Baytown: John Force Racing final report

ASHLEY FORCE REACHES SECOND CAREER FINAL AT SPRING NATIONALS -Three JFR Ford Mustangs in Funny Car Top Six- (HOUSTON) --- For the second time in Ashley Force's young career the 25 year-old driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was less than ...

ASHLEY FORCE REACHES SECOND CAREER FINAL AT SPRING NATIONALS
-Three JFR Ford Mustangs in Funny Car Top Six-

(HOUSTON) --- For the second time in Ashley Force's young career the 25 year-old driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was less than a second away from history. In a final round match-up versus veteran Del Worsham, the 2007 Rookie of the Year was at an almost immediate disadvantage and Worsham cruised to victory with a 4.93 second run to Force's 4.97 pass.

"It wasn't our day it was Del's. It was still a real good day, I can't complain especially with all the ups and downs we have had this year it was good to go some rounds," said the 2007 winner of AOL's Hottest Athlete contest. "We were really pumped to be going rounds today and to get to the final. The car went down the track every run. I wish we would have won. Eventually we will get there."

No woman has ever won in the ultra-competitive Funny Car class in the 58 years of the NHRA and Force is the only woman to have ever reached the final - a feat she has accomplished twice -- previously in Las Vegas last October and today. She attributed her success to an entire JFR team effort throughout the day.

"It showed when all the guys were working on my car and I know they were bummed because they weren't racing. Robert's team -- teammate and bother-in-law Hight's team failed to qualify- was over here bright and early this morning working with us and throughout the day as teams went out they helped us. That just made us want to defend their points positions that much more," said Force.

"We weren't just racing for ourselves we were racing for the whole team. If they aren't our people then we need to take them out. That is what we did and it just makes you want it that much more. We are not just a single team trying to get a win we are all working together."

Team leader and 14-time Funny Car Champion John Force had a chance to race daughter Ashley and make it an all Castrol final round but his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang was vanquished by Worsham in the semi-final round.

"Worsham is a hell of a racer. He was way overdue and hungry. He had a car that was just fast. A lot of these cars have been carrying this weight since last year. They have more runs on them tan us but we'll learn," said winningest driver in Funny Car history.

"For Ashley to get to another final is great. I went a lot of rounds before I finally won. It is a learning curve and she is driving the heck out of her Mustang. "I think our Ford team held its own this weekend. We are going to test here tomorrow at least on the early parts of the race track."

This was the second semi-final round appearance for the elder Force in 2008 and moved him up to the sixth position in the Funny Car standings. Considering how much he has overcome in the last five months; a career threatening crash in Dallas last September, a vigorous and brutal rehab schedule, and major adjustments to his Ford Mustang, Force has expanded his already legendary status in a sport where many would consider him the king.

"Every round is a learning experience for me because of my body healing but I am coming around as a driver. I am doing my job and feeling my car again. It is just taking a little longer."

Rookie of the Year candidate Mike Neff and his Old Spice Ford Mustang team made the best losing run of the event and possibly early season laying down a blistering 4.89 pass versus reigning Funny Car world champion Tony Pedregon in the first round but Pedregon grabbed a starting line advantage and it was enough to hold off the hard charging Neff.

"That loss was tough. We made a good run and we end up getting nipped on a hole shot. It is like we just can't catch a break. Tony (Pedregon) had a really good light and I had a solid light. We just came up a hair short," said the former world champion crew chief turner driver. "Things are getting better and we are coming around. That was a good solid run and it would have beaten just about anybody else in the first round. That is just the way it goes. The encouraging thing is we are making progress and the car is running good. We qualified third again. Our day is coming."

While Neff continues to look for his first round win he and his team are encouraged by the improvements they make every race including qualifying No. 3 and picking up the Full Throttle crew award -- given to the most consistent team during qualifying.

"It was tricky here but third is third. That was a good place to be. We picked up the Full Throttle award and that is just another little feather in our cap which is respectable. That first round run was the second quickest of that round and we are going home. I've said it before, it (Neff's Ford Mustang) is just right there, super close and against anybody else we would have been getting ready for the second round."

Heading into the race Robert Hight had the Funny Car points lead and decent amount of optimism that his Auto Club Ford Mustang was only one or two qualifying runs away from turning the corner and regaining its dominant form. Unfortunately, after four qualifying session in two days -- a first for the 2008 season -- he was only briefly one of the 16 quickest Funny Cars on the property and had to sit on the sidelines for only the third time in his career. At the end of the day he had fallen to XX in the point standing but was looking forward to a full day of testing on Monday.

Hight was not the only JFR driver forced to watch from the sidelines as rookie Top Alcohol Dragster pilot Courtney Force missed making the TAD field for the second event in a row, also the Divisional race in Phoenix in March. Ms. Force is continuing to gain experience in the class that launched her sister Ashley into the Funny Car ranks while she shares seat time with her other sister Brittany.

* * *

JOHN FORCE, 58, Castrol High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 9th at 4.913 seconds, 312.71 mph.

Race results: Beat Jack Beckman, Cruz Pedregon. Lost to Del Worsham.

Notable: Moved up to sixth place in Funny Car point standings...Is only four rounds or one race win from his historic 1000th round win. Quotable: "Worsham is a hell of a racer. For Ashley to get to another final is great. I went a lot of rounds before I finally won. It is a learning curve and she is driving the heck out of her Mustang."

ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 6th at 4.890 seconds, 319.29 mph.

Race Results: Beat Bob Gilbertson, Tony Pedregon, Tony Bartone. Lost to Del Worsham.

Notable: Reached her second final round...Moved up to fifth in Funny Car point standings...still the only female to reach a final round in Funny Car.

Quotable: "The more qualifying runs and the more elimination rounds we go that is just more data we can use for the next race. Of course you want to just win round but you can also use that info to improve."

ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Team Castrol/Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: DNQ, 20th at 6.182 seconds, 200.44 mph.

Notable: Slipped from first to fourth place in Funny Car points... Will spend all day Monday in Houston testing

Quotable: "Jimmy Prock and I are going to get this Auto Club Ford Mustang ready and we are going to test on Monday and maybe even Tuesday. We need a lot of runs but we'll be back. It was good to be back in Houston this year. I see lots of Ford out there in the parking lot and I think Texas is Ford country."

MIKE NEFF, 40, Team Castrol/Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 3rd at 4.875 seconds, 316.23 mph.

Race results: Lost to Tony Pedregon,

Notable: Neff's first round losing run was the second quickest run of the day in Funny Car eliminations...first round win continues to elude Rookie of the Year candidate

Quotable: "That loss was tough. We made a good run and we end up getting nipped on a hole shot. It is like we just can't catch a break. Tony (Pedregon) had a really good light and I had a solid light. We just came up a hair short. Things are getting better and we are coming around." -- MIKE NEFF

COURTNEY FORCE., 19, John Force Racing A Fuel Dragster
Qualifying position and performance: DNQ, 18th at 6.117 seconds, 225.45 mph.

Quotable: "This is still a learning experience for me. I felt more comfortable in the car every pass that I made. I would have liked to have qualified but the important thing is I am still learning."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Gilbertson , Tony Pedregon , Tony Bartone , Del Worsham , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force , Robert Hight , Mike Neff , Courtney Force