BRISTOL, TN --- Warmer track conditions at Bristol Dragway had drivers and crew chiefs scrambling for tune-ups throughout the day at the 12th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by the Tri-Cities Ford Dealers. At the end of the day not much changed in the provisional standings and the four John Force Racing Ford Mustangs will all go into race day with tough first round match-ups.
The biggest race could be the head-to-head race between No. 8 qualifier Johnny Gray and No. 9 qualifier Robert Hight. Both drivers ran in 4.12s with Gray holding the edge with a 4.120 to Hight’s 4.124. Gray ran 4.12 twice (Q2 and Q4) with Hight posting his quickest ET in Q1. The rest of the times for each driver were forgettable and could make this race a toss-up.
“The lanes should be pretty even. It will be a tough race but I like our chances. (Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) and (consultant) Ron Armstrong have seen some things on this Elvis AAA Insurance Ford Mustang that they can fix for tomorrow,” said Hight, the defending event winner. “We just need to keep racing smart. We made a good first run and then we have kind of struggled. This Mustang has been right on the edge so we just need to get it back under control. I made a 4.124 second pass in the heat on Friday and Johnny Gray has made a couple 4.12s but all things being equal, we both have some runs we would like to do over. It should be a pretty even race.”
Mike Neff and Courtney Force could help each other with first round wins tomorrow. Neff races rookie Alexis DeJoria and Force has Ron Capps. If Neff defeats DeJoria that would go a long way in improving Force’s chances in the Rookie of the Year balloting. That is assuming Courtney can help Neff by taking out Capps who is currently No. 2 in the point just in front of Neff.
Neff is looking for a good showing tomorrow. In his trailer at the end of the day on Saturday the crew chief was looking over his data and evaluating the aggressiveness of his tune-up choices. Neff goes into race day as the No. 2 qualifier on the strength of a strong Friday night run.
“We have been a little too aggressive this weekend. We have been trying hard every run. It has been a little bit too much for the track. Tomorrow we definitely have to make sure we get down the track. It looks like it might be cloudy and that would make for good conditions,” said Neff who drives and tunes the castrol GTX Ford Mustang. “At this point first round isn’t until noon which is an hour later than usual. We’ll just have to wait and if it is hot we’ll need to be kind of conservative but if it is cool we can try and be more aggressive. If the track is good enough this Castrol GTX Mustang will make it.”
Courtney Force made a strong early statement in Q3 posting the second quickest ET of the session, a 4.131 second pass. Her first three passes (4.177, 4.162 and 4.131) averaged 4.156 seconds and if you throw out her final attempt that would be the quickest average ET in the Funny Car class.
On her last pass according to her team Force’s Traxxas Ford Mustang dropped a cylinder at the hit of the throttle. Force lifted to regain control of her Mustang and resumed the charge down the race track. Unfortunately for performances’ sake JFR has installed a five second safety timer that automatically deploys the parachutes and at about 800 feet the chutes blossomed and Force’s ET swelled to 6.165 seconds.
John Force continued to wow his fans as well as fans of Elvis all weekend and will go into race day as the No. 5 qualifier. This is Force’s highest qualifying effort since the second race of the season in Phoenix and his first top half of the field qualifier in the last five races. Force will have lane choice over former teammate and two-time world champion Tony Pedregon in round one. The pair have faced each other 81 times with Force winning 56 of those meetings.
“I am really excited for all our teams. Bristol is a great race and we unveiled the two Lionel Elvis Funny Cars for Robert and myself,” said Force. “That is pretty cool. At the end of the day Robert has held his own and so has Neff. Courtney has been consistent but I have struggled a little. Elvis is starting to sing for me and old John Force is starting to hunt.”