POMONA, CA —- The 2016 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season started with some success for John Force Racing even though none of the drivers raced into the winner’s circle at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Led by strong performances from seven-time Winternationals winner John Force and three-time winner Robert Hight who each raced to semi-final finishes John Force Racing will leave California as No. 3 and No. 4 in Funny Cars and with quarter-finalist Courtney Force in the No. 6 position.

For the eleventh straight year JFR advanced at least one Funny Car to the semi-finals at the historic Circle K NHRA Winternationals. No. 3 qualifier Robert Hight and the Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car defeated Tommy Johnson Jr in the first round and took out teammate Courtney Force in a close second round battle.

The semi-final race against eventual winner Ron Capps was an even closer race pitting two of the 2016 championship contenders against each other. It was a rematch of last year’s semi-final race with Capps once again getting the win against Hight. The race saw Hight’s 3.949 second run at 313.44 mph just miss getting around Capps’ 3.938 seconds at 321.35 mph. At about 700 feet Hight lost a blower belt and his Auto Club Chevy Camaro went silent as Capps zoomed past the 2009 Funny Car champion at the finish line.

“This Auto Club Camaro is running really good whether it is cool or hot. This car is right there at the top. I am bummed this race car quit quit a bit before the finish line. We lost a blower belt. I think we let one get away there. Those guys are a tough team to race and they definitely threw on at it today. We are going on to Phoenix with some confidence and momentum,” said Hight, who won twice in 2015.

On the other side of the Funny Car ladder 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force and the PEAK Antifreeze and Coolant Chevy Camaro SS started from the No. 9 qualified position for just the third time at the Winternationals. In 1984 Force raced to the semi-finals from the No. 9 spot but today he was not able to get to his first final from the bottom half of the field.

In the opening round Force had to outrun veteran Tim Wilkerson and then in the second round Force won a monster match-up against Jack Beckman. Last season Beckman had JFR’s number winning every match-up against team JFR. Today it was Force and his Jon Schaffer tuned Funny Car coming out on top 4.01 seconds to 4.131 seconds.

In the semi-finals Force had to race the defending NHRA Funny Car champion Del Worsham and it was a great race but the results were not what Force was looking for. Force had a starting line advantage but at the finish line Worsham tripped the finish line scoring system with a 3.978 to Force’s 4.033 seconds.

“I feel all the work that we did as a team to get these cars into the 3.8s and to be able to run 3.90s in the heat. We have accomplished a lot. Now we have to polish it. We have a lot of work to do but as a team I think we will be fine,” said Force. “We have Alan Johnson and Brian Husen over on that Monster Energy dragster and I think the alliance with CAPCO is going to be great. I think we have put the team together right. Let Mike Neff focus on the Funny Cars with Danny Hood, Ronnie Thompson and Jon Schaffer. We are going to get a lot better.”

Courtney Force and the Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS team showed the competition this weekend that they’re here to make an impact on the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello series season. Force qualified with a stout 3.945 second pass at 322.88 mph on Friday and showed consistency throughout qualifying. After three impressive passes, Force found herself in the No. 6 position going into race day. She was set to have lane choice over veteran driver Gary Densham in the opening round. Unfortunately, Densham couldn’t make the call Sunday morning and Force had a bye run.

The Traxxas team took advantage of the opportunity to push the car in round one and see how the Traxxas Chevy would respond, knowing they were set to make an appearance in the second round of eliminations. The Traxxas machine lived up to The Fastest Name in Radio Control when Force posted her career-best ET and speed on the single run. Her 3.925 ET at 329.34 mph was low ET and quickest of race day.

“For this Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro team, the Fastest Name in Radio Control, it was awesome to get this car down the track here at Pomona for the Winternationals; my home track. It’s unfortunate Gary Densham wasn’t able to match up against me. Winning a race like that – no one wants to win a race like that. I just want to say I’m glad he’s okay after that crazy crash he had yesterday when he went into the sand,” said Force.

The round win bought her a tough match-up alongside teammate and John Force Racing President Robert Hight in the second round. Hight was 9-5 against Force in prior events going into second round, but Force had a 5-3 edge in previous second round matchups.

The 27-year-old had lane choice by .003 of a second and took the right lane. Both Camaros launched hard together, Force’s .068 light to Hight’s .067. Both were on good runs until Force’s Traxxas machine got loose and Hight sailed across the finish line, 3.955 ET at 324.67 mph to Force’s 4.101 ET at 258.62 mph.

“In the second round my Traxxas Chevy dropped a hole down track. I stayed in it. I tried to drive that thing all the way to the finish line, hoping for a win, but at that point being down a cylinder, we just lacked the power we needed to get past Robert,” said Force.

“We had a good car all weekend so that has me excited for the season and the upcoming race at Phoenix. I’m really happy with how Dan Hood and Ronnie Thompson have been tuning this race car and it’s making me feel more confident as a driver every time I get in it,” said Force.

The Monster Energy Top Fuel dragster and Brittany Force made a solid run in the first round but did not advance. Force was edged off the starting line by J.R. Todd and her quicker elapsed time of 3.756 seconds, which was third quickest of the session, was bested by the combination of Todd’s reaction time and his 3.766 second pass for a margin of defeat of .019 seconds.

Over the course of the weekend the Monster Top Fuel dragster was one of the most consistent dragsters on the property posting times of 3.794, 3.753, 3.800, and 3.744 in qualifying. Her average elapsed time of 3.769 seconds easily puts her near the top of the category for the weekend.

“Even though we went out in the first round I still feel confident leaving the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Every run our Monster Energy dragster went down the track. We ran great numbers all weekend. We came out this morning and ran 3.75 and you can’t be down on that kind of performance,” said Force, a six-time Top Fuel finalist. “I am always proud of my whole team. They have been working their butts off all off-season. We made a lot of changes and a lot of them had to do with getting me comfortable in the dragster. I know we are going to have a good year and we are just getting started. This is the first race and we will let it go and move on to Phoenix.”