Hight, B. Force Provisional No. 1s in Funny Car, Top Fuel

JOLIET, IL– It was a banner night at Route 66 Raceway outside of Chicago as Robert Hight and Brittany Force led the way in qualifying at the 17th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Rt. 66 NHRA Nationals in Funny Car and Top Fuel respectively. If Hight’s No. 1 holds it will be his second in a row and second of the season. For sophomore Top Fuel sensation Brittany Force it would be her third of the season and third in five races.

Hight and his Auto Club Ford Mustang Funny Car dominated the class posting the quickest ETs in both sessions and picking up six qualifying bonus points. Hight was enthused by his continued strong performance at the end of the day.

“The way my Auto Club Ford has been running yeah I believed we could get back in the No. 1 spot. I believed everybody would run a little better. It is pretty humid out here and I think people are missing the tune-up a little bit. This race track is so great that whatever you are throwing at it the race track is taking it away,” said Hight.  “(Crew chief) Mike Neff was very happy with that run. It puts us No. 1 after the first session and No. 1 tonight. That is six points today and tomorrow we are going to get all over this thing. We are going to get after it. We are either going to run a three or we are going to smoke the tires trying.”

“What we are doing now is we are really looking forward to the Countdown. We are lucky to get two night runs here in great conditions on a great race track. When the fall comes you are going to have some more good race tracks like this with really good conditions. We need to be the ones stepping up and running the three second runs and qualifying at the top.”

The progress Hight has seen in the past couple of race shows a shift in the focus of his team. It is a change that has the 2009 Mello Yello Funny Car champion excited about the future direction of his team.

“What we have been doing the last couple of weeks is really not Mike Neff’s forte. He is usually really steady and right around the No. 4 qualifier. He has changed his game a little bit with the points lead that we have. We are getting after it here and we are already taking some big swings,” added Hight, who has already won four times in 2014.

“That run earlier today was strong. If you look back to last weekend we ran three 4.06s in a row and then a 4.07 the first run today. That just shows you what kind of handle these guys have on this Auto Club Mustang. I joke that this Funny Car will go down a dirt road and run that kind of ET. It is just the handle Mike Neff has on it and when he has a handle on a car like this and the team is clicking it is a lot of fun to race right now.”

The partnership of Hight and Neff continues to get stronger and the results of that bond are showing up on the race track. Neff won here in 2011 and Hight has reached the final round here twice but has never reached the winner’s circle. The past five years a different JFR Funny Car driver has reached the final round but only Neff has taken a Mustang to the winner’s circle.

“He understands exactly what I am going through. He has been there and done everything. He clams me down. (Hight’s former crew chief) Jimmy Prock is a great crew chief but he has never been down a race track behind the wheel. Mike Neff can see both sides. He knows what a driver wants to hear. We are the same demeanor. He and John (Force) were total opposites when they were together. John is a total fire drill and Neff is laid back and relaxed,” explained Hight in the media center.

On the heels of Hight’s No. 1 performance Brittany Force drove her 10,000 horsepower Castrol EDGE Dragster to the provisional number one spot with a ground pounding 3.791 second pass at 324.51 mph. Brittany will have two more attempts to secure her third top starting position but she was awarded with three NHRA Mello Yello Bonus Points for her and the team’s stellar effort tonight.

“I was excited as it felt like a good run and I could also feel the car pull me to the centerline of the track. I never thought we’d be number one but we got the Castrol EDGE dragster down there and I jumped out on the other end and they said it ran a 3.79 and we we’re number one. I was so pumped and excited  but I was also keeping my fingers crossed that it would hold as there were some good teams that ran right after us that could have bumped up from the number one spot,” said Brittany Force.

The 2013 Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award winner is well into her sophomore season driving one of the quickest accelerating vehicles on the planet and her confidence behind the wheel has dramatically improved.

“On every run, I get more experience and my confidence goes up. When my dragster started to drive towards the centerline, I simply kept a loose grip on the steering wheel and keep it as straight as I can. We got the car down there and I’m proud of that,” said Brittany Force

Even with constant last minute advise for her legendary father, Brittany has developed a pattern for just doing her routine and not getting frazzled whether she’s in the staging lanes or making a sub-four second pass down the drag strip.

“People will reach in to the cockpit and says things, including dad as he’s always given me advice but I’m in the zone. I just look down the track thinking about my routine, staying focused and what I need to do as a driver,” said Brittany Force.

For Todd Smith, the Castrol EDGE Dragster crew chief, he knew the weather and track conditions were getting better by the second during the evening qualifying session and wasn’t afraid to take advantage of them.

“We were swinging for the fence as the conditions kept improving as we were in the staging lane on that second session. To get the car to run good, it’s pretty much the same principle. We did make some changes for the weather by adding more clutch and more horsepower and it’s the proper application of the two,” said Smith.

On the first pass, the Castrol EDGE Dragster ran a 4.687 second at 158.28 mph but her 10,000 horsepower race car started to smoke the tires and Brittany had to abort the run as to prevent inflicting additional damage to the dragster.

However, that didn’t stop the Castrol EDGE team to evaluate the run and make the necessary changes to get to get the car prepared for the evening session.

“The evening session will probably be the best for us due to the weather conditions but we’ll get another two runs tomorrow. On Sunday, we’re going to be running in the middle of the day and that’s not comparable to the run we had tonight. However, getting four runs in is what we need to see what this car can do,” said Brittany Force

With three back-to-back races, it might be tough on some drivers but for Brittany Force, it seems to agree with her based on her team’s performance to get another pole position in the highly competitive Top Fuel class.

“If we could do these back-to-back races all the time, I’d love it. For me to be able to come right back out here and jump into my car I feel so much more comfortable. Always on the first day of qualifying at a race, I sit in the car while we’re warming it up and go through my routine. That’s what I always do to feel more comfortable and it’s that first run that makes me nervous but with back-to-back races, I feel less nervous and more relaxed and comfortable in the car and that’s what I love about it,” said Brittany Force.

Courtney Force brought her Traxxas Ford Mustang to Route 66 Raceway and laid down two great passes on the race track right out of the gate to put her in the top half of the field going into Saturday. She had a hole out and still posted a 4.124 ET at 301.47 mph on her first run. The Traxxas team followed up with a quick 4.047 ET at top speed of the day at 319.75 mph and put them in the No. 4 spot for now.

“We had two great sessions today. On our first session we had a hole out down there and it shredded the belt so it slowed us to 301 mph and it still ran a 4.12 so it definitely got me pumped up for the night run. We definitely were excited to see our Traxxas Ford Mustang lay down a 4.04 and it took us up to the top half of the field. It feels great. Ron Douglas has definitely got this thing going. It makes me excited for tomorrow. We’re going to have the same kind of conditions going into tomorrow night. It’s exciting to hopefully see some of these guys run in the 3.0’s. Hopefully I’ll be one of them,” said Force.

Route 66 Raceway is the site of Courtney’s first ever final, which happened during her rookie year in 2012. Last year, she and her Traxxas team led by Ron Douglas qualified in the No. 7 with a 4.042 ET at 315.78 mph, but they’re looking for the win this year.

After two qualifying runs, John Force and his Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang ended up in the sixth spot with a solid 4.049 second run at 316.38 mph. The improving weather conditions on the second qualifying session had the Castrol GTX High Mileage crew making last minute adjustments in the staging lanes in hopes of stepping up the cars performance and it paid off for them.

The 16-time NHRA Mello World Champion and his crew have also been working diligently on getting the 8000-horsepower Mustang’s performance consistent and qualified in the top-half of the field.

“On that first session, we didn’t get to the other end as Jimmy Prock (crew chief, Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang Funny Car) had the car too safe and it was weak. Coming into the night session, we really thought it would run in the threes. Mike Neff almost did with a 4.02 but we were being safe. And still ran an 4.04 so it shows you our tune up is way off when we think it’s going to run a 4.08, it ends up running a 4.04. So, we ought to pull it back to where we think it’ll go and pull it back more and that’s what Jimmy Prock is doing,” said John Force.

In the opening session, John Force’s Funny Car went about 100 feet out and then the massive Goodyear slicks brook loose and lost traction. John did try pedal his race car in hopes of trying to save the run but it was heading for the retaining wall and the seasoned driver made a wise move and backed off the throttle.

At last year’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals, John Force would end up qualified fifth with a strong 4.010 second run. Up to that point, it was his quickest career elapsed time. The Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang team and the reigning world champ with get two more attempts to improve his qualifying position before Sunday’s Eliminations.