Courtesy:  Rob Geiger,


Hight's No. 1 spot boosts Force team; Shoe, Humphreys, Ellis also lead fields

by Rob Geiger,

With father-in-law John Force watching from starting line, Robert Hight streaked to the No. 1 qualifying spot in Funny Car Friday night with a second-round blast of 4.763 seconds at 322.58 mph to lead the provisional field of the seventh annual ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals. Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Justin Humphreys (Pro Stock), and Chip Ellis (Pro Stock Motorcycle) joined Hight in topping the charts after the first day of professional qualifying at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It was an emotional day for Hight and the rest of John Force Racing as their boss returned to the track for the first time since his accident in Dallas. They also witnessed crew chief John Medlen back in a charge of racecar with new team driver Mike Neff at the controls of the hot rod once driven by the late Eric Medlen.

Hight was beaming with pride after his effort in the Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, mainly because he saw how happy it made Force, who was sporting hard casts on his left leg and arm as well as a number of bandages.

"It's been an emotional day," Hight said. "John being here is the best therapy he could have. I spent a lot of time with John in the hospital and all he talked about was racing. No one loves this sport more than John Force and he'll be back real soon. 

"It was cool to see John [Medlen] over there banging on Neff's hood and pointing in the car like he did with Eric. I'm sure it was tough for him but then that car went straight down through there and he was so pumped up. It's been a great day for all of us. We needed this."

POWERade points leader Tony Pedregon was second to Hight with a 4.770 at 314.09 mph in his Q Horsepower Chevrolet Impala SS. Fellow Countdown racer Gary Scelzi ended up sixth (4.815), with Ron Capps (eighth, 4.82) close behind.

In his professional debut, Mike Neff is fourth with a stout 4.784 at 326.40 mph. Filling in for Force, Phil Burkart Jr. is 15th with a 4.869 at 314.83 mph.

Schumacher wasn't exactly thrilled with his provisional No. 1 qualifying effort, mainly due to the fact he's been the top qualifier 10 times this year and only converted one of those low qualifying efforts into a win. Nevertheless, his 4.482 at 327.59 in the U.S. Army dragster put him on top of the heap at the midway point qualifying.

"All joking aside, the No. 1 qualifier deal is important because it cuts [the points deficit] to the lead down to less than one round," Schumacher said. "It wouldn't have hurt my feelings if someone like David Baca would have knocked us off that No. 1 spot because of the bad luck we've had with it this year but the reality is I wouldn't trade my car or my team with anyone.

"I wish we would have gone down in the heat in Round 1 because the Technicoat Shootout starts tomorrow and it'll be hot. It's key to at least win the first round of that deal because then you'll get three runs tomorrow and that will help us tremendously for race day."

Baca did lead after the first session when he posted a 4.532 at 326.79 mph in the Matco Tools rail. Baca has been sidelined for all of the 2007 season but recently was tabbed to race the final two events for David Powers Motorsports, which parted ways with Whit Bazemore after the last event in Virginia.

Larry Dixon, the current leader in the Countdown, stands to give up two points to Schumacher if he stays third. His best run was a 4.534 at 326.79 mph in his SkyTel dragster. Others in the Countdown field include "Hot Rod" Fuller, who is seventh with a 4.558, and Brandon Bernstein, who is eighth with a 4.561.

Urs Erbacher, who just won the FIA European Championship in Top Fuel, is 12th here with a career-best 4.594 at 326.48 mph. Wayne Dupuy is tuning Urbacher's car while he's in the States.

The focus may be on the four racers in the Countdown to 1, but former Sports Compact star Humphreys stole the show Friday, racing to his first No. 1 qualifying spot with a 6.750 at 204.05 mph in the Knoll Gas & Energy GTO.

"I've raced here a bunch in my sports compact cars and my Outlaw 10.5 cars and I've always loved this place," Humphreys said. "We're really excited. Bringing Bob Glidden on board awhile back has turned into such a great thing. Some people tried to talk me out of it but I didn't listen to them and I'm glad. Between Bob working on the car and Dick Maskin's horsepower, we're looking great.

"It's a bit surreal for a guy my age to look across the pit and see Bob Glidden there on my team. I was always a huge fan of his and now he's become like a second dad to me. He's super supportive of everything I do and when I mess up he tells me what I did wrong, which I really like."

Points leader Dave Connolly is second in his Torco/Seelye Wright Chevrolet Cobalt after a 6.754. Fellow Countdown racers Greg Anderson (fifth with a 6.766), Allen Johnson (sixth, 6.766), and Jeg Coughlin (11th, 6.790) are also safely in the field.

Ellis soared again in Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying, carding a crushing 7.045 at 188.96 mph on his Drag Specialties S&S Buell V-Twin to take the provisional low qualifier slot. Ellis has led the last three Pro Stock Motorcycle fields.

"If we could race on qualifying day, I'd win every trophy," Ellis said. "The bike is just hauling. It's tough mentally for me on race day. That's all it is. I'm not the smartest guy in the world but I'm thinking about too much up there I guess. I've been working on it. I just haven't done my job.

"I haven't used up any luck all year long so hopefully I saved it all for right now and these last two races. This track's good; it always is. I love this place."

Hector Arana has his Lucas Motorcycle Oil S&S Buell V-Twin a lofty second on the grid with a 7.102 at 187.60, the exact time and top speed of third-place, Andrew Hines, who is in the Countdown to 1 chase with Ellis. The other two Countdown riders, Matt Smith and Peggy Llewellyn, follow in fourth and fifth place.