Charlotte: John Force Racing final report

ROBERT HIGHT RACES INTO SEMIS AT INAUGURAL CHARLOTTE RACE @-Hight only seven points out of first place with five races to go- CONCORD, NC -- The inaugural event at zMax Dragway at Concord was filled with excitement and drama. Much of the drama...

ROBERT HIGHT RACES INTO SEMIS AT INAUGURAL CHARLOTTE RACE @-Hight only seven points out of first place with five races to go-

CONCORD, NC -- The inaugural event at zMax Dragway at Concord was filled with excitement and drama. Much of the drama involved drivers from John Force Racing led by Robert Hight and Ashley Force.

Hight raced to the semi-finals before he dropped a close race to Jack Beckman. Hight had previously defeated Beckman in the final round of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals two weeks ago in Indianapolis and today Hight had the run to get a win but Beckman's self-proclaimed starting line guess propelled him to his third win of the season matching Hight's number of wins. Beckman jumped out to an early starting line advantage after a nearly impossible to duplicate reaction time of .002 seconds.

"I knew I wasn't late. I knew it. As my foot was going down on the throttle I heard him (Beckman) leave. He was out there on me just a little past half track he came back to me. I was running really strong through the middle but I honestly knew I was running out of race track. I knew I wasn't going to run him down. I guess it is one of those deals where it might have made me feel a little bit better if I would have gotten off of it so my ET wouldn't have looked to good. Then I heard Jimmy say he got us. One of my guys at the top end told me he had an .002 light."

Hight was encouraged that the competition felt they needed to take every advantage they could get to grab a win from the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang team.

"I guess that is a good feeling knowing that a guy goes up there and takes a shot at you because he knows that you are going to be right there with him," said Hight. "Even if a guy in the Countdown especially if you are in the top half like we are if you went to the semis all six races you are going to win this championship. I don't even think you would need a win if you did that."

Hight opened his race day by extending his win streak over Jeff Arend to 7-0 with a first round victory. In the second round Hight took out fellow Countdown to 1 competitor Ron Capps. A dropped cylinder made the race closer than it should have been and he was happy to see another Countdown racer exit the elimination rounds.

Hight was happy with his Mustang's performance throughout qualifying and with the direction crew chief Jimmy Prock was taking heading into eliminations.

"We out qualified everybody in the Countdown this race. We gained some points there. We are actually leaving here only seven points out of first place which is 33 points closer than when we came into this race. We have a lot of confidence the way this Mustang ran in the heat. We ran low ET of the eliminations in the hottest part of the day," said the two time POWERade championship runner-up. "We had a good car and we have to just keep going on and continuing to keep going rounds. What is cool is Jimmy is always so aggressive, always looking at different things to make the car faster, but this morning he said we are not going to give this thing away. He said there is room in this thing to tune it up but he said we are going to just go down the track. We are not going to let these guys beat us. We are not going to give this away by smoking the tires."

In the first round Ashley Force pulled up beside points leader Tim Wilkerson hoping to stop Wilkerson's momentum and keep him from pulling away from the rest of the Funny Car Countdown to 1 field most notably her non-qualified teammate and father John Force. Force was successful getting an impressive round win and giving her team a big boost of confidence.

"We were excited to run Wilkerson because he has done so well and he is at the top of the points. We would rather try and take him out than avoid him," said the 2007 Rookie of the Year. "You get who you get when the pairings hit. Beating him was a big round for us. I was nervous and excited. I thought we needed to just be positive about it and try and take him out. Luckily we did."

Force was also part of the marquee match-up of the second round when she pulled up beside Cruz Pedregon looking to put another title contender on the sideline. Prior to this run three racers (Larry Dixon, Mike Neff and Del Worsham) had smoked the tires in the left lane occupied by Force but crew chiefs Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas had a masterful tune-up in the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Force jumped into the lights rattling the veteran Pedregon but he was able to settle himself down and defeat Force with a slower time gaining the win with a 4.153 second run as Force ran 4.119 seconds, the quickest run of the round.

"I wanted to get in there a little bit on my pre-stage and when I rolled in on my stage I wanted to be very shallow. I always tend to be shallow and with the lanes not really mattering that wasn't something I needed to do. I was just so amped up I just went right in and it lit both the pre-stage and the stage lights and I was like 'Oh, crap.'"

"Fortunately I gathered myself and I remembered to get my foot off the clutch. It was backwards from my normal routine. I usually let my foot off the clutch after I light the pre-stage light. Here I was staged and I knew there was something different. Luckily, for me I remembered to take my foot off (the clutch)."

"Cruz was on his game and he ran really well. He had been running good all day. Guido (Crew chief Dean Antonelli) knew that was going to be a tough run. I'm proud of my crew guys. They stepped in right up, I screwed up and I am thankful that I didn't screw up more. I surprised myself. I think there were only one or two times I have ever lit both sets of lights at the same time. It really breaks your whole routine."

Mike Neff and the Old Spice team were the victims of lane choice, forced to run in the suspect left lane, against a quicker Tony Pedregon. Neff smoked the tires on his Ford Mustang as soon as he passed the Christmas Tree. Neff did improve one position in the Countdown to 1 up from 10th to 9th position but he was definitely looking to make a more dramatic move today at zMax Dragway at Concord.

"Moving up a couple of spots is definitely a positive," said the rookie of the year front-runner. "If you can do that every race you would be looking good. All in all we had a pretty good car this weekend."

"It is unfortunate that the track was going away a little in the left lane at the starting line. We gave up lane choice and that put us in the left lane. It turned out not to be quite as good as the right when we were running. Our car had been a little bit slow all weekend we were trying to pick it up there in the second round. The combination of the track going away a little bit and us being a little aggressive we just tipped it over and it went up in smoke right away," said Neff. "That is pretty rare for us. We haven't done that all weekend and I really can't remember the last time that happened at a race. To see him (Tony Pedregon) not make a good run, that was just salt in the wound. All we had to do was go down the track like we have been all weekend. The car is running good. I feel good about our chances to keep moving up the point standings."

Team leader John Force was relegated to the sidelines but was a constant presence on the starting line when his drivers raced and between rounds he spent hours with the new NHRA fans that filled the grandstands at zMax Dragway.

***

JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: DNQ, best run 4.157 seconds, 299.33 mph

Notable: First time since 1979 John Force has failed to qualify at back-to-back NHRA national events--This Force's 4th DNQ of the season which is the most DNQs in one season in his career.

ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 4th at 4.075 seconds, 307.02 mph Race Results: Beat Tim Wilkerson. Lost to Cruz Pedregon.

Quotable: "Our Castrol GTX Ford Mustang had been running really good this weekend. This track is so nice. We are really able to show what our car is capable of running. This is a perfect track. We were excited to run (Tim) Wilkerson because he has done so well and he is at the top of the points. We would rather try and take him out than avoid him. Beating him was a big round for us."

ROBERT HIGHT, 39, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 2nd at 4.072 seconds, 300.33 mph

Race Results: Beat Jeff Arend, Ron Capps. Lost to Jack Beckman.

Quotable: "You are not going to beat a guy if he guesses like that. I guess that is a good feeling knowing that a guy goes up there and takes a shot at you because he knows that you are going to be right there with him."

MIKE NEFF, 42, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 8th at 4.104 seconds, 304.46 mph

Race results: Beat Gary Densham. Lost to Tony Pedregon.

Quotable:" The car is running good. I feel good about our chances to keep moving up the point standings."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Densham , Cruz Pedregon , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force , Jeff Arend , Robert Hight , Mike Neff