Gainesville: John Force Racing Saturday notes

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD LEADS JFR INTO GATORNATIONALS ELIMINATIONS GAINESVILLE -- Ashley Force Hood made the most of her last qualifying session at the 40th annual ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals blasting to the No. 2 qualifying position just behind...

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD LEADS JFR INTO GATORNATIONALS ELIMINATIONS

GAINESVILLE -- Ashley Force Hood made the most of her last qualifying session at the 40th annual ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals blasting to the No. 2 qualifying position just behind fellow Blue Oval teammate Bob Tasca III with a 4.126 second run at 301 miles per hour.

Force Hood leads the strong contingent of John Force Racing Mustangs into eliminations tomorrow. In the first round she will be paired with Cruz Pedregon. She is on the same side of the ladder as her brother-in-law Robert Hight whom she could meet in the second round.

Getting four quality runs in gives the 2007 Rookie of the Year and 2006 Top Alcohol Dragster Gatornationals champion a lot of confidence heading into tomorrow. With a new engine Force Hood has some unique family support.

"Both of our runs today were huge improvements over yesterday. Yesterday's runs weren't so bad we made it down to the end of the track but we were just eating parts. We don't ever do that. Our team rarely has to swap motors during a race. For whatever reason yesterday it was acting up and today we put in our "Autumn" motor," said Autumn's aunt. "We name all our motors and the name is even engraved on the motor. We know this motor will have a ton of energy, because my niece, Autumn (Robert Hight's daughter), has the most energy of any little girl I know. Sure enough we went out and ran really good."

Ashley put up the best numbers in both Saturday qualifying sessions (4.168 and 4.126 seconds), but wound up No. 2 in the order behind Tasca (4.124), who on Sunday will become the 89th different Funny Car driver to start from No. 1. The last Ford driver to start No. 1 in a Mustang not owned by John Force was Whit Bazemore, who was the top qualifier for the 1997 NorthStar Nationals at Brainerd, Minn.

The last qualifying session was also very good for Robert Hight who came into the session in the precarious 16th position. He opened the session on a single and with a solid run of 4.179 seconds at 299.20 miles per hour. Hight was pleased with the effort but he knows that crew chief Jimmy Prock will work his magic to improve his chances of grabbing his first Gatornationals win.

"That run was huge. We could have taken more but we just started off on eth wrong foot this weekend. We shot ourselves in the foot when it blew up on Friday morning. We probably would have smoked the tires on that first run but we would have been one run further as far as learning," said Hight. "The next run we had it set up the same and it smoked the tires. We were just over center. Honestly we didn't think it would run a 4.17 then. This track is tricky and tomorrow the sun is going to be in and out. It is still hard to figure out where to tune it up if it is cloudy. We have to tiptop a little bit."

"This is a big race but it is more because of Don Garlits' Hall of Fame and all the racers that come to this event that are legends. I lot of big names come to this race. Gainesville always packs them in here. As a driver I don't let any of that bother me. It is still one that ranks right up there that you want to win. Hopefully tomorrow we can."

There was limited movement from the other two John Force Racing Mustangs as John Force and Mike Neff kept their top spots and both made solid runs on a very hot track.

The 14-time world champion and seven-time Gatornationals champ is also confident that crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly have his Castrol EDGE Ford Mustang ready to roll against his 122nd different opponent, Mike Smith.

"I've got seven Gatornationals wins and I'd like to get eight. This is very important for us to come back here and win because we lost Eric Medlen here two years ago. He was the leaders of my next generation of drivers. If we can get a win here for him, for his dad and for his family that would put the icing on the cake," said the winningest driver in NHRA history. "I want to get a win for myself and I want to do it here at the Gatornationals. The fans here are great. The NHRA Full Throttle race here is a happening. If you look in the stands in this economy we got a full house here."

Finally, Mike Neff is still battling a flu-like virus which has him battling the elements to stay hydrated while he tunes his Ford Drive One Mustang. Throughout the day Neff is in constant communication with crew chief John Medlen about their collective tune-up which eases a little of the burden for the driver/crew chief. It has not been completely smooth sailing for the 2005 Funny Car world champion crew chief and 2008 rookie of the year.

"I have been so sick all weekend. It has been a rough weekend for me. The crew is doing a great job. They are doing most of the work. I have definitely been able to communicate with (crew chief John) Medlen this weekend more than during the Phoenix race," said Neff. "Everything on the Ford Drive One Mustang is going along all right. These are tricky conditions here. It is all new stuff for us. We have a few new things on the car that we are trying to learn about. We are fighting our way through it. I feel better today than yesterday. "

THE DRIVERS

JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol Edge Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 4th at 4.153 seconds, 288.52 MPH
First Round Opponent (W-L): Mike Smith (0-0)

Quotable: "Number one I want to get it (a win) for our sponsors Castrol, Ford and Auto Club. At the end of the day if a Ford gets it that is what matters. Bob Tasca got low ET and Ashley jumped right up behind him. I'm in the top along with Neff and Robert has his hot rod figured out. He got in on that last run. Ashley has a great race car. Power is not her problem. Trying to apply it to the race track and that is what we are all figuring out."

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD, 26, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 2nd at 4.126 seconds, 301.00 mph
First Round Opponent (W-L): Cruz Pedregon (1-4)

Quotable: "I think Ron and Guido (crew chiefs Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas) know exactly what they need to do going into tomorrow. We were able to make four full pass this weekend. I have the hang of both lanes which is a huge advantage going into tomorrow. To go into race day with four good runs that is the best you can prepare yourself."

ROBERT HIGHT, 39, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 10th at 4.179 seconds, 299.20 mph
First Round Opponent (W-L): Matt Hagan (0-0)

Quotable: "This is a big race but it is more because of Don Garlits' Hall of Fame and all the racers that come to this event that are legends. I lot of big names come to this race. Gainesville always packs them in here. As a driver I don't let any of that bother me. It is still one that ranks right up there that you want to win. Hopefully tomorrow we can."

MIKE NEFF, 41, Drive One Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 5th at 4.154 seconds, 300.93 mph
First Round Opponent (W-L): Jerry Toliver (0-0)

Quotable: "Everything on the Ford Drive One Mustang is going along all right. These are tricky conditions here. It is all new stuff for us. We have a few new things on the car that we are trying to learn about. We are fighting our way through it."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Don Garlits , Ashley Force , Jerry Toliver , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , Matt Hagan , Austin Coil , Bob Tasca III , John Medlen , Mike Neff , Mike Smit