Schumacher, Hight have special agendas at Atlanta



Top Fuel's Tony Schumacher can't start winning this year, and Robert Hight and the John Force Racing Funny Car steamroller can't seem to stop.

The two will lead their respective classes in Sunday eliminations of the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, as will Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Sr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Schumacher seldom is ruffled by the twists of drag racing, but the U.S. Army Dragster driver has admitted that it's tiresome hearing about how his winless streak has bulged to 29 races since Halloween weekend 2010. And every May he comes to Georgia's House of Speed and hears how this is the only venue on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series circuit at which he hasn’t won.

So the seven-time series champion and most successful Top Fuel driver in drag-racing history is hoping his excellent start this weekend will help him silence any of his doubters or those cluck-clucking about "poor Tony."

(After all, he has advanced to three final rounds in the first six events, compiled a race-day record of 12-6, and reached the 600-round plateau for career round victories. So he's performing well, well enough to be fourth in the standings.)

Schumacher used his Friday night track-record run of 3.815 seconds at 322.58 mph to claim his 68th No. 1 start but the first one at this venue.

"I guess we took a nice step in the right direction the last couple of days," Schumacher said Saturday after qualifying closed. "Of course, it's on us now to use this starting position to our advantage. We need to come out tomorrow and show no mercy."

He will meet No. 16 qualifier Pat Dakin in the first round of eliminations

"We're planning on this being our time to shine," Schumacher said. "We clearly have a fast car, so there is no reason to think we can't win tomorrow. We have to be smart and race the track [because] it's going to be hot again. It's going to be challenging. The team that adjusts the best is going to take home the trophy."

In the Funny Car class, Hight will have to lead the John Force Racing charge. JFR's Mike Neff, last weekend's winner at Houston and the No. 2-ranked driver in the standings, missed the cut by .031 seconds for only his third DNQ and his first since Sept. 22, 2008, at Dallas. Courtney Force and her father qualified in the bottom half of the ladder, in ninth and 14th places, respectively.

(Even with the failure to qualify, Neff will most likely head into Topeka in two weeks second in the standings. Ron Capps would have to win Sunday's race and set the national record to move around Neff.)

Said Hight, "Neff will be back next week. He's won the most rounds as a crew chief the last two years and happened to drive it last year. He's the smartest racer there is out here, so he'll be back."

The Auto Club Ford Mustang driver's Friday performance of 4.104 seconds kept him No. 1 for the fourth time in seven races this season. It marks th first time at Atlanta that he'll lead the field.

"There are a lot of cars that are bunched up there (number-wise, in the field). It's going to be a tough, tough race," Hight said. "I'm excited for it. You're going to see a lot of close, side-by-side racing. It's not easy. When you win a race like this, it's probably a little more special. You probably are going to need a few breaks along the way, because anything can happen in this heat. It's tough."

Neff was philosophical.

"We used all our luck up last week," he said. "We don't get that much and we cashed it all in last week to get the win in Houston. I am fine. Of course, you want to qualify at every race, but you are going to have good days and bad days. We had a bad day today. Days like today are one thing that is positive for the Countdown.

"This is not going to hurt us too bad. They are going to take our points away and reshuffle them anyway after Indy. My attitude changed some this season after how we finished last year. These early races are worth nothing at the end of the season," Neff said. "We are trying some different stuff, and some of it is working and some of it isn't. We will be all right and we will be back on track in Topeka."

Pro Stock top qualifier Jason Line said he's eager to park his KB / Summit Racing Pontiac GXP and start driving the new Chevy Camaro that Rick Jones has been building for him in Galesburg, Ill. But the GXP has been loyal to the end for him, even giving him a little extra horsepower Saturday in temperatures that climbed toward 140 degrees.

Line used a 6.607-second elapsed time on the Atlanta Dragway quarter-mile at 209.04 mph to claim his fourth No. 1 starting spot of the season, the 28th of his career, and the first at this facility.

That 6.607-second time was an improvement from his class-leading 6.612 from Friday evening.

"The racetrack was hotter, but great job by NHRA. The racetrack was great," Line said. "It was a good job by the NHRA because for a track to be this hot and be this good, is phenomenal. For us to go a 6.62 in this heat is great. We just wanted a good and safe run in the final session. This is what we will see tomorrow."

As he prepared to meet Warren Johnson, the six-time series champion and the region's favorite son from nearby Sugar Hill, in the opening round of eliminations, Line said, "I feel good about things and maybe this is a turnaround weekend for us."

He wasn't exuding that kind of confidence earlier, complimenting his crew but blaming himself for what he thought was not perfect behind the wheel.

"My crew did a great job as they have done all season. I haven't really held up my end of the deal. I've struggled to maintain the intensity to be the best in this class. I haven't done a great job of that this year."

He's being hard on himself, for most would envy Line's accomplishments so far this season.

Allen Johnson, the No. 2 qualifier, was fastest in the field with a 209.23 mph he clocked Friday.

Hector Arana Sr. cemented his Pro Stock Motorcycle dominance Saturday.

Despite the baking heat, he looked calm and cool and refreshed, even dapper in his trademark white Panama hat.

And whichever way one wants to look at it, the Lucas Oil Buell rider was the hottest Pro Stock Motorcycle rider at Atlanta Dragway or the coolest customer in qualifying.

Neither Eddie Krawiec nor Andrew Hines, the only two bike-class winners so far this season with their Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidsons, could top Arana's 6.894-second, 193.82-mph performance from Friday evening. They were Nos. 2 and 5, respectively.

Even Hector Arana Jr., whose Lucas Oil Buell is supposed to mimic his dad's, couldn't improve from third place on the grid. Michael Ray, a Matt Smith protégé, has the No. 4 spot for Sunday eliminations. Actually, the only change to the top 12 riders and their efforts Saturday was that Hines found an extra bit of speed, improving that from 191.48 mph to 192.06.

Arana Sr. said he believes he used up all of his motorcycle in earning his second straight top-qualifying position this season and his second here at Commerce, Ga.

"I think she's tapped out. I have given it all," he said. "We have two bikes, so we are trying different combinations to see what we can learn from it. I need to look at Hector's [Jr.'s] data, because he made some drastic changes. We need to learn from that so he can be back up to speed. I know he wants to be on the pole and I would like to see him there, too. He grabbed a whole bunch of them last year. I need some, too."

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