BRAINERD, MN – For Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team Brainerd International Raceway has not been a track where they have had much success. Hight has never been No. 1 qualifier and it is one of only three tracks he has never even been to a final round. After today’s qualifying performance Hight is encouraged that after ten years his luck might be changing at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. After a sub-par first qualifying session Hight bounced back and ran to the top of the field with a 4.085 second pass.
“I didn’t think that run had a chance of staying on top. I am glad no one was offering to take bets on that because I would have lost. I went back and I told (crew chief) Mike Neff that I believe that will be top half. I really figured everybody would step up because it is cooling down. We were first pair and Bob Bode blew it up so I knew it was going to be 10 or 15 minutes before anyone else ran and this time of day that track temperature is just dropping. Hats off to my guys because that was pretty awesome and I am pretty impressed with that run,” said Hight, the current Mello Yello points leader.

Coming into the last session on Friday as the first pair of Funny Cars Hight was focused but also aware that he needed to give his team the best shot for success.
“When you are not qualified you are not as amped up. You are not worried about cutting a light and you are making sure that you drive that car right down the middle of the lane. You want to give your team the best opportunity for a good run. There is only a certain amount of area that has good traction so that was my focus; keeping it right down the middle. We did that and it was an unbelievable run. I even looked up at the scoreboard after I got the chutes out and saw that we ran a 4.08 and I thought that is exactly what we needed. Did I think it would be No. 1? Not a chance. There is rain in the forecast so that makes for some extra pressure because you want to get in today. You can’t be messing around and have rain get you tomorrow,” said Hight.
Before the run Hight spent some time with crew chief Mike Neff and that gave him a good feeling for the second run.
“I saw a run on his computer and he (Neff) was looking at the 4.08 we ran in Sonoma. Given the circumstances of messing up the first run we did exactly what we needed to do. It shows he has a god handle on the tune up on this Auto Club Mustang. He can make it do what he wants. I think it will be good enough to stay top eight. That will be good for the Auto Club Ford on Friday,” said Hight.
Courtney Force made two consistent runs in qualifying today and picked up three qualifying bonus points for being the quickest of Q1. She posted a 4.157 ET at 306.40 mph, tying Tim Wilkerson’s run but taking the top spot on speed.
“We were able to go to the top spot in Q1 today here in Brainerd. We ran a pretty good number in the heat and held on to it through the session. We went up in the second session and my teammate bumped us out of the No. 1 spot running a 4.08. Being that we made a good pass in Q1 and we’re in the top 12, we went after it tonight,” said Force
In the second session, Force posted a similar run in the right lane. She ran a 4.138 ET at 310.27 mph, and improved, but not enough to hold onto the top spot.
“It didn’t run as well as we would have liked it to, but we’re definitely learning something on each pass. It’s great to see that our Traxxas Ford is running consistent at both times of the day and it’s always a good feeling when the car gets to the other end. We pushed it hard and we improved, but it wasn’t enough to top the field tonight. We’re looking forward to tomorrow. If the weather cools down we may be able to go after No. 1 qualifier during the day tomorrow. We were able to pick up three bonus points in Q1 so we’re looking forward to the next two sessions. We need to continue to move forward and gain points throughout the weekend,” said Force.
With just two events remaining before the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown for the Championship starts, John Force and the crew of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang are hoping for big things this weekend at the Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minn.
After today’s two qualifying sessions, the Ford had cranked off a 4.099 best in the evening attempt, good enough for third.
Jimmy Prock (crew chief, Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang) helped get Force down the racing surface both sessions with conservative but solid tune-ups. His first run in the late afternoon heat was an edgy 4.21-second elapsed time at only 295.40 as the Mustang began to smoke the tires close to the end of the 1000-foot racing surface. However, it gave the team the background needed to step up for round two.
The evening’s 4.099 second, 311.77 mph performance moved Force for fourth to third in the field, which in turn gave the reigning NHRA Funny Car one more valuable point in the Countdown. Force’s effort was consistent, which is what he looks for to garner another World Championship when the 2014 Mello Yello series is over. Teammate Hight smoked the tires in the opening round, but then went to the top spot as the first car down the track in session two.
“It was a good day, everybody ran good,” says John. “The conditions were good today and it will cooler tomorrow, so we will try and run for Low (E.T.) tomorrow. Today, we wanted to make sure we stayed in the top 12 qualified cars.”
When asked if he felt this was a familiar racetrack due to his prior victories here, John had this to say. “I’ve come here with different crew chiefs – Austin Coil, Mike Neff, Jimmy Prock – and I’ve raced and won with all of them. You know, in the big picture, it gives you confidence; you know the track, you know the bumps, you know what you can get away with. I feel good about it, and even though Robert is my teammate, I am chasing him for that lead, and we have to watch that somebody else doesn’t get around us.”
Brittany Force drove her Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster to the number eight qualifying spot today. During the second session, the 2013 NHRA Auto Club Rookie of the Year flew down Brainerd International Raceway to ring up a 3.845 second run at 319.07 mph.
The car’s performance in the first session netted an excellent 3.913-second elapsed time at 316.08 mph, an effort that landed her into the fourth spot when the session ended. Moreover, the team was in a tricky right lane that would not yield any time quicker than Brittany’s during that session of qualifying.
“Going out on the first qualifying pass and getting the car down there is already a positive. To end up number four is awesome, and it’s exactly what we looked to do,” she said following the run. “The car ran a .91 and we will get another run tonight; obviously, conditions will be a little bit better so we will look it over and step it up from there. Right now, we are just looking to gain as many points as possible going into the Countdown; we’re currently number seven in the points and want gain as many as we can.”
The second round on Friday was in more moderate evening temperatures, and crew chiefs like Todd Smith of the Castrol EDGE team have be cautious not to overpower the racing surface, which can sometimes be changing with the weather. However, that strong first run served as insurance, and the flames leapt high from the tuned headers as the car headed down track.
“That run, it felt like the car was struggling a little bit, not as smooth a pass, so I’m pretty surprised it ran the 3.84. I’m proud of this Castrol EDGE machine. We wanted to step up from Q1 to Q2; we did that, and we have two more qualifying runs tomorrow, so we want to stay qualified well and have the car ready to go on race day.”
The tour’s only stop in the upper Midwest is important to racers on the Mello Yello Drag Racing series, with Brainerd serving as the prelude to the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis over Labor Day, the final race before the points are reset for the Countdown to the Championship.