SCHUMACHER WINS TOP FUEL, SETS NATIONAL RECORD Hight, Johnson and Stoffer round out winners at 18th O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals HOUSTON, Tex. -- Tony Schumacher strengthened his position atop the NHRA POWERade Series Top Fuel point...
SCHUMACHER WINS TOP FUEL, SETS NATIONAL RECORD
Hight, Johnson and Stoffer round out winners at 18th O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals
HOUSTON, Tex. -- Tony Schumacher strengthened his position atop the NHRA POWERade Series Top Fuel point standings by racing to victory Sunday at the 18th annual O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway ParkHeartland Park Topeka.
Schumacher powered his U.S. Army dragster to a track record 334.15 mph in his semifinal win over Doug Kalitta and then he backed that up with a national-record 335.32 as he raced past Cory McClenathan in the finals to earn his second victory of the season and the 23rd of his career.
"That final is how it is supposed to be, the No. 1 guy racing the No. 2 guy in the final," said Schumacher, who needed all the speed to outrun McClenathan's FRAM Airhog dragster. "We had both been running great all day and it came down to a 4.50 beating a 4.51. That was just an awesome race."
And it almost didn't come to pass as just moments before the final race Schumacher's oil pan began leaking and it soaked the entire clutch.
"We had the car all set up and we had to take it apart," said Schumacher, who defeated Scott Palmer in the first round and Rod Fuller in the second. "We made it up (to the start line) with a minute to go. With that kind of pressure, that intense of a situation, I was just thinking, 'It doesn't seem like there's time,' but (Schumacher's crew) did it."
The other winners of the $1.7 million race included rookie Robert Hight, veteran Warren Johnson and Karen Stoffer.
Hight earned his first Funny Car victory in just his fourth start. Hight powered his Auto Club Ford Mustang to a 4.786 at 326.16 to defeat Cruz Pedregon, who finished in 4.818 at 321.12 in his Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
"I thought I'd really made it when I got a job working on John (Force)'s car a few years ago," Hight said. "To be standing here with this trophy is unbelievable. This whole day has been a blur. I tried to stay busy so I wouldn't get nervous or even think about where I was, but don't get me wrong, I was still plenty nervous. John did tell me how many finals he'd been to before he won and he told me he'd worry himself sick for no reason. He told me to just relax and race like it was any other round."
Hight defeated Bob Gilbertson, Tommy Johnson Jr. and team owner Force to advance to the final.
"The semifinal against John was actually the most relaxed I was all day," he said. "There was nothing to lose because we knew one of the team cars would be in the final. Before the race John came to me and said, 'I want you to try your best to kick my butt. Come after me.' So that's what I did. I didn't even realize he didn't get down the track until later."
Johnson clocked a 6.714 at 205.01 in his GM Performance Parts Pontiac to earn his 93rd career Pro Stock victory, defeating Jason Line, who drove his KB Framers Pontiac to a 6.735 at 204.29.
Six-time champion Johnson continued a remarkable start to his final season as a driver by moving into first place in the Pro Stock point standings, overtaking Dave Connolly by 26 points.
"I really think this is just the tip of the iceberg," said Johnson, who outran Richie Stevens, Greg Stanfield and Connolly en route to the final round. "We have only three of these (DRCE-3) engines and each generation has run faster than the one before it."
With the victory, Johnson, who turns 62 this July, became the oldest professional drag racer to win an event, passing the previous mark set by Top Fuel driver Eddie Hill in 1996.
"I started racing when they had wood-spoked wheels," Johnson joked.
In a battle of Suzukis in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final, Stoffer claimed her second career victory by racing to a 7.173 at 188.12 to defeat first-time finalist Kurt Matte, who posted a 7.209 at 179.44.
"It's so satisfying to win one for Geico just two races into our deal with them," Stoffer said. "Everyone up there is thrilled. At first, when we didn't qualify so well (No. 15), it was a tough call to make. But we found the tune-up today on this brand-new motor and each round that phone call became a lot easier."
Stoffer defeated Andrew Hines, Ryan Schnitz and GT Tonglet en route to the win at the same track in which she won her only other event.
"I'm starting to look at real estate in the area," said Stoffer, who became the seventh different female to win a national event in an NHRA pro category at HRP last season. "If we could just talk the NHRA into running all 15 bike races here I'd be happy. I'm not sure why we've had our best races here, but this one was just great."
Stoffer moved within two points of series leader Steve Johnson, who lost in the semifinals.
"We're on the exact same path as last year, but in 2004 we fell off later in the year," she said. "Now, with the Geico Motorcycle behind us, we're planning on being a lot more consistent and the fact that we'll be able to test a lot more should really help us."
The NHRA POWERade Series continues with the sixth annual NHRA Summitracing.com Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, April 14-17.