HIGHT READY FOR ENGLISHTOWN SUCCESS
ENGLISHTOWN, NJ (May 29, 2013) — Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team have started the 2013 Mello Yello season the same way they started the 2009 season. They are winless through the first eight races but have shown signs as of success as of late. Luckily for Hight and his team 2009 turned out alright considering they hoisted the Funny Car World Championship trophy in Pomona. This weekend at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park’s historic Toyota Summernationals Hight is looking to get his first win of 2013 and his first win at the storied East Coast racing facility.
“Englishtown is a major race just like a major event in golf. You want to win at Pomona, Gainesville, Indy and Englishtown. This place has seen some of the most famous drivers and some of the greatest racing. John (Force) used to match race here on Wednesday night and they would have all sorts of crazy things going on but it all came back to the racing. I want to get a win here and we were close last year,” said Hight.
While Hight has not been getting a lot of win lights at the start of the season that turned around in Topeka where he was the No. 3 qualifier and raced to his first final round of the season. Unfortunately for the first time in four final round meetings with veteran racer Johnny Gray Hight came up just a little short losing the final. Hight now holds a 3-1 final round record to Gray.
“It seemed like every time I was going to a final lately it was against Johnny. We were either in a final or the first round against each other. He has a tough race car and he is a good driver. That is always a tough combination. I was glad to go some rounds in Topeka and we moved up a spot in the points,” said Hight, who now sits No. 7 in the Mello Yello point standings.
“The good news is all our John Force Racing Mustangs ran well all weekend in Topeka. That was the first race in a long time where we got four qualifying runs and then went some rounds on Sunday. We need the track time in race conditions. We tested a lot of things in the off season and when you are trying to figure them out you need track time. We lost a ton of runs due of weather to start the season.”
Prior to the start of the race in Topeka Hight received a few words of encouragement from a somewhat surprising source. Fellow competitor Ron Capps took a few minutes during the pre-race ceremonies to tell Hight he was glad the Auto Club Mustang appeared to be turning around after a strong two days of qualifying.
“It was kind of cool. Capps came up to me and said it was glad to have me back running good. He is a class guy and it makes you feel good to know that people are recognizing our success on the track even if it is only a couple of days. You want to give everyone a tough race and Capps is one of the best guys out here with a great team. He made the quickest 1000 ft run last year at Englishtown, 3.96 seconds, and I know if conditions are just right there will be a lot of teams trying to run quicker than that,” said Hight.
FORCE SEEKS RETRIBUTION AT RACEWAY PARK
Resurgent 15-Time Champ Tries to End Winless Streak in Castrol GTX Ford
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. – It’s been 14 years since John Force last won a race at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. That’s the longest the Hall of Fame Funny Car driver has gone without a victory at any track in the NHRA Mello Yello Series.
The fact is, he hasn’t even reached the final round since 2004 and is only 8-8 in his last eight appearances in the Toyota Summernationals, contested this week for the 44th time.
Nevertheless, it would be ludicrous to discount the sport’s biggest winner from the title conversation when the world’s top drag racing professionals once again convene for the Northeast’s biggest event.
At an age when other 60-somethings are content to spend their weekends astride nothing more powerful than the riding mower, Force will climb back into the cockpit of a 10,000 horsepower Castrol GTX Ford Mustang with a better-than-average shot at ending his recent malaise on one of the tracks on which he got his start.
When no one else could see any potential in the former truck driver, the late Vinny Napp started booking him into Raceway Park for Wednesday and Saturday night Funny Car races. That gave Force encouragement and credibility at a time when he needed both. He’s never forgotten it, either.
“It’s always special to come back to Englishtown, because that’s where I got my start,” Force recalled. “I hadn’t even been east of Phoenix when Vinny Napp booked me into one of his Funny Car races (the first time). Once that happened, a couple other promoters gave me a shot and it just grew from there. If Vinny Napp hadn’t had faith in me, none of this would have happened.”
What happened is a Horatio Alger story on wheels that brings Force back to his roots as a 15-time series champion, a 134-time tour winner and, while still active, an inductee into both the Motor Sports Hall of Fame of America and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Not that those accomplishments will mean squat this weekend.
“That’s old news,” Force said. “Nobody’s gonna cut you any slack because you’re in the Hall of Fame – and I wouldn’t want them to. But I still believe I can win and as long as that’s true, I’m gonna stay out here. I love it. I love driving my hot rod, being out here with my girls (daughters Courtney and Brittany both drive) and with Robert (son-in-law Robert Hight).
“I tell people I grew up in a trailer park (in Bell Gardens, Calif.) and I’m still in a trailer park. The only difference is the trailers are bigger and nicer.”
Force owns 10 of the biggest and nicest. They house six Funny Cars (two for each of the three teams), two Top Fuel dragsters, the Castrol Technology Center and a full complement of spare parts.
Just over two years removed from his most recent championship (2010), Force nevertheless admits that he has struggled the last couple of seasons. Although he has continued to win (prevailing at Denver in 2011 and at Pomona, Calif., a year ago), he hasn’t done so with typical Force flare.
This year, he’s won just five rounds in eight races and has yet to reach the finals. However, two weeks ago, he earned the 141st No. 1 start of his career, set a Heartland Park-Topeka track record at 4.043 seconds and, on Monday after the race, dipped to 4.01 seconds in testing.
That sends him into the Summernationals with the kind of confidence Vinny Napp instilled in him 30 years ago. Coupled with returning crew chief Mike Neff’s expertise (he won at Raceway Park as a driver in 2011), that may be enough to insure a very Force-ful weekend.
ON-THE-JOB-TRAINING FOR TOP FUEL ROOKIE
BRITTANY FORCE BACK IN SCHOOL THIS WEEK
Rookie Trying to Move Up in Mello Yello Points in Castrol EDGE dragster
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. – Brittany Force goes back to school this week, not at New York’s Hunter College, where she studied for a semester on the way to earning her Bachelor’s degree, but at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park where she’ll continue to learn the family business in a modified classroom on wheels.
Granted, the canopied cockpit of the 330 mile-an-hour Castrol EDGE Top Fuel dragster isn’t your normal learning environment, but then John Force Racing, Inc., isn’t your normal business, either.
Brittany’s dad is 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion and International Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee John Force. Her brother-in-law is 2009 champion Robert Hight. Her older sister, Ashley Force Hood, was the first woman ever to win an NHRA Funny Car race and her younger sister, Courtney, was last year’s NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year.
Together, they’ve set the bar pretty high, but Brittany,
who already has secured her California teaching credential, is unaffected by the predictable comparisons.
“When Ashley came out, she had her own set of goals,” she explained “Same with Courtney. Same with me. For me, it’s not about comparisons to Ashley or Courtney. It’s about setting my own goals and achieving them myself in my time.
“I thought I was through with school when I got my bachelor’s degree,” admitted the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton, “but I’m still learning every time I go down the track. I know I need more experience. Even though I tested all last season, it’s not the same as it is in a race.
“I’m having to learn things like backpedaling (feathering the throttle to regain traction) while I’m racing,” admitted the Southern California native. “I know I have a great team with Dean Antonelli and Eric Lane as my crew chiefs and Castrol EDGE as my sponsor and I’m just trying not to let them down.”
Brittany’s development has been short-circuited to some extent by a wet weather pattern that has forced cancellation of six qualifying runs over the last four events. That’s six lost opportunities for improvement. Nevertheless, the second youngest of Force’s four daughters remains undaunted.
“Hopefully, we’ll get all our qualifying runs this week and continue to improve,” she said. “That’s my goal – to improve every week.”
Brittany’s progress has been difficult to gauge considering the fact that she is the first ever to drive a JFR Top Fuel dragster. The sport’s most successful team has won 134 races and 17 championships in the Funny Car class but, until this year, it never had sent a car down the track in any other professional category.
“We’re all learning together,” said Antonelli, who last year was crew chief on the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang in which the elder Force won the inaugural Traxxas Nitro Shootout and the accompanying $100,000 bonus. “Most of these guys, myself included, never had worked on a dragster. It’s on-the-job training, really.”
Utilizing the Ford BOSS 500 nitro motor developed at JFR as a collaborative effort, Brittany became the first driver in 42 years to win with Ford power when she upset Doug Kalitta in the first round of last April’s SummitRacing.com Nationals at Las Vegas.
She’ll try to build on that accomplishment this week, hoping to gain ground in the point standings that determine the drivers who will compete this fall for the Mello Yello Championship.
Despite her relative lack of experience, Brittany has had previous success at Raceway Park, where she qualified No. 1 and reached the semifinals in a 2009 Summernationals appearance in the Top Alcohol Dragster class, drag racing’s version of NASCAR’s Nationwide Series.
If the 26-year-old phenom can come anywhere close to duplicating that performance, school might finally be out.