings.
"She can do us a huge favor," Schumacher said. "But if we don't win our race, it won't matter.
"We're trying to win a championship," Schumacher said. "I'll be honest, I'll spend two seconds worrying about Melanie and spend the rest of the time worrying about myself."
Also in Top Fuel, No. 2 qualifier Larry Dixon is in a good position to make headway given his track record at Memphis -- he has made it to five consecutive final rounds here and won twice, in 2002 and 2004.
Robert Hight (4.883 at 295.72) set the number in Funny Car in his Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang on Friday and it held up Saturday, giving the rookie and POWERade Series points leader his sixth No. 1 qualifier of the season.
"I feel like a hundred and one today," said Hight, who by virtue of his No. 1 qualifier and the qualifying positions of a couple of other drivers squeaked into the Skoal Showdown in Indianapolis. "I had given up after Brainerd, but I woke up in the middle of the night, started doing the math, and figured I could still do it."
Hight's four-even run atop the standings is the longest current streak of any category, but he is in the most precarious position. Gary Scelzi trails by 14 points, John Force by 22 and Ronn Capps is only 45 points behind.
Rounding out the top qualifiers were Kurt Johnson, whose best time (6.787 at 202.85) from Friday held up Saturday, and Hines (7.127 at 181.57).
"We kind of missed the setup, but it was the same for everybody," said Kurt Johnson, who noted a 20-point drop in the track temperature as cloud cover set in just as the Pro Stock round began. "We're going to have to watch (the weather) closely (Sunday). That's what it's all about (in Pro Stock) ... preparation."
Johnson, who has been among the hottest drivers in any class with three wins in the last five events and four No. 1 qualifiers in the last seven events in his ACDelco Chevrolet Cobalt, compared the conditions to St. Louis where he began this hot stretch.
"We ran the first couple of (final elimination) rounds (in St. Louis) in the sunshine and then it got cloudy (and the sun began to set)," Kurt Johnson said. "You've got to know your car. If it does what you expect it to do when you make a change, you'll be fine."
Johnson (1,169), in third place in the POWERade Standings, will meet Kenny Koretsky in the first round Sunday and a win there would set up an interesting second-round matchup with his father, Warren, who is just ahead of him in the standings with 1,175 points. Greg Anderson leads with 1,224.
Hines has seven No. 1 qualifiers now in his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley Davidson and he needs four more in the final five Pro Stock Motorcycle events to match the category record set by his older brother, Matt.
"My team overcame a lot of tough struggles this weekend," Hines said. "Luckily we made a clean pass on the fourth run and got the No. 1 qualifier.
"We knew my bike had it in it," said Hines, who is six points back of teammate GT Tonglet in the POWERade Series point standings. "We just had to find it. We went through three motors this weekend."