SCHUMACHER, HIGHT, JOHNSON AND SCHNITZ WIN AT BANDIMERE; THREE NEW POINTS LEADERS FOLLOWING MOPAR MILE-HIGH NHRA NATIONALS MORRISON, Colo. -- Funny Car rookie Robert Hight earned his second victory of the season Sunday at the Mopar Mile-High...
SCHUMACHER, HIGHT, JOHNSON AND SCHNITZ WIN AT BANDIMERE; THREE NEW POINTS LEADERS FOLLOWING MOPAR MILE-HIGH NHRA NATIONALS
MORRISON, Colo. -- Funny Car rookie Robert Hight earned his second victory of the season Sunday at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway and in the process moved atop the POWERade point standings for the first time in his 13-race career.
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Warren Johnson (Pro Stock) and Ryan Schnitz (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won their respective categories at the $1.8 million race, the 13th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
The 35-year-old Hight covered the quarter-mile in his Auto Club Ford Mustang in 4.897 seconds at 316.60 mph, easily outrunning Phil Burkart's Checker Schuck's Kragen Toyota Celica, which rolled to the finish line in 5.650 at 187.57 after losing traction. Hight's victory moved him 22 points ahead of his father-in-law, 13-time world champion John Force, in the race towards the POWERade world championship. Gary Scelzi dropped to third in the standings, 36 points behind Hight.
"This is unbelievable, and (crew chief) Jimmy Prock is just unbelievable," Hight said. "We only run (at Denver) once a year, so Jimmy said he's just going to put all these parts in a box and not pull them out until we come here next season."
Bandimere Speedway has special meaning to Hight since it was the site of his first race where he served as the clutch specialist for Force Racing in 1995. Force went on to win that event and following the race he gave Hight his 'Wally' trophy.
"I'm going to give this 'Wally' trophy to John. In 1995 he gave me my first trophy when he won here and I was doing his clutch. Every time he wins he gives the trophy to a crew guy and that was my first. Now I'm going to give him my trophy. I don't know if anyone's ever done that, but for all he's done for me it's the least I can do."
Schumacher outran Morgan Lucas in the final round for his 25th career victory and a category-best fourth win this season, shutting the clocks off in his U.S. Army dragster in 4.617 at a track record speed of 331.45. Schumacher's performance moved the defending NHRA POWERade world champion back atop the POWERade standings, 20 points ahead of Doug Kalitta. Lucas is now winless in five career final round appearances, three coming this season, the last two consecutively. Lucas was the runner-up to Brandon Bernstein at St. Louis three weeks ago.
"Morgan's a good driver and they've been running well over there," Schumacher said. "When the numbers start stacking up of final rounds without a win, it makes you real nervous because you know it's going to go their way at some point. I hope it happens against someone else."
Top qualifier Brandon Bernstein may have been the first driver ever to eclipse the 330-mph mark at the thin aired mountain-side drag strip with his 330.88 mph run during Friday qualifying, but he would rather forget his first round matchup against Rob Passey, who didn't even show up for the race. In what appeared to be an easy win for the unopposed Bernstein, a freakish incident sidelined the Southern California native. The engine in Bernstein's Budweiser dragster backfired after an odd burnout attempt and he had to be pushed off the track, resulting in no winner from the Bernstein-Passey matchup and a second round solo pass for David Grubnic right into the semifinals.
"The track temperature was well above 130 degrees and I took it a little bit too far out on the track out of the water box and it dried the tires up," Bernstein said. "I hit the throttle and it just brought the motor to its knees. It didn't turn the tires, it just backfired and quit."
The retiring 62-year-old Johnson was handed his 95th career Pro Stock victory when Dave Connolly left the starting line early and was disqualified. With his semifinal win over Jim Yates, Johnson moved 31 points ahead of two-time defending champion and fellow Pontiac driver Greg Anderson in the POWERade standings. Connolly used a holeshot to defeat Anderson in their second round matchup.
In the final round, Johnson and Connolly both refused to roll their vehicles into the staging beams after both drivers had activated the pre-stage bulbs on the Christmas Tree, a tactic Johnson has used numerous times during his illustrious career. After a 90 second 'burndown' Johnson rolled in first, and after the 22-year-old Connolly staged his Skull Gear Chevy Cobalt, the third-year Pro Stock driver left the starting line early before the green light was lit and was disqualified.
"Sometimes you have to teach a brat a lesson," Johnson said. "We knew he was going to do that so we packed the engine with ice and filled the fuel cell up all the way. They did that before (in the semifinals at Bristol, Tenn.) and we sat there for almost two minutes. I'll go for the record next time. We probably could have sat there four minutes before worrying about being light at the scales."
Schnitz became the first Pro Stock Motorcycle repeat winner of the 2005 season when he rode his Team Muzzy Buell to a winning pass of 7.513 at 184.37, defeating Antron Brown's U.S. Army Suzuki which recorded slower numbers of 7.555 at 176.60. Brown's runner-up finish moved him within one point of current leader GT Tonglet in the POWERade standings. Schnitz moved to third, 48 points behind Brown after eight of 15 events on the 2005 schedule.
"My focus right now is to win the POWERade championship," Schnitz said. "When we started, I think we would have been ecstatic with a top-five finish (in the POWERade point standings). But once we won at Houston, and now with the way we ran this weekend, we'd be selling ourselves short to not think about winning it all."
The 2005 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series continues next weekend with the 18th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Pacific Raceways outside Seattle.