FORCE No. 1 FOR FIRST TIME AT NORWALK
NORWALK, OH – There is only one track left that John Force has not been the No. 1 qualifier after this weekend’s effort at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk. His Friday night 4.021 second pass was a track record and checked the famed Norwalk facility off the list of tracks Force has not been the best in qualifying. The lone remaining track is Bristol Dragway. This was the 25th different track and 30th different event Force has been the No. 1 qualifier.
On today’s effort Force talked about the strategy behind his runs in both sessions. Crew chief Mike Neff who has won the past two NHRA events here was looking for the edge to go rounds on Sunday.
“We are just out there trying to do everything we can so we can go from A to B. It was warm yesterday too when we ran that 4.13 seconds in the heat. When it cooled down we stepped up and ran that 4.02 which was the track record. The track was good. You fight the elements like the heat today. We wanted to see how far we could push it today. We know we will pull her back in the first round and we will. We have a race here to win,” said the 135-time Funny Car NHRA national event winner
This was Force’s record 143rd No. 1 qualifying effort in 624 races. For his career he is averaging being number No. 1 qualifier every four races. It isn’t just the performance numbers that motivate the 64-year old racer it is the cheer of the fans and the support of track operators like the Bader family here in Norwalk.
“This is kind of home. I call Pomona our home track because we race there twice a year but we race here twice a year too. I have raced here for 18 years and you get to know the Baders and their whole family. They want to see you do good and they tell me to win this before I tip over. I better get going,” said Force a life-long Orange County California resident.
Right behind Force in the qualifying is teammate Robert Hight who had one of the most dominant cars all weekend record one of the three quickest runs in three of the four qualifying sessions including a blistering 4.09 second run in the heat of the day in the final qualifying session.
“Today’s runs were all about getting ready for tomorrow. This Auto Club Ford Mustang has been coming around the last couple of races. I am not over confident by any stretch but I am excited to be racing tomorrow. Running that 4.09 was just what we wanted to do. (Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) was looking at the data and we think there was a little more out there. (Bob) Tasca (III) will be tough and we are battling to stay in the Top Ten,” said Hight.
The first round match-up between Ford Mustangs will be an epic tilt as Hight is fighting to hold onto his spot in the Top Ten where he has a seventeen point lead. He came into Norwalk with an even slimmer three point lead but thanks to his strong qualifying effort he was able to pad that lead going into Sunday’s eliminations.
“We got a lot of bonus qualifying points and almost earned a round just in qualifying. We need to string some more qualifying weekends like this together. We earned eight qualifying bonus points and then earned seven for being the No. 2 qualifier. You string a couple weekends like that together and we will be in good shape,” said Hight, a finalist at the Topeka national event earlier this season.
“You look at the fans that come out here and it was pretty hot today. They have been great all weekend and we want to put on a good show. We want to go rounds tomorrow and you have to win the first round to have a shot at winning the race. It sounds simple but the first round will be a huge round.”
Courtney Force made two good passes down the race track in today’s qualifying, preparing her for race day while setting the stage with performances in conditions expected for Sunday.
“We made a lot of changes since yesterday’s qualifying passes, which I think are good changes. We’re trying to get our car to be more consistent like it was last season, and it showed a lot of promise today in the heat of the day. Our Traxxas Ford is coming around and it’s doing what we are telling it to do and that’s what we want,” said Force.
Force was able to make the top 12 on Friday with a 4.106 seconds at 312.86 mph and carry over her time to Saturday’s qualifying.
“We came out here today having only one run from Friday to work off of and we weren’t even sure if the weather was going to cooperate with us to we could get all of qualifying in. That is one of the most important things because when you don’t get all four shots to qualify, it makes figuring out the car and the track together very difficult on race day,” said Force.
Force and her Traxxas Ford Mustang showed consistency when they ran 4.123 seconds at 313.95 mph and picked up one bonus point for being the third-quickest of that session. They then followed up that run with a 4.147 ET at 311.34 mph and earned another additional bonus point for being third-quickest of that session as well.
“We got it down the track both runs today so we’re figuring some new things out and we’re feeling confident going into first round tomorrow. We have to run (Tim) Wilkerson again so it’s going to be a re-match of last weekend,” said Force, who has a 5-1 record against Wilkerson in previous events.
“I’m excited and I feel confident in my car and my team. I look forward to racing out here in Norwalk tomorrow. We picked up two bonus points today, so hopefully we can go some rounds tomorrow and be one of the quickest cars out there. We need to continue to get all the points we can now to prepare for the countdown to the championship. Everything matters now,” said Force.
Top Fuel pilot Brittany Force didn’t have the weekend she and her Castrol EDGE team had hoped for as they missed the cut today.
Round three of qualifying looked to be a good run for the soon to be 27-year-old, until engine issues forced the driver to let off the throttle. Force ended the session with a 4.05 second pass at 223.80 mph.
“First run of the day, it went out there and about the 600 foot mark I lifted,” Force said. “The motor had problems and my team came over the radio and told me to lift and I just happen to catch that right before.”
That run temporarily bumped the John Force Racing team out of the show. Crew chiefs Dean Antonelli and Eric Lane along with help from veteran tuner Richard Hogan tuned Force’s dragster for the heat as the track temperature increased with each passing minute leading up to the final qualifying session.
The Cal-State Fullerton graduate laid it all on the line as she raced down the track, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough, missing the show by 0.038 thousandths of a second. However, Force and company will take what they have learned and move forward to the next event.
“The last run we almost made it down there,” Force said. “We really needed to make a good run to get it in the show. We got the Castrol EDGE dragster down the track, but it got out of the groove a little bit and took a hard left turn. I saw that center line come up really quick and I lifted. That was my reaction and that’s something we can all learn from. I think down the road, if I had some more experience, I could have made a different call, maybe driven it back, but I’m still learning and everything is still new to me and my team. With that, my Castrol EDGE team didn’t qualify. We’re bummed we didn’t make the show, but we won’t let this get us down. We’ll use this to get us pumped up for the Western Swing.”