FORCE, HIGHT RUN AWAY FROM FRIDAY FIELD IN NORWALK
NORWALK, OH – John Force and Robert Hight were a potent 1-2 punch at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park on Friday night. Force’s Castrol GTX Ford Mustang set the track record with a provisional No. 1 elapsed time of 4.021 seconds at 317.72 mph. Right behind Force was teammate Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang who ran 4.030 seconds at a track speed record of 318.77 mph.
“I was amazed it was hotter than heck and we came out and ran that 4.13 or whatever we ran in the heat. We got a handle in the heat,” said Force, who is in position to pick up his first No.1 qualifier at Summit Motorsports Park. “We are OK but we are not where we want to be. We are not where we want to be to win a championship. There are just a bunch of good race cars out here. To get low for tonight is good.”
“We need some good weather and we need some great races for the fans. We have had some bad weather this year and it has hurt the NHRA. The Bader family they work really hard. I have a good race car and (crew chief) Mike Neff and (Assistant crew chief) Jon Shaffer give me a good car with that team. It has plenty of funding from Castrol, Auto Club, Traxxas and Ford engineering goes into it. We will see what happens. Low ET doesn’t win you any races it put you on the edge actually. We will see if it will hold and then we will celebrate.”
The past two year’s Force’s current crew chief Mike Neff has won the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals as a driver and ironically this facility is one of two that Force has never won an NHRA national event. The tandem has been working together and over the past three weeks they have three final rounds and a win to their credit. Force thinks that Neff’s driving skills help make the 15-time Funny Car champion a better driver.
“I was always good. You will never get me to say different. Neff is good. We have been trying a lot of stuff. I have made some mistakes and Neff has been able to point those out to me. We talked about it and one of them was Neff said Force you are living in that gym trying to be a gorilla but I still have these Budweiser abs but he said I was way over steering the car,” said Force.
“Neff said I was the one taking it out of the groove. We started watching the videos. He understood what I was doing. The kid has a lot of talent not only tuning but also driving. He really helped me just calm down and keep driving. My other car was a dump truck and this car has like power steering and you have to finesse it like a Top Fuel dragster. We are a team. We win together and we lose together. I am excited right now.”
In addition to the performance advantage Force has experienced in the past month he is feeding off the fan excitement at the famed Norwalk facility.
“I have been coming to Norwalk for 18 years. I have won a lot of these Night Under Fire match races. You feed off the fans especially here at Norwalk. I learned a lot about racing here. The Bader family, I call them the PT Barnums, they are the best promoters in the world. Bader said to me it is not just drag racing it is entertainment. That is what you do.”
As dominant as Force’s Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was in the final qualifying session on Friday the Auto Club Ford Mustang was up to the task as well posting the quickest run of the first qualifying session and was second to Force in the night session. Hight picked up five qualifying bonus points for his efforts today.
“It’s definitely coming around. Right now points are everything and we have to stay ahead of everyone that’s behind us to stay in that top 10. Every run where we can pick up points in qualifying and go rounds on race day is huge. Today, we made five points on Tasca (Bob, III) and that’s exactly what we needed to do,” said Hight who sits 10th in the Mello Yello Funny Car point standings.
“I’m proud of my crew chief, Jimmy (Prock), that he didn’t just give it away tonight. We were low ET the first run. You know, we could have gone up there swingin’, trying to run in the threes, because that kind of is his style. He played it safe and we came up a hair short against John,” said Hight. “Just like last week when we lost to Capps, I told my guys, right now, when I lose on race day, I don’t want to lose smoking the tires, I want to lose going down the track making runs. If you throw out that run from last weekend when (Matt) Hagan and I got shut off, my Auto Club Ford Mustang has gone down the track every single run and ran 4.0’s. I’m proud of my guys. We need to do it twice tomorrow and see where it shakes out.”
Hight’s night time run may not have earned him the track elapsed time record but his monstrous speed of 318.77 mph grabbed the track speed record for the 2009 Funny Car champion.
“A track speed record is huge, but you can look at the incrementals and there’s more out there. Mike Neff ran almost three mph faster than us at half-track, yet we had the top speed. So, if we get ours to run through the middle like he did, you can run 321 mph. You see all these numbers, but there’s room for improvement. I’m excited because we’re not right out the ragged edge and we can run better,” said Hight.
Courtney Force made a great run today to qualify in the top 12 going into Saturday’s qualifying rounds. Piloting the Traxxas Ford Mustang, Force posted a 4.142 second run at 306.46 mph.
“Luckily the weather held out and we went out there and made a great run and went to the No. 4 spot with a 4.10 in the first session,” said Force.
The 25-year-old Funny Car driver struck the tires on her second shot at qualifying and was not able to improve.
“In the second session, we were trying to take advantage of the cool conditions, and being that it was a night run, it cooled down and we were trying to run in the low 4.0’s to see if we could go to the top spot and get around my dad. This Traxxas Ford Mustang wasn’t having it. It went out and struck the tires almost immediately, but that’s okay. You have to go out and give it all you got when you have such good conditions like that. We’re going to go out tomorrow and we have two more chances. We still made it into the top 12 for today so we’ll see what this Traxxas Ford can do,” said Force.
The first day of qualifying didn’t end the way Top Fuel rookie Brittany Force had imagined as she ended up 16th at the end of the night in Norwalk.
Force’s first pass in her Castrol EDGE dragster consisted of a 4.274 second pass at 197.05 mph after smoking the tires and ultimately having to shut off the engine early. Despite having experience in getting back in the throttle and nailing the run, there was just not enough time to do so.
“First run I went out there, it went up in tire smoke, so I lifted off the throttle,” Force said. “For us, there wasn’t a reason to try and pedal it and get down the track. Hoping that we have three runs, we don’t want to do anything that would hurt the car.”
Going into session two on Friday night, her Castrol EDGE team along crew chiefs Dean Antonelli and Eric Lane along with new hire Richard Hogan tuned her car for cooler temperatures, but once again, there are just some things that you can’t control, especially in racing.
“On the second run, I felt some different things on it,” the 26-year-old California native said. “It went out there and carried the front end for a little while, but it was when it set back down that it kind of started to drift in and went up in tire smoke. That’s when it really moved the car over and that’s when I lifted. Inside the car it felt like it started to go sideways. I watched the video with my c
rew chiefs and it was good that I lifted. Hopefully we can make some changes and come out tomorrow and have better runs.”
Hogan, who led Steve Torrence to three Top Fuel wins last season joined John Force Racing this week. He will work with Antonelli and Lane adding some Top Fuel experience to the rookie team.
“We just have had some discussion over the past few weeks if I was interested in trying to come over and help Guido (Dean Antonelli) and Eric. The have been typically Funny Cars guys and they have the dragster now and they just want to see if they can improve the performance some,” said Hogan.
When asked where he thought his strengths on the tuning side would come into play with the Castrol EDGE Top Fuel dragster Hogan talked about how he can work with the team to harness the BOSS 500 power.
“I think I can help with everything in general because I have made so many runs with a Top Fuel dragster as far as how aggressive you have to be with it. I understand how much power it takes to get them to run really good ETs,” added Hogan.
For the Automobile Club Road to the Future Award rookie of the year candidate the addition was met with excitement and encouragement for her young team.
“I’m excited to have Hogan on board. I think he, along with Antonelli and Lane, will be a good team together and we’ll get some stuff figured out and get into the Countdown,” said Force.