CONCORD, NC (September 20, 2009) Cory McClenathan (Top Fuel), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), and Hector Arana (Pro Stock Motorcycle) jumped to the points lead in their respective classes with victories at the NHRA Carolinas Nationals at zMax Dragway. Robert Hight also made a big points move, vaulting from 10th to third when he won in Funny Car.
The NHRA Carolinas Nationals marked the beginning of the 2009 Countdown to 1 playoffs that will determine the Full Throttle world champions, and with the racers entering the event separated by 10 points in most positions, that meant a lot of jumbling throughout the day. Powered by VP’s Nitro Race, McClenathan took the Top Fuel points lead when he won the final round, moving around incoming leader Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher, who are tied for second. The lead remained unchanged in Funny Car with Tony Pedregon keeping the top spot despite losing first round, but behind him, things shuffled quite a bit. Ashley Force Hood moved to second and is just one point back, while the Nitro Race-powered Hight is third after his win, just 28 points out of the lead. Edwards used VP’s C25 to crush the competition in Pro Stock, and his points lead of 56 markers reflects that. He took the lead when he won round two then just added to it as he went onto victory. Arana’s final-round victory not only gave him a second straight Wally but the points lead over Eddie Krawiec, whom Arana defeated in the semi’s using VP’s C25.
McClenathan picked the perfect time to grab his first win since the spring Las Vegas event last year. Appearing in his fourth final of 2009, McClenathan defeated rookie-of-the-year candidate Shawn Langdon to claim the 31st Top Fuel win of his career. In the final, Langdon got the jump at the Tree and appeared to be in the lead until about the eighth-mile mark when his engine let go. That allowed McClenathan to move around him and win with a 3.857, his best run of the day.
“I feel bigger than life sometimes,” sad McClenathan. “After I won, I was overcome with a sense of ‘Oh my God, it has been so long since I’ve won.’ It has been a year and a half, and that’s too long. My teammate [Tony Schumacher] wins so often, but I don’t. These are the moments I cherish the most.”
McClenathan’s Fram Tough Guard entry lived in the 3.86-second range throughout eliminations as he worked his way to his 57th career final round. He put three straight 3.86s on the boards to dispatch fellow Countdown to 1 contenders Morgan Lucas and Larry Dixon and surprise semifinalist Doug Foley.
Hight may have struggled to make the Countdown to 1 field, but he proved he will be a factor in the championship chase after picking up his first win of the 2009 season and doing so with another strong performance. Hight’s car ran no worse than 4.14 all day, including a 4.097 in the final that gave him the victory over rookie driver Matt Hagan.
“It’s unbelievable the timing we’ve got right now because the first part of the year, we stunk this place up; it was terrible,” said Hight. “You start to begin to wonder if you can even win. You look at all these races out here, and it’s not that easy to win. Every round, I had someone in the other lane clear to the finish line. If you’re a little late or something happens to your car, any little thing, you’re going to lose. The last two rounds I had were unbelievably close races [.003- and .010-second margins of victory] with my teammate Ashley Force and then Matt Hagan, who hopefully gets rookie of the year because he’s done a great job and driving these Funny Cars ain’t that easy.
Coming off a runner-up finish in Indy, where he had one of, if not, the best car, Hight’s Auto Club-backed entry ran right down the zMax 1,000-foot course all day long. He opened with a 4.105 that was second-best of the first round to defeat Jerry Toliver, then followed with 4.14 and 4.12 clockings to defeat Bob Tasca III and teammate Ashley Force Hood. In the semifinal run, Hight just edged Force Hood, who finished a mere .003-second back with a 4.13.
Edwards absolutely dominated the Pro Stock contingent, qualifying No. 1, setting low e.t. and top speed, running low e.t. of every round of eliminations, and winning the event. Edwards handily won the final over Greg Stanfield, taking a .013-second lead at the Tree and outrunning Stanfield by nearly four-hundredths. The end result was not only his fourth win this year and 19th of his career but also the biggest points lead in any category.
“I told Greg [Stanfield] the caution light must have come on my side [of the Tree] first, because he’s hard to leave on,” said Edwards, who is the points leader for the first time in his career and is the 25th driver to lead in Pro Stock. “My car was flawless. It went up and down track every time. It was a great weekend and a great start for this Countdown.
Edwards came out strong and showed he would be tough to beat when he wheeled his Young Life/ART GXP to low e.t. and top speed of the weekend, 6.594 at 209.62, to oust Warren Johnson. He then put 6.62, 6.60, and 6.61 clockings on the board to defeat Tom Hammonds, Allen Johnson, and, in the final, Stanfield.
Arana’s dream year continued in Charlotte, where he was again the class of the field as he picked up his second straight victory, third in the last four events, and fourth this year. Though he would have been tough to beat with a 7.00 run from his Lucas Oil-backed Buell, opponent Karen Stoffer made things easy for Arana when she went red by six-thousandths.
“I’m still going to keep working hard,” said Arana. “I’d like to make three in a row now. I need to stay focused so I can have a shot at the title. I think have the motorcycle to win this championship. It hasn’t sunk in yet, but this is the best time of my life. For many years I have struggled and worked hard. I had opportunities to win before, but I didn’t. Many years went by, and I started doubting myself, but now, this is my moment.
Arana began his march to his seventh career final and fourth of the season with a 6.983 victory against Joe DeSantis. Arana then clocked a 7.01 to dispatch Steve Johnson. In the semi’s, Arana won a pivotal match with Krawiec, beating the incoming points leader on a holeshot in a thrilling 6.997 to 6.991 match.