HIGHT ROCKETS TO No. 1 AT NEW ENGLAND NATIONALS
EPPING, NH– The Auto Club Ford has been dominating the winner’s circle this year with four wins but on Friday at the 2nd annual Auto Plus New England NHRA Nationals Robert Hight got back to his dominating qualifying roots. The 2009 Funny car champion has 45 No. 1s in his career but none in 2014. Tonight he raced to the top of the Funny Car field with a track record elapsed time of 3.988 seconds at 321.58 mph. It was not a surprise to Hight that his Auto Club Mustang ran so well.
“That was pretty awesome. We made a nice run the first run. Mike Neff told me when we were going up there we were not going to be cowards tonight. We are going to get after this thing. He honestly figured there would be a few other cars running in the 3s. He said he was tired of all those guys having all the fun,” said Hight in the pressroom. “It wasn’t like we didn’t know how to do it. We ran some 3.98s in Pomona. Neff is not a real aggressive racer. He doesn’t get a lot of no. 1 qualifiers. He goes a lot of rounds because he races smart. Tonight he said he was just tired of it and we put a different super charger on it. It was unbelievable. It was one of those runs where it is so fast and so smooth that you don’t know how fast it was going. I crossed the finish line, hit the chutes, glanced at that scoreboard and saw that 3.98. That was pretty exciting.”
It was total team effort to get to the top spot. Track specialist Lanny Miglizzi was instrumental in keeping all the JFR crew chiefs up to date on the improving track conditions throughout the day. Miglizzi was raving about New England Dragway as far back as last year during the inaugural event.
“Lanny (Miglizzi) told us that last year that this was a really good race track but there were some issues last year with the heat. He said this year if we got good air we would run fast. We saw the Pro Stock cars running track records and I think you will see track records in Top Fuel here. It is a great race track and the air is unbelievable. We wanted to put on a good show for these fans here in Northern New England. We have AAA of Northern New England with us this weekend. We have to show off for them a little bit,” said a thrilled Hight.
“We knew last year that if conditions were good you would see awesome runs. I told all the fans last year that they should be very proud of having one of the best race tracks in the country here. We just didn’t have good conditions because it was so hot. The cool weather gave the fans a real treat. The fans should be really proud right here in their backyard they have one of the greatest tracks in the country,” added Hight.
When Hight was asked about improving on his record run he reverted to his team mantra of racing smart. The team has been consistent in qualifying but on race day they have been nearly unstoppable racing to six straight final rounds earlier this season.
“Jimmy Prock, John Force’s crew chief, is one of those guys that picks every single run apart. Mike Neff will look at that run for a few minutes and move on to tomorrow. Tomorrow’s conditions will be different. It will be warmer. Tomorrow is really what we will be faced with on Sunday. Tomorrow is the big day. Mike Neff won’t be picking this run apart.”
Courtney Force is picking up where she left off last year at New England Dragway and continuing her success at this track. Force, who is celebrating her 26th birthday today, posted two strong runs on the first day of qualifying putting her in the No. 3 spot going into Saturday.
Last year’s inaugural New England NHRA Nationals event winner posted a 4. 129 ET at 310.20 mph in the opening session today, briefly setting her in the No. 8 spot.
“It feels good to be back here in Epping where I got the inaugural win in Funny Car last year. It feels great to come back to a track that’s familiar to me and my team. We had a good day of qualifying. We made a good pass the first run out, but I’m glad we could improve on it,” said Force.
The winner of the 100th professional event win for women in the NHRA came back in the second session to top her previous numbers. The now 26-year-old driver posted a 4.031 ET at a track speed record of 323.35 mph. By the end of the day, that run would be good for the No. 3 spot and one bonus point for third-quickest of that qualifying session.
“On the second run, everyone was going for it. We had great conditions out here. I think it was a great show for the fans. We ran a 4.03. That wasn’t exactly what my crew chief wanted to run, but I was happy. All eight of my birthday candles were lit! But Ron Douglas was hoping to run in the 3’s. It didn’t quite make it there, but I think we have a good race car. Definitely can’t be unhappy finishing third in qualifying today, picking up a bonus point and setting a track speed record on my birthday. It’s definitely a cool feeling to know you’re in the top half. I’ll be able to sleep better tonight. We’ll see what we can bring to the table tomorrow,” said Force.
John Force and his Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang made a strong run on the second qualifying session. His 4.092 second pass run at 311.70 mph down the historic New England Dragway put the veteran Funny Car pilot solidly in the field in the No. 8 spot. The 16-time NHRA Mello Yello World Champion has been struggling the last few races and on his first qualifying run, the massive Goodyear slicks lost traction about 100 feet past the starting line.
“We smoked on that first pass but Jimmy Prock (crew chief, Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang) and the rest of the guys tuned up my old hot rod before the second session. We know it would have run faster than 4.09 but Jimmy wanted to be conservative so we could make a good clean run,” said Force, runner-up at the inaugural New England Nationals last year.
Now that the Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang is qualified in the top-half of the field, the team will try to step up the performance during the two qualifying sessions on Saturday. Under the watchful eye of Jimmy Prock, he we try to step up Force’s 8000-horsepower Mustang even more.
“The 4.09 pass on that second session wasn’t as good as we wanted to run but we needed to get down the track. We’ve been struggling a little bit and on the first run, it just smoked the tires and part of the reason was the clutch issues. But, we can work on it and we’ll improve on that performance,” said Jimmy Prock, crew chief, Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang Funny Car.
“I’ve got a lot of changes in my operation right now but everyone is running very good so New Hampshire is starting out good. With this being Courtney’s birthday, it would be great if she was number one qualifier but Robert Hight ran that big number and set the track record,” said John Force.
Of all the drag strips on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule, New England Dragway is like going back in time with its vintage timing tower and bleacher grandstands. The fans are probably some of the most passionate and that fuels John Force even more.
“I raced up here in Epping with Castrol over 25 years ago and we won a lot of races before they had the big nationals. The fans are great and we did a great autograph session over at our midway trailer. The lines were long but the fans here are awesome,” said John Force.
At last year’s NHRA New England Nationals, John Force would end up qualifying number one and would go all the way to the finals in which he would face daughter Courtney. She would go on to defeat her father that day but John Force is hungry for his 140th career victory and a win this Sunday at New England Dragway would be a nice addition to hi
s already impressive career.
Brittany Force and her Castrol EDGE Dragster made two great qualifying runs today and showed the fans and the competition she’s ready for her first win. The Castrol EDGE Dragster was hitting on all eight and pumping out 10,000 horsepower as it blasted the fans in the stands with an impressive 3.776 second run at 325.45 mph during the evening session. Even though she wasn’t the quickest, she was the fastest race car in the pits at New England Dragway and grabbing the fourth qualifying spot.
“I was excited to get the car down there, it made a good clean pass and it ran a 3.77 so I’m very excited about that. This probably our best chance to run a good number and out it on the board because the weather and track conditions were excellent and we did just that. We moved up to the number four spot so I’m very happy,” said Brittany Force.
In the first session, Brittany had run 3.830 seconds at 321.58 mph that place her in the eighth spot. Crew chief Todd Smith and Dean “Guido” Antonelli wanted to play it safe on the first session and make a good clean run.
“I was really excited after our first run. The 3.83 pass was solid and I knew we would step it up and improve from there,” said Brittany Force.
The Castrol EDGE team had only made five runs down New England Dragway last year so it was critical to get some good data from the first run so they can make the necessary adjustments and improve Brittany’s qualifying position going into the evening session.
“We wanted to have a conservative approach going into that first session so we tuned to run a 3.81 or a 3.83 and it did. We made some adjustments as we knew the conditions would improve in the second session,” said Antonelli.
After Brittany’s disappointing first round loss last weekend at Bristol, she’s been pumped about coming to Epping. She’s motivated her crew and knows that they are ready to get that first Top Fuel win for Castrol EDGE and John Force Racing.
“Coming to Epping for the second time, the playing field is definitely pretty level. Because all the teams including us have only been here twice, we basically have the same amount of runs and data in our books to tune from. We’re all starting at the same place so the Castrol EDGE team has the same chance as some of the other teams who have been racing for years,” said Brittany Force.