Gainesville: Saturday qualifying report

HIGHT EARNS FIRST TOP QUALIFYING PERFORMANCE IN THIRD CAREER START Grubnic, Anderson and Hines also take qualifying honors at Mac Tools Gatornationals GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Rookie Funny Car driver Robert Hight raced to his first No. 1 ...

HIGHT EARNS FIRST TOP QUALIFYING PERFORMANCE IN THIRD CAREER START

Grubnic, Anderson and Hines also take qualifying honors at Mac Tools Gatornationals

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Rookie Funny Car driver Robert Hight raced to his first No. 1 qualifying position in only his third career start Saturday at the Mac Tools NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.

Dave Grubnic, Greg Anderson and Andrew Hines also will lead their categories into Sunday's 11 a.m. eliminations at the $2 million race, the third of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Hight drove his Auto Club Ford Mustang to a track record time of 4.749 seconds at 325.96 mph to lead the 16-car lineup, while teammates Eric Medlen and John Force claimed positions two and three respectively in their Castrol Mustangs. It is the fourth time that Force Racing has swept the top three qualifying positions since the team added a third car to its stable in 2001.

"I would've been just as happy if I was third, but this is cool," Hight said. "Let me tell you, from working on these cars to driving them, the increase in your stress level is unreal. I never stressed like I did today when I was a crew guy."

Hight, Force's son-in-law, said that some last minute tuning decisions by crew chief Jimmy Prock helped put him on top.

"Jimmy must have run back to the car 100 times before that final round to make adjustments," Hight said. "He was making me even more nervous than I already was. The car was really going. I didn't know if it was that good because it shot out the rods right when I lifted and I could see fire through the windows so I figured it had labored a little, but it didn't."

Grubnic claimed his seventh No. 1 qualifying position in Top Fuel with a track record performance of 4.481 at 331.85 in his Zantrex-3 dragster. Grubnic, who has advanced to seven finals without a victory, will try to change that statistic when he faces Bruce Litton in tomorrow's first round.

"It's good to be on top, you bet, especially for our new sponsor Zantrex-3; and for Mac Tools, because they're the principle sponsor of this race," Grubnic said. "We're running well and we absolutely feel as though we're very close (to our first win). The team and car is there. It's really just a matter of time. No worries."

Anderson took his 34th No. 1 qualifying award and first of the season with a national record run of 6.633 at 208.23 in his Summit Racing Pontiac Grand Am.

"We've made all the right calls so far this weekend and we'll need to continue making the right calls if we want to do well tomorrow," said Anderson, who will face veteran driver Rickie Smith in the opening round. "This is by far the toughest (elimination) ladder I've ever seen."

Two-time NHRA POWERade world champion Anderson, who opened the season with disappointing efforts at Pomona, Calif. and Phoenix, feels that his race team is back on track.

"Right now I'm more impressed with the consistency of our car than anything else, including the record," said Anderson, who clocked a pair of 6.65s during Saturday's qualifying runs. "The feeling of knowing you're getting in a racecar that is going to run straight down the racetrack every time is what you live for. We might have struggled earlier this year but the guys didn't start yelling at each other and going crazy. They just went back to work and figured out what was wrong."

Hines certified his milestone elapsed time of 6.991 for a national record and wiped out the category's four-year-old national speed record with a 197.45 blast on his Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to take his ninth top qualifying award in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

"We're looking good so far," said Hines, who is joined at the top of the qualifying order by teammate GT Tonglet, who was second on his identically-prepared Harley-Davidson. "The most important thing is to be 1-2 tomorrow, just like last year. These bikes we have now are so awesome. They're 100-percent different from last year's bikes. These things are like Cadillacs and the motors are way more reliable."

Hines, who became the first rider to enter the NHRA Mickey Thompson 6-Second Pro Stock Bike Club yesterday, feels that he might have company tomorrow. The second rider to enter the 8-position club receives a $3,000 bonus.

"I think the track was there for more bikes to get in the sixes but it looks like people just missed the set-up," Hines said. "I know we did. We lost it all in the first 60 feet on both runs today. We all went from our cold weather tune-up to our warm weather tune-up in one day. By tomorrow, there might be a bunch of sixes."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bruce Litton , John Force , Greg Anderson , Rickie Smith , Andrew Hines , GT Tonglet , Robert Hight