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Keeping Pace


Joining Cory McClenathan (Top Fuel) and Robert Hight (Funny Car) in the winner’s circle at at the 19th of 24 races in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series were Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Courtesy: NHRA Media Relations

CONCORD, N.C. – Cory McClenathan and Robert Hight won their first races of the 2009 season Sunday at the Second annual NHRA Carolinas Nationals at zMax Dragway to make huge moves in the Countdown to 1.

Joining McClenathan (Top Fuel) and Hight (Funny Car) in the winner’s circle at at the 19th of 24 races in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series were Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

The NHRA Carolinas Nationals is the first race in the Countdown to 1, NHRA’s six-race playoff.

McClenathan, who pushed his FRAM Tough Guard dragster to a 3.857 at 312.64 mph in his final round win over rookie Shawn Langdon (3.980 at 280.49) and the Dixie Choppers/Lucas Oil team, entered the playoffs in fifth place, but he took advantage of early exits by the drivers ahead of him to move all the way into first place.

“I feel bigger than life sometimes,” said McClenathan, who last won in April 2008 at Las Vegas. “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.”

With his 31st career win, he has pulled even with Doug Kalitta as the second winningest driver in NHRA history to have never won an NHRA championship (Kurt Johnson, 39).

Hight, who was the 40th and final driver to clinch a playoff berth, vaulted from 10th place all the way up to third place with his first win in a year. His Auto Club Ford Mustang team defeated rookie Matt Hagan’s Dodge Charger R/T team in the final round, 4.097 at 307.02 mph to 4.103 at 308.07.

“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,” Hight said. “You start to begin to wonder if you can even win.”

Hight has now been to back-to-back final rounds and his win Sunday was his first since the 2008 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.

“Jimmy Prock, for whatever reason, has it right now. Definitely, it’s due to ‘Guido’ (Dean Antonelli) and Ron Douglas (crew chiefs for teammate Ashley Force Hood). Right before Brainerd, we switched everything around just like their car, and they’ve helped us tremendously. Before, our engine would burn up, it would drop cylinders, and was just totally inconsistent. Now, we have a car like Ashley’s had all year long.”

Regular season champ Tony Pedregon remained in first place and Ashley Force Hood moved up a spot to second place.

In Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, form held as the top quailifiers – Mike Edwards in Pro Stock and Hector Arana in Pro Stock Motorcycle – each won on Sunday.

Edwards (6.618 at 209.39) and the A.R.T Life Pontiac team defeated Greg Stanfield (6.650 at 207.75) and his Attitude Apparel Pontiac team to move into first place for the first time all season.

“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 said. “You’ll never know how hard I’ve worked and how much I’ve wanted this. I know it’s a long way from being over,  but it means a lot now.”

Arana ran a 7.004 at 189.31 on his Lucas Oil Buell, but it was a moot point because Karen Stoffer red-lighted aboard her GEICO Powersports Suzuki in the final. It was the second straight win for Arana, who moved into first place for the first time since his season-opening win.

“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.”

The Countdown to 1 continues next weekend in Dallas with the second race in the six-race playoff, the O’Reilly SuperStart Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals, Sept, 24-27 at the Texas Motorplex.

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Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.

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