GAINESVILLE, FL ---- Robert Hight may not have won the race but he won the battle to turn around his Auto Club Ford Mustang racing to the semi-finals today at the 44th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
Hight entered the race No. 10 in the Mello Yello points standings with only one round win in the first two races. His semi-final effort today moved him up to the No. 7 position in the points.
In 2011 Mike Neff tuned and drove his way to the winner’s circle behind the wheel of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.
“This race was huge. It was night and day difference from the first two races. We definitely don’t need to be hanging our heads. We need to build from this weekend.
It was a step in the right direction, the first and second rounds today that was a good race car. We are still learning. There are some little things in there that tip this Auto Club Mustang over and make it shake,” said Hight.
“We don’t have a handle on that yet. It is a minute deal. We have to have a bigger window for that. With all of us putting our heads together and working together we will.
At least I can go back when I am talking to sponsors telling them this Funny Car is going to turn around; it did. We are showing progress. We are a better team right now.
I am looking forward to making that call to the Auto Club and telling them when they come to Las Vegas we are not going to embarrass them.”
In the second round the defending Gatornationals event winner had to race the No. 1 qualifier Cruz Pedregon. In one of the strangest races of the day Hight beat Pedregon to the finish line but the scoreboard flashed an impossible time of 2.76 seconds for Hight.
NHRA official reviewed the film footage and confirmed that Hight had indeed reached the finish line first running quicker than Pedregon’s 4.07 second lap and he advanced to the semi-finals against his friendly rival Del Worsham.
“Second round was one of the most confusing runs I have ever had. I am down the track, racing one of the best cars out here the No. 1 qualifier Cruz Pedregon. You notice the win light comes on right away when there is a red light,” said Hight.
“On this run I am going down the track and I am not quite to the 1/8 mile and ‘blink’ my win light comes on. Trust me I am not looking at the scoreboard when I am racing. I am looking down the middle of the lane. It does catch the corner of your eye.
Your mind just goes ‘Oh crap!” Did he red-light? I don’t think I heard that. Then you get out and no one knows who won. Thank God the camera guy wasn’t sleeping on that run.”
In the semi-finals a mechanical decision in the staging lanes may have contributed to Hight’s unsuccessful bid to repeat as the Gatornationals champion. The Auto Club team looked at the improving conditions and decided to change rear tires before their run against Worsham.
At the time of the change they were informed that the track was not going to be prepped with adhesive traction spray. At the last minute NHRA officials applied a short spray and there was no time for Hight’s Auto Club team to adjust to the change. Hight did not lay blame with anyone other than just bad timing.
“It is kind of like a chess game. We are trying to use tires to not have to make adjustments to the clutch. It makes the car run more consistent if you can use the tires instead of putting weight on or taking it off the clutch.
It is a balancing act,” said Hight, a former clutch specialist. “When we changed the tires they told us they weren’t going to spray the track and then at the last minute there was a change of plans and the first 150 feet was sprayed.
Had we known that was going to happen we probably would not have changed tires. I am not sure if that made a huge difference.”
The 2012 NHRA Rookie sensation, Courtney Force, made a quarterfinal appearance today after dispatching her father and legendary Funny Car driver John Force in the opening round of eliminations at the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
Force ran a 4.092 ET at 314.83 mph to her father’s tire-smoking effort of a 6.917 second run. Today was the fourth time they have met in eliminations. The 24-year-old is now 3-1 against the 15-time champion.
“It’s always bittersweet when I have to run against my dad. We always play around and have fun with it and have a good time. We knew that one of us was going on to the second round, so there wasn’t much to be nervous about.
Dad was messing with me a little bit before the run, telling me that we were the last pair when we were really the fifth pair, and pretending that he didn’t know we were running each other.”
“We ended up going up there and we both sat on each other for a little bit on the lights. We both finally pulled in at about the same time. We both had good lights and I was able to get a good run down the race track.
I was excited,” said the 2013 Winternationals winner. “I was proud of my Traxxas team. We struggled a little bit the first day of qualifying so to go out there first round and make a pass like a 4.09, it was pretty unbelievable to do that especially without lane choice. I was very proud of my guys to get that win.”
In the second round of eliminations, Force faced off with No. 5 qualifier Del Worsham. Force and Worsham have never met in eliminations being that this is the first year they have competed at the same time in the Funny Car category.
Force had a 4.135 at 310 mph to Worsham’s 4.122 at 306 mph, sending the Kalitta Racing team driver on to the semis to compete against Hight.
“Second round didn’t go in our favor. We slowed it down a little bit and they were able to drive around us for the win so we’ll have to get back out there and do our best in Vegas.”
The first round loss by John Force was a tough pill to swallow for the seven-time Gatornationals champion. He was pleased his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang qualified well grabbing the No. 4 starting spot and picking up some valuable qualifying bonus points.
The veteran driver stayed the Mello Yello top ten and will look to make a strong showing in Las Vegas.
“We have made a lot of changes in the last two weeks. Not a bad weekend for John Force Racing. All four cars got qualified. Brittany (Force) and the Castrol EDGE dragster is only three rounds out of the top ten.
Courtney is right up there with the points leaders. I am not where I want to be but I am not worried about that right now,” said the winningest driver in NHRA history. “I am worrying about my other cars and when it is time (crew chief) Mike Neff will shine.
This was a big race for our sponsors like Castrol, Ford, Traxxas, Mac Tools and Auto Club because this was the first race on the east coast and we did pretty well. We are all headed in the right direction going into Las Vegas.”
The Castrol EDGE Top Fuel dragster continued to make progress and its young driver Brittany Force continued to learn the ropes of professional racing. At the Gatornationals the 26 year-old driver had to handle the stress of racing into the show on Saturday.
After the third qualifying session Force was the No. 16 qualifier, a precarious position with 23 solid Top Fuel teams vying for 16 spots.
Her Dean Antonelli/Eric Lane tuned dragster moved up to the No. 13 spot and a first round match-up with veteran and eventual Gatornationals finalist Clay Millican.
“It was stressful being number sixteen going into the last qualifying run. I had a feeling that time would get bumped out. Each run we have made improvements. We are moving in the right direction.
To go up against Clay Millican was good because he is an awesome guy. Even though we went out in the first round we are getting our car together and we will be ready for Las Vegas,” said the contender for the Automobile Road to the Future Award.
“For me to race against a guy like Clay Millican, who is probably one of the nicest guys I have ever met, makes it easier. He came over and talked to me before the run and after the run. He was really nice and to be able to know that someone like that is in the lane beside me is really helpful.”
There were three rookie qualified for the Gatornationals in Top Fuel. In addition to Force, Brazilian Sidnei Frigo and former Junior Dragster champion Leah Pruett are all trying to learn the Top Fuel class. All three lost in the first round against tough competitors.
“I haven’t been thinking about the Auto Club Road to the Future Rookie of the Year award as all. I just want to get experience. I am focusing on doing my job and getting my Castrol EDGE down the track. I think it is nice having Leah Pruett out here,” said Force.
“I met here for the first time in Pomona. It is nice to have another rookie who is also a girl. It was nice to be at the end of the track on Saturday and to watch with her to see if she was going to make it into the show.”
Final round results from Sunday’s 44th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto Plus Raceway at Gainesville, third race in the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:
FUNNY CAR – Johnny Gray, Artesia, NM, Pitch Energy Dodge Charger, 4.053, 315.49 mph def. Del Worsham, Villa Park, Calif., DHL Toyota, 4.100, 303.50 mph
TOP FUEL – Antron Brown, Brownsburg, Ind., Matco/US Army dragster, 3.761, 318.77 mph def. Clay Millican, Drummonds, Tenn., Parts Plus dragster, 3.813, 319.67 mph.
PRO STOCK – Allen Johnson, Greeneville, Tenn., MOPAR Dodge, 6.535, 212.59 mph def. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Delaware, Ohio, JEGS/MOPAR Dodge, 6.514, 212.26 mph.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Hector Arana Jr., Milltown, Ind., Lucas Oil Buell, 6.888, 195.65 mph def. Steve Johnson, Birmingham, Ala., Steve Johnson Racing, Suzuki, 6.909, 193.99 mph.
John Force Racing