Memphis: Friday qualifying report

SCHUMACHER SETS THE PACE AFTER FIRST DAY OF QUALIFYING AT 18TH ANNUAL O'REILLY MID-SOUTH NATIONALS Hight leads the way in Funny Car, Kurt Johnson in Pro Stock and Tonglet in Pro Stock Motorcycle MEMPHIS -- Defending POWERade Series Top...

SCHUMACHER SETS THE PACE AFTER FIRST DAY OF QUALIFYING AT 18TH ANNUAL O'REILLY MID-SOUTH NATIONALS

Hight leads the way in Funny Car, Kurt Johnson in Pro Stock and Tonglet in Pro Stock Motorcycle

MEMPHIS -- Defending POWERade Series Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher set the pace after the first two rounds of qualifying at the 18th annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals Friday 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 GT Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Schumacher, whose first run in his U.S. Army dragster was disqualified for being too light, turned around in the night session and ran a 4.610 seconds at 309.56 mph to earn the provisional No. 1 qualifying position.

Qualifying No. 1 was icing on the cake for the two-time and defending POWERade Series champion, who has endured two spectacular crashes at Memphis Motorsports Park.

"I don't care how many times I go down this track. It could be my thousandth lap when I'm 80 years old and I'll still be ducking down in my seat at the top end of the track waiting for 'chutes to come out," Schumacher said. "You like to think you're a big, bad man but I'm a little wussy when I get down there and the car's trucking on through there."

Schumacher needs a big week to close the gap between himself and first-place Doug Kalitta, who has pushed his Mac Tools dragster to a 70-point lead with seven events remaining.

"I thought about last weekend's race all week," said Schumacher, who could only watch from the sideline as Kalitta sped past Larry Dixon's Miller Lite dragster to win the Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd. "[Doug] Kalitta is 70 points up on us and he gained 54 of those in one race. There are still plenty of points to pull down and if he wants to be the champ he's got to beat me. Last week he did it. I can't let that happen again."

All of the top qualifying runs Friday came in the cooler evening second session.

Robert Hight (4.883 at 295.72) set the number in Funny Car in his Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang and if it holds up Saturday it would be the rookie and POWERade Series points leader's sixth No. 1 qualifier of the season.

"It was very hot out there today and everyone struggled to some degree," Hight said. "I don't think that time will hold the No. 1 spot but if everyone else goes quicker we should be able to also."

Hight's run was not a work of art, but it did the job.

"Before the second round, (crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) told me that when the car reached the asphalt it would start to spin the tires and that I'd hear the motor spike," Hight said. "But he told me to stay with it and get to the finish line. I've never driven with the wheels spinning like that. It was like driving my grandma's car on ice. You can't see the groove so you take your bearings off the centerline and the wall and you end up driving all over the place."

Rounding out the top provisional qualifiers on Friday were Kurt Johnson in Pro Stock (6.787 at 202.85) and GT Tonglet in Pro Stock Motorcycle (7.148 at 181.84).

Johnson has been among the hottest drivers in any class with three wins in the last five events in his ACDelco Chevrolet Cobalt.

"No, things couldn't get much better right now," Johnson said. "It's just a lot of work and a lot of studying and all of a sudden you kind of look like you know what you're doing."

Johnson has moved up to third place in the POWERade Series point standings, just six points behind his father Warren, who drives the GM Performance Parts Pontiac and 55 behind Greg Anderson, who drives the Summit Racing Pontiac GTO.

"You don't worry about the points, but I'm in a postion now where I have to take advantage," Johnson said.

Tonglet is coming off of a win in his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley Davidson at last week's Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd and that placed him back on top of the POWERade Series point standings.

"I'm hoping that tomorrow ... I don't know if we can improve on that 14 (7.148). That was awesome," Tonglet said. "I'm just working on the lights. That's where Pro Stock Motorcycle is going -- you make or break your run on the lights."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , GT Tonglet , Robert Hight