Championship Drag Racing

Mac Tools U.S. Nationals
Indianapolis, Ind.
(August 27-September 1)

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Mac Tools U.S. Nationals
McClenathan, Hight, A.J., and Krawiec lead opening-day fields in Indianapolis

by Phil Burgess,

A pair of former Mac Tools U.S. Nationals winners jumped to the head of the pack in Top Fuel and Funny Car with two-time Top Fuel winner Cory McClenathan and 2006 Funny Car winner Robert Hight fronting their fields after Friday’s single qualifying session at the 54th annual Big Go at O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis Hight (pictured) and the other low qualifiers will have to survive four more qualifying runs over the next two days to claim the pole.

In the Pro Stock classes, Allen Johnson pushed his Dodge Stratus to the top of the car field while Eddie Krawiec leads all challengers in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.

Cory McClenathan

McClenathan, who won this race in 1996 and 1999, raced to the head of the fuel dragster field late in the session with a 3.852, then watched in surprise as teammate Tony Schumacher, in the pairing behind him, smoked the tires to earn Cory Mac the provisional pole.

“Mike Green, my crew chief, has been working so closely with Alan Johnson on the tune-up, so I knew we had a good shot,” said McClenathan. “When it left, it had the front end up there for a long distance, which is a good indicator it’s on a good run, and it made a great charge through the middle of the track.

“I was a little surprised to see Tony smoke the tires behind me because I’m sure Alan wasn’t trying to go crazy and run that much faster than us; the odds are it was probably mechanical. Every time you roll into Indy for the first time, you can cut the tension with a knife. Everyone is so up; this is Indy, this is the big one, the one everyone talks about. To be able to run like we did, that’s a great thing.”

J.R. Todd was the surprise No. 2 qualifier with a 3.873, and Dave Grubnic, needing desperately a good outing to help his chances of making the Countdown to 1 field, qualified the DHL dragster third with a solid 3.879. Former Indy winner Larry Dixon sits fourth with Don Prudhomme’s U.S. Smokeless rail with a 3.883.

Grubnic’s teammate, Doug Kalitta, who’s battling Grubnic and Morgan Lucas for the final two spots in the Countdown field, is currently qualified in the sixth spot while Lucas is 13th.

Twenty cars are trying to make the 16-car field for Monday’s final eliminations, with reigning world champ and six-time event winner Schumacher sitting dead last.

Robert Hight

Hight, winner of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals two years ago, pushed his Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang into the top spot in Funny Car with a 4.114 for a solid two-hundredths lead on his closest challengers.

“I really don’t think that run will hold up through the weekend,” said Hight. “Tomorrow night we start a little later, so the track will be better with a little more rubber on it, so I think we’re going to have to step up a little bit to stay in the top spot, but we’re in the best position being No. 1, so we can flex a little bit and go for it.

“It’s funny, even though I’ve won this race, I still have same kind of nerves early on. This is Indy. Even Mike Neff said it; this is his first Indy as a driver, and he felt the pressure. You don’t really understand it until you’re sitting in the car and driving it. This is big. You can talk about going to Indy, but to actually be here … everyone’s different here. You can even hear it in the announcers’ voices."

Points leader Tim Wilkerson, who already has sewed up the No. 1 seed in the Countdown to 1, qualified his Levi, Ray & Shoup Impala in the second spot with a 4.132, a few ticks ahead of last year’s U.S. Smokeless Showdown winner, Jack Beckman. Ron Capps, who has never won the U.S. Nationals, is a solid fourth with a 4.179 from his NAPA Auto Parts Charger, which is tuned by six-time event winner Ed McCulloch.

Connie Kalitta made his return to Funny Car racing for the first time since the loss of his son Scott in Englishtown and tuned new driver Jeff Arend and the DHL Toyota into the provisional seventh spot with a 4.193. Twenty-two Funny Cars are on hand.

Allen Johnson

Johnson, who hasn’t sat atop a final field since the second event of the year, in Phoenix, is the early leader in Pro Stock with his J&J Racing/Mopar Stratus after clocking a 6.713, nearly two-hundredths quicker than his closest pursuer with four sessions still to go despite breaking a rocker arm near the finish line that slowed his trap speed to just 201 mph.

“These are probably the best conditions of the weekend because I hear it’s only going to get hotter, so that may hold on for No. 1,” said Johnson, who is one of the frontrunners for the Full Throttle Pit Crew Championship. “If we can get a few points for the Full Throttle deal by qualifying No. 1, we could end up back on top of the points.

“You’re always nervous to get that first run out of the way, and it’s nice to know you have the power. That was the first run on a brand-new combination so I think it’s going to be okay. If it hadn’t broke, it might have run a 6.705. If the conditions are worse tomorrow, we’ll test a little bit, but we still want to stay consistent for the Full Throttle deal.”

Dave Connolly sits second with the Cagnazzi Racing Charter Communications Chevy Cobalt with a 6.731, just ahead of Warren Johnson’s GM Performance Parts Pontiac GXP, making for a manufacturer free-for-all atop the pack.

W.J., a six-time winner, is ranked third with a 6.733 as he seeks his first Indy win since 1999, but, more importantly, he needs to make up a lot of ground on Greg Stanfield, who holds the final playoff position for the Countdown to 1. Stanfield was 17th quickest of the opening session.

Justin Humphreys rounds out the top four with his J&J-powered Dodge with a 6.735 and is chased on the list by a trio of former Indy winners: Kurt Johnson (6.738), Jeg Coughlin (6.745), and points leader Greg Anderson (6.746).

Eddie Krawiec

Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying is only one fifth complete, but Krawiec has his eyes set on his third low-qualifying spot of the season aboard the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson after posting a 7.106 for the top spot, nearly four-hundredths ahead of points leader and reigning season champ Matt Smith, who clocked a 7.140 astride his red-hot Nitro Fish Buell for the second spot.

“To come out of the trailer and run like that is a great thing,” said Krawiec, who will oppose Angelle Sampey in the first round of Saturday’s Ringers Glove Pro Bike Battle. “First of all, the other bike guys are going to look at it, and now that’s the bar that everyone will set themselves to chase, so being the top dog I’m pretty excited. Everyone will have to chase that, and I think it gives me an advantage and comfort going into the Ringers race tomorrow.

"I think I made a really nice, clean, straight run; I knew I hit my shift points, so I feel good about that, and I don’t know how much more is left in it. It’s pretty hot and humid out there.  I hope it carries over, and we continue our good runs with the Ringers race tomorrow against Angelle Sampey; she went a 7.14, and I think she can run a little better, too.”

Sampey, runner-up to Smith at the two most recent events on the tour, sits third with her Rush Racing Buell after clocking a 7.141. Krawiec’s teammate, Andrew Hines, is a distant fourth at 7.177, and Matt Guidera rounds out the top five with a 7.18 on his Mohegan Sun Buell.

Karen Stoffer, fighting for her playoff life, is the quickest Suzuki rider with a sixth-best 7.21 aboard her Geico mount while her closest points pursuer, Hector Arana, had to abort his first effort and is ranked 25th, ahead only of Shawn Gann, who crossed the centerline and nearly collected Mike Berry on their Friday pass.

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