Force Hood, Schumacher, Coughlin, Arana win in Indy

It was a beautiful day for the biggest event of the year in drag racing, the US Nationals at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Clermont, Indiana. The 55th running of The Big Go offered plenty of drama and exciting side by side drag racing reaching speeds...

It was a beautiful day for the biggest event of the year in drag racing, the US Nationals at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Clermont, Indiana. The 55th running of The Big Go offered plenty of drama and exciting side by side drag racing reaching speeds well over 300 MPH. Ashley Force Hood, Tony Schumacher, Jeg Coughlin and Hector Arana hoisted the coveted U.S. Nationals Wallys in victory lane late Monday afternoon.

John Force Racing celebrated a strong showing this weekend starting with four cars in the top five Funny Car qualifying spots and three of those Ford Mustangs reaching the semi-finals today. Ashley Force Hood eliminated Tony Pedregon in her semi, creating an all John Force Racing final matching her with teammate and brother-in-law Robert Hight.

Hight was also fighting for a spot in The Countdown To One Championship, a close battle he shared with Cruz Pedregon. Hight got plenty of help today from his team owner and father-in-law John Force, starting in the second round when Force eliminated Cruz. That led to a semi-final match pitting Hight against Force, which Hight needed to win to get into The Countdown, and win he did when Force spun the tires and pedaled down the track.

With a sea of green, white and blue jerseys flooding the start line and John Force running from lane to lane, Force Hood and Hight lined up at the christmas tree for the Funny Car final. Both drivers got off the line quickly and the race was close until half track when Hight blew up and Force Hood sailed to a top speed of 294.75 MPH, getting the win light with her 4.17 second pass.

"It was so nice to have a teammate in the other lane," Force Hood shared. "The pressure was off both our teams because we knew we would be in the victory lane either way. You never know how race day is going to go when you wake up in the morning. Fortunately for us it turned out really well."

This is Force Hood's second Wally in Indy, winning the 2004 Top Alcohol trophy. She also remembers her father John winning here when she was younger. "I remember watching my dad race here from probably the same spot, with my side ponytail and my John Force t-shirt," Force Hood recalled. "It was fun back then and it's just as fun now. What an amazing day."

For the last ten years the Top Fuel winner at Indianapolis was either Larry Dixon or Tony Schumacher. This year would be no different with the same two racers meeting in a sensational final round. Dixon eliminated Clay Millican, Morgan Lucas and Spencer Massey to reach the finals versus Schumacher who beat TJ Zizzo, Rod Fuller and Brandon Bernstein.

Schumacher had special guest NASCAR star Tony Stewart hanging out in his pits today and at the starting line. "It's been a little over 10 years since I've seen night qualifying here," Stewart shared. "To see the races today and hang out with Schumacher is great. We have a lot of friends over here because our shops are so close over in Brownsburg and we keep up with each other."

Speaking of his experience at the starting line during Schumacher's second round race, Stewart said "I don't even know how to describe it. There's nothing else that shakes your body like that. There are parts of your body that shouldn't move but they do. It makes me wonder what it feels like to be in the driver's seat." Stewart assured he was satisfied being behind the start line with no plans to get in the driver's seat of a dragster any time soon.

Stewart joined Don Schumacher Racing at the line for the final round. Dixon had his own entourage at the final, including team co-owner His Highness Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad Al Thani, a member of the ruling family of Qatar. Schumacher has been to eight straight finals in Indy and has seven wins. Dixon has been to six finals and has three wins. These scene was set for a true battle of the heavyweights.

But the race for the Top Fuel Wally was only close for about the length of a football field when Dixon lost traction, pedaled and couldn't get it back. Schumacher blasted his way to victory lane at 314.17 MPH in 3.861 seconds. Hoisting his eighth U.S. Nationals Wally, Schumacher tied "Big Daddy" Don Garlits for most Top Fuel wins at The Big Go.

"I don't know why [Indy] is our lucky track, but I am glad it is," Schumacher said. On the significance of matching Garlits' record 'The Sarge' shared, "To have my name mentioned in the same sentence as Don Garlits is fantastic. He actually came to my pit this morning to wish me luck. For him to come out and give that confidence meant a lot."

Making this win even more significant was Schumacher's opponent in the final. "I told my dad this morning that God has a plan, to have me and Dixon meet in the final today. That was a fantastic final. Nobody's going to go back and ask for a refund after that final." Schumacher contended winning here never gets old, saying "It's The Big Go, it's Indy. This win is right there at the top."

The Pro Stock final round was a battle between Jeg Coughlin and Greg Stanfield, a pair of drivers who have won national events in five different classes. The two drivers left the line at nearly the same time and had a fantastic side-by-side race to the finish, with Coughlin pulling out a win with a margin of victory of .001 seconds, approximately 7 inches. Coughlin collected his fourth Wally in Indy and seventh of the year with his win today.

"When we began today we weren't sure where we weighed in," Coughlin said. "We had to run against Greg Anderson in the first round and that was a huge win that felt sweet. That's how we started the day. But there was never a doubt in my mind that we couldn't pull this off. We'll take it, proudly."

The Pro Stock Motorcycle final featured two riders that had never won the U.S. Nationals, matching Hector Arana against Michael Phillips. Arana had a strong bike all weekend, holding the quickest time until Matt Smith stole the pole with a stellar run in the last qualifying session. Arana lined up for his sixth final of the season, Phillips for his second straight. Arana got the advantage at the light and never looked back till he got to victory lane, leading the race at every increment down the track. This is Arana's third victory of 2009.

"This is the sweetest moment," Arana shared. "I have struggle before in the finals, but I didn't give up. I really wanted to win the The Bike Battle, but it made me change my focus around. It finally happened and to have this happen in Indy, I couldn't ask for anything more."

NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series teams have two weeks to make their way to Charlotte, NC for the NHRA Carolinas Nationals held September 17-20 at zMax Dragway.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Stewart , Clay Millican , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Cruz Pedregon , Don Garlits , Ashley Force , Brandon Bernstein , Morgan Lucas , Matthew Smith , Michael Phillips , Don Schumacher , Robert Hight , Rod Fuller , Spencer Massey