BRISTOL, TN — The first heat wave of the season proved troublesome for John Force Racing at the 14th annual Ford Thunder Valley NHRA Nationals.  While Brittany Force was able to secure her second No. 1 qualifier of the season in Top Fuel that was the lone high point for the winningest team in NHRA history. Robert Hight lost in the second round to eventual winner Tommy Johnson Jr. Even with the early exit Hight will leave Bristol with a commanding points lead in the Mello Yello standings followed by team owner and 16-time champion John Force. This is the seventh straight race Hight and the Auto Club team have led the points. He was No. 1 for 12 straight races in 2012.  Overall, he has led the points after 40 races over the last 10 seasons.

“The points lead is important but winning races is what we are focused on. We just could get caught up to the track. It was a little tricky out there. I had to pedal it in the first round. We missed a qualifying run on Friday night but that didn’t really hurt us too bad. This was just the first race where the track temps were over 130 degrees so that makes it tough on everyone. There were a lot of upsets in all the classes today. We’ll be ready for Epping,” said Hight, the 2011 Thunder Valley Nationals winner.

Hight qualified No. 4 and continued a string of strong qualifying performances. So far this season he has qualified No. 4 or higher eight times. Surprisingly he has not been No. 1 yet this season. His worst qualifying start of the season was No. 10 at the historic Gatornationals an event he went on to win.

After qualifying in the top half of the field for the first time ever at Bristol Dragway, No. 6 qualifier Courtney Force took the win over competitor Jack Beckman in the opening round. She posted a 4.199 ET at 302.35 mph to Beckman’s tire-smoking 4.787 ET at 181.64 mph. Force has won in their last four meetings and is now 5-2 against him.

Force made her way to the quarterfinals against Tony Pedregon before her Traxxas Ford Mustang smoked the tires and ended her day. This was only the fourth time the pair have met in eliminations and Force is now 3-1 against Pedregon.

“We did better here this year than we have the past two years. We’ve definitely made some improvements. It was a tough race track. It was a struggle for a lot of these cars to get down there. I’m proud of my Traxxas team because these guys went to work on my car this weekend and never stopped. We got our Traxxas Ford Mustang down the track on almost every run out here. I had to pedal it in the second round today and I thought I could catch up to Tony, but it just wasn’t enough at the end,” said Force.

The NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals this weekend posed as the first stop along a four-race swing over the next several weeks. The 2012 NHRA Auto Club Rookie of the Year will stay in the No. 6 place points position going into Epping next week, the site of her third career national event win last year.

“We didn’t lose out on a lot here. We gained a lot of knowledge coming here this weekend and kept our No. 6 place points position, which is really good. We’re going to keep pushing forward. We are making improvements every weekend and I’m excited for my team. We’ll get back at it next weekend,” said Force.

The reigning NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car World Champion made solid, consistent qualifying runs in his Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang and ended up qualified seventh at this weekend’s NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. John Force would face Alexis DeJoria in the opening round on race day and had the advantage of lane choice. These two drivers have done battle twelve times, with John being victorious on eight occasions during their match ups.

John had a slight reaction time advantage over DeJoria, but unfortunately his Goodyear slicks went up in smoke around the 500 foot mark at Bristol Dragway, and that’s all that was needed for DeJoria to get around the 16-time NHRA Mello Yello World Champ and get the win.

“I don’t know what to think after coming off a first round loss at Bristol. I could sit here and make some statement, I mean we got all the horsepower in the world, we have a great team, got money, but we need to put this aside and try to address what we did right and wrong this weekend,” said John Force.

Throughout qualifying, the Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang looked strong with a 4.099, 4.144 and 4.148 second runs right down Bristol Dragway. The team had a renewed confidence, as the clutch gremlins that had plagued them during the last few races appeared to have been corrected.

“Even though we’re still number two in points, we need to go out there and turn it around because if I keep going like this, we’re going to be in trouble,” said John Force.

With back to back races, some drivers enjoy being on the road, as they feel it keeps them sharp and on their game. John Force sees the plusses and the minuses of what some would consider a relentless and grueling schedule. With the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals as the start of four weekends of racing in a row, it can be challenging for a seasoned veteran like John Force.

 “There are two ways to look at it. You can stay in the groove by racing every weekend and that’s a positive. But, you got to look at the teams who are trucking across the country and live on the road. A lot of times they can’t get caught up. I know that as a driver, and I’m doing shows between races and when I get behind on my sleep, it kills me on race day,” said John Force.

The Castrol GTX High Mileage team leaves the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals still in second place with 640 NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car points.

Despite securing her second number one qualifying position in the last three races, Brittany Force still came up just shy of winning the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals. Her Castrol EDGE Dragster ran strong this weekend and was a contender to win the hotly contested Top Fuel class, but unfortunately lost in the opening round to Chris “The Greek” Karamesines.  

“It’s definitely disappointing to come out as the number one qualifier and go out in the first round. It almost seems like a curse – it seems like the number one qualifier just doesn’t make it to the final round. Courtney (Force) broke that curse a few weekends back, but it’s tough to go rounds and make it all the way to the winner’s circle when you’re the number one qualifier, and I don’t know why that is,” said Brittany Force.

The 2013 NHRA Auto Club Rookie of the Year had lane choice over her opponent Chris “The Greek” Karamesines in the opening round. This was the first time Brittany Force and Chris Karamesines have faced each other in eliminations.

“Going into the first round today, I was definitely pumped and my team was pumped. We were so motivated to get this Castrol EDGE Dragster into the winner’s circle. It was cool to race ‘The Greek’ (Chris Karamesines) as he’s a legend in our sport and I went over to shake his hand before the run and he wished me luck,” said Brittany Force 

Having a better reaction time, which gave her a starting line advantage, Brittany was out of the gate first. Unfortunately tricky track conditions threw her a curve ball, as the massive Goodyear slicks erupted into a wall of smoke just past the 330-foot mark on the track, and Brittany had to shut her dragster down. About that same point, Karamesines’ supercharger exploded, and that in turn activated the parachutes to be deployed early, but he still coasted to the win.

 “It’s been a hot race track all weekend, even though we were number one and we were running the best out here, from the seat of my car, it didn’t  feel like my dragster was running that well and it seemed like we could have performed better. All weekend I knew our car was struggling to get down the track. When it started to smoke the tires, I stayed in the throttle l
onger than I should have and it’s just sometimes hard to catch it at the right moment. Once it threw the blower belt off, all I could do was coast to the line, but unfortunately the Greek got there first,” said Brittany Force.

No loss is easy for any professional drag racer, but Brittany won’t dwell on today’s first round defeat. She will stay positive and focused for the upcoming NHRA New England Nationals in Epping, New Hampshire next weekend. Brittany still remains in the Top Ten with 502 NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel points, and is currently in eighth place.

“The one thing I will tell my guys is that we’re going to jump right back into it, so don’t beat yourselves up over our first round loss today. We’ll use the momentum and really go after it next weekend. I know our day ended short for us, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be in the winner’s circle next weekend,” said Brittany Force.