POMONA – John Force and the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang Funny Car will start the 54th annual NHRA Circle K Winternationals as the No. 1 qualifier. On Friday Force reset the track record twice on the way to establishing a potential (records do not become official until after an event) national elapsed time record, with his runs of 3.983 seconds and then the record run of 3.966 seconds. He also set the track speed record with his mph run of 324.12 mph. This if the first time John has set the elapsed time record at Pomona.

“We were trying to run what we ran last night. We couldn’t do it in the first session but we thought we could in the second session. We pushed it hard. (Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) said there was more out there. He just wanted to know. We had nothing to lose unless (Ron) Capps could pull it off in the next lane. We are also looking at conditions for tomorrow. It is supposed to overcast tomorrow so we will have the same conditions. If it was going to be hot you would not want to try this. We got the record and we should get the points,” said Force.

This was Force’s 147th No. 1 qualifier, an all-time NHRA record and his 10th at the Winternationals. Force has won 57 races from No. 1 including six at Pomona and two at the Winternationals (1997, 2002). It is the first time since 2006 that Force will go into race day as the No. 1 qualifier.

Today with warmer conditions Force’s Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang Funny Car smoked the tires during the first session and then with improving conditions in the final qualifying session Force smoked the tires beside Ron Capps. The last three pairs of Funny Cars were all gunning for the top spot and all came up short with various degrees of tire smoke. Force will race Paul Lee in the first round tomorrow.

While Force was holding onto the top spot Robert Hight and the Auto Club Mustang held serve and will go into final eliminations as the No. 2 qualifier. He will race fellow Ford driver Tim Wilkerson in the first round.

“We were going for a race day set up today and Neff felt pretty good about that last run. We were second quickest of the session with a 4.01 and we have a great handle on this Auto Club Mustang,” said Hight, the 2011 Winternationals winner.

In the final session Hight’s run was the second quickest of the field and earned the 2009 Funny Car champion two more qualifying bonus points.

“This is the first race of the season and you want to start getting some positive momentum. Getting our first three second run out of the way and being No. 2 behind John is a pretty good way to start. There are a lot of tough Funny Cars out there and it will be a tough race for sure,” said Hight.

The Traxxas Ford Mustang team struggled during Saturday’s qualifying sessions today at the Winternationals. Courtney Force, defending event champion, made two incomplete runs and did not improve on her 4.046 ET from Friday’s evening session.

“We didn’t get down the track today as well as we had hoped. We shook the tires loose on the first run. On the second run the car pulled toward the centerline and I had to get out of it. Luckily, we had a good run last night and we were able to move up into the top half of the field. We stayed there and we’ll go into race day in the No. 7 spot,” said Force.

The 25-year-old will match up against Matt Hagan in the opening elimination round on race day. This will be the tenth time the pair have matched up in eliminations. Currently, Force is 5-4 against Hagan in previous events.

“We have a tough first round match-up tomorrow against DSR driver Matt Hagan. He’s going to be tough to beat, but we’re going to give it our best and hopefully we’ll be able to get around him. We’re happy to back here defending our title from last year. I’m hoping to go some rounds for our Traxxas Ford Mustang team and start the season in a good position,” said Force.

It was a night and day difference for Brittany Force and her Castrol EDGE Dragster during Saturday’s qualifying. If Friday’s disappointing runs proved anything, it was the determination of the team to turn it around in a hurry. With two solid and consistent runs today, Brittany qualified in the top half of the field with a career best 3.778 second that placed her in the eighth spot for Sunday’s eliminations.

“It was very exciting to run a 3.77, my career-best, for the Castrol EDGE team. I was super pumped and excited about that. I got out of the car at the other end and my guys were giving me high fives and jumping up and down. I could tell how excited they were,” said Brittany Force. “Then to go back up there and run a 3.78 was really exciting. We think we have this car figured out, especially going into tomorrow.”

Like all NHRA classes, Top Fuel requires a lot of tuning skills to work out persistent bugs whether it’s the clutch, chassis, electronics, engine or other things. To get the car right come qualifying and race day is mandatory for any team to go rounds and wins races.

“The trick now will be to see if the dragster will repeat that 3.77 run it had in the third session,” said Crew Chief Todd Smith. “We are starting to get a handling on this and everything is coming together. We’ve been working on everything but it’s a lot of little things that finally got ironed out. We been working on this dragster every day to address problems and fix issues. That’s how it is but all comes together at once and the car runs what you want it to.”

Come Sunday, Brittany Force will face rookie Richie Crampton for round one of eliminations. “He’s the new rookie out here this year. I haven’t met him yet so I want to go over and say ‘hi’ because I was in that boat last year. I’m sure he’s nervous with it being his first season and first elimination round. I’m still nervous and I’ve been out here for a year. It should be a good, close race. He’s right behind me in the field; he ended up No. 9. I hope it’s a good race for the fans and the Castrol EDGE team takes that first round win,” said Brittany Force.