Fram Autolite NHRA Nationals
by Duke Ritenhouse, NHRA.com
A day full of upsets managed to end with a predictable result when Tony Schumacher won the Top Fuel title at the Fram Autolite NHRA Nationals, beating No. 12 qualifier Hillary Will in the final, 3.886 to 3.988, to score his fifth win in the last six NHRA national events. The In Funny Car, Robert Hight outran surprise finalist Gary Densham, 4.16 to 4.22, to pick up his first win since the season-opening event in
A day full of upsets managed to end with a predictable result when Tony Schumacher won the Top Fuel title at the Fram Autolite NHRA Nationals, beating No. 12 qualifier Hillary Will in the final, 3.886 to 3.988, to score his fifth win in the last six NHRA national events. The
In Funny Car, Robert Hight outran surprise finalist Gary Densham, 4.16 to 4.22, to pick up his first win since the season-opening event in
“People have been saying ‘You’ve clinched it; now that you’ve locked up No. 1 [in the Countdown standings], you don’t even need to show up until after Indy,’ but the fact is, we don’t show up for that; we show up to try to win races,” Schumacher said. “We have outstanding drive and outstanding commitment, and we put all of our effort and energy into every run. We happen to really be hitting it right now; we’re catching some breaks when we need them, and we’re running strong when we have to.”
Schumacher entered Sunday’s action in the No. 2 qualifying spot, then opened with convincing wins over Doug Kalitta — whose weekend included an induction to the Infineon Raceway Wall of Fame — and Rod Fuller. He then survived an upset bid from No. 11 Steve Torrence in the semifinals, using an .067 light to take a big edge at the Tree and just crossing the stripe first by two-hundredths for a 3.94 to 3.90 holeshot win. Schumacher’s final-round win was his second straight at the Fram Autolite NHRA Nationals.
Hometown heroine Will wasn’t on the list of favorites when the day began, having finished an undistinguished No. 12 in qualifying. She turned some heads, though, with a 3.88 to beat teammate Dave Grubnic in the first round and followed with a problem-filled 4.47 that had fewer issues than No. 13 McClenathan’s 4.95 in the quarterfinals. One round later, with her grandmother watching from the stands, she secured a place in her first final since winning the Topeka event by edging Brown by a heart-stopping .006-second in the semifinals, 4.011 to 4.042.
Brown reserved a place in the Countdown to the Championship with his first-round win over No. 16 qualifier Steve Chrisman. Brown and Schumacher, who has never been out of first place this season, are the only drivers in the class to mathematically clinch spots in the 10-car Countdown field.
“It’s unbelievable; it’s always been a dream of mine to win at this racetrack since I’ve been driving,” Hight said. “I actually have been to every national event contested here; I was coming to the races as a spectator before I ever got a job working on a crew. To finally get a chance to do the job for John [team owner Force], to work on his car for a lot of years, and now to drive one of the best Funny Cars in the nation is like a dream come true.
“I grew up in
At No. 12, Densham qualified one spot behind Hight. He opened with an easy win over
The final round was the 20th in Hight's and Densham’s Professional careers.
No Funny Car drivers clinched Countdown to 1 spots in
“Some days you just get the feeling that you’re going to win, and today was one of those days,” Connolly said. “Brita Cagnazzi, Victor Cagnazzi’s wife, it’s her birthday tomorrow, and she had a bottle of champagne and was ready to celebrate today. I told her after the first round to put that thing on ice because we were going to need it.
“That [Coughlin] is who I looked up to when I was a kid. I’ve learned a lot from him, and having him as a teammate is a win-win situation. To race him in the final and win on a holeshot is special. It was a no-lose situation for the guys back at the shop and the whole Cagnazzi group. Todd Bevis built both cars and Steve Johns and Joe Hornik build all the motors, and I don’t think they really cared who won, but I wanted to be the one to give her the trophy.”
After getting past Ron Krisher in the first round when Krisher was pushed back from the line, Coughlin knocked off Summit Racing teammates Jason Line and Anderson in the second and third rounds, respectively. He edged
In the Countdown to 1 points chase, Line and Kurt Johnson clinched spots in the NHRA’s playoffs. Connolly, after missing the first five events of the season, bulled his way past Warren Johnson and into the top 10 on the strength of his
“We really had to work for it this weekend; this place is great, but it’s very difficult to race here,” Guidera said. “We have an aggressive setup, and when the track gets a little greasy, we tend to spin the tire at half-track. It was very challenging.
“We haven’t shown the same performance that we had at the beginning of the year, and we didn’t show it here. I was riding timid in the last couple of races because I was afraid to go red, but you can’t do that anymore. You’ve got to have it together on the starting line. You had better be .020 or better or you’re going to get left on.”
Hines made advancing to his fourth final of 2008 look easy, moving through the ladder on a Hector Arana red-light, a 6.97 against Matt Smith, who slowed and coasted, and an .006/7.05 package that was too much for Eddie Krawiec in the semi’s.
Hines became the first Pro Stock Motorcycle rider to claim a Countdown invitation, clinching his spot with his second-round win against Smith.
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