Top qualifiers prepare for US Nationals titles

Rain put a damper on the final day of qualifying for the 55th Annual NHRA U.S. Nationals at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Clermont, Indiana. Weather pushed the day's events into the late afternoon leaving teams with just one final chance to get into...

Rain put a damper on the final day of qualifying for the 55th Annual NHRA U.S. Nationals at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Clermont, Indiana. Weather pushed the day's events into the late afternoon leaving teams with just one final chance to get into the big show. Fans who stuck around saw some fantastic runs down the famed quarter mile and two new pole sitters. Topping the ladders for Monday's race are Robert Hight, Antron Brown, Mike Edwards and Matt Smith.

John Force Racing flexed its muscles this weekend, placing four Ford Mustangs in the top five on the Funny Car ladder. Robert Hight, who's fighting to get into the Countdown to One championship race, grabbed much needed points with his pole earning 4.082 second run. He's followed on the ladder by teammates Ashley Force Hood and Mike Neff. Cruz Pedregon grabbed fourth with his final qualification run and John Force sits fifth.

Hight, the defending Nationals champ, was reunited with crew chief Jimmy Prock [after Austin Coil fell ill Thursday] to capture the number one spot. "Shows you what a great team John Force has put together," Hight shared. "Austin is out of the hospital today and staying put in the hotel in Brownsburg. But that's going to be hard for him. He hasn't missed a national event since the early 80's."

Hight wants to win tomorrow, but is also looking at the bigger picture. "Winning Indy is big and maybe we can get to the final tomorrow and win this race again," Hight said. "But getting into the race for the championship is huge. There are a lot of great race cars [in the championship race] and we need to be in there with them. "

After four solid runs so far this weekend Hight is impressed with his car. "We're thundering, running really well," Hight said. "We've struggled all year, so better late than never. It sure makes you feel better when your car is running good, your crew is smiling and seeing Jimmy with confidence."

Antron Brown saved the best for the last run of the day blasting down the track at 319.2 mph in 3.835 seconds, quick enough to grab the coveted number one on the Top Fuel ladder. Tony Schumacher and Brandon Bernstein also had quick runs Sunday night to jump ahead of Larry Dixon in the line-up with Morgan Lucas rounding out the top five.

Brown has two Wallys from Indy in Pro Stock Motorcycle, but this is his first ever pole in Indy. "The race here means a lot," Brown said. "You've got 'Big Daddy' Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, all the stars come here." Garlits warmed up Brown's car before the run today. "I grew up watching Big Daddy, he's my hero. This sport is where it's at today because of him."

Brown starts the day tomorrow with Spencer Massey in the first round. "It's going to be tough tomorrow," Brown predicted. "We have Massey in the first round and that's like a final round. When you race people like that you have to bring your 'A' game. But tomorrow we'll focus on each round," Brown continued. "This track has been awesome and if tomorrow is overcast and cloudy like it was today, we love those kind of tracks without a doubt."

Mike Edwards leads the Pro Stock class for the 10th time this year with his 6.581 Low E.T. and 209.01 mph top speed. He's followed on the ladder by Jason Line, Ronnie Humphrey, Allen Johnson and Greg Anderson.

Edwards, the 1998 event winner, shared the significance of his first Indy pole. "I almost have to pinch myself, holding the number one at the Indy U.S. Nationals," he shared. "That's special. It goes right up there with everything else I've done. We're making really good runs here and it looks like everything is good. It's been a team effort and I have to say thanks to my guys."

Left out of Pro Stock top sixteen this weekend is the father-son combo of Warren and Kurt Johnson. As a result, Johnny Gray was able to clinch the 10th and final spot in the Countdown to One, leaving Warren Johnson out of the Pro Stock championship race.

Matt Smith stole the number one spot on the Pro Stock Motorcycle ladder with his final run on Sunday, a stunning 6.918 second pass. Smith is followed on the rungs by Hector Arana, Andrew Hines, Shawn Gann and Michael Phillips.

"We've had very good success here recently," said Smith who's had one win, three poles and reached three final rounds in the last four years. "We seem to shine here." Smith gave kudos to his crew chief Steve Tartaglia. "Steve worked all night at the shop until 2am to tweek this motor and it's a rocket ship. We have a good bike and we'll try to put a win on it tomorrow. We stole the show for today and now we can go have fun tonight."

Smith admits tomorrow's big race isn't a game. "I want to win," he stated. "I don't come out here to do anything else but win. I'm back in the frame of mind where I want to be and hopefully we'll go four rounds tomorrow. I've had good success at this track and I'm really looking forward to it."

Opening ceremonies for the U.S. Nationals are scheduled to begin Monday morning at 9:30am EST with the first round of eliminations at 11:00am.

Don "The Snake" Prudomme shared disappointing news that Snake Racing must find a sponsor before the end of the season or he will not be returning as a team owner. "This caught us off guard, to say the least," Prudomme shared. "We were talking to sponsors about a second car even, and we were working along and then [U.S. Smokeless] dropped this bomb on us. It's like walking into work one day and your boss says, 'You're fired.'

"We thought it was best to tell everyone that there's a possibility we won't be out here next year," he added. "We need to bring a sponsor or investor into the team because it's so expensive to run these cars. With the tough economy and finding this out so late, it's going to be tough, but we're going to work on it." Prudomme's driver, Spencer Massey, has one win this year and is a strong contender for NHRA's top rookie award and sixteenth on the ladder this weekend.

Connie Kalitta is celebrating 50 years of drag racing in Indy this weekend with a special Red Oil paint scheme on son Doug's Top Fuel dragster and a roast in the pits Sunday night. Now a team owner, Connie was the first top fuel driver to break the 200mph barrier at the U.S. Nationals in 1964. To celebrate Connie's golden anniversary in the sport, Kalitta Motorsports will host "Barbecuing the Bounty Hunter: The Roast of Conrad Kalitta". Drag racing broadcaster Bob Frey will M.C. the event with roasters including Prudhomme, Jim Head and Chris "The Greek" Karamesines.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Shirley Muldowney , Antron Brown , Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Shawn Gann , Cruz Pedregon , Don Garlits , Ashley Force , Brandon Bernstein , Allen Johnson , Johnny Gray , Morgan Lucas , Jason Line , Andrew Hines , Matthew Smith , Michael Phillips , Ronnie Humphrey , Connie Kalitta , Robert Hight , Austin Coil , Mike Edwards , Mike Neff , Spencer Massey