Gainesville: John Force Racing Saturday notes

ALL FOUR TEAM CASTROL MUSTANGS GET JOB DONE GAINESVILLE --- With Friday qualifying rained out at the 39th annual ACDelco Gatornationals the four John Force Racing drivers had only two opportunities to drive their 8,000 hp Ford Mustangs down the...

ALL FOUR TEAM CASTROL MUSTANGS GET JOB DONE

GAINESVILLE --- With Friday qualifying rained out at the 39th annual ACDelco Gatornationals the four John Force Racing drivers had only two opportunities to drive their 8,000 hp Ford Mustangs down the quarter mile track at Gainesville Raceway.

Robert Hight drove the Auto Club Ford Mustang to the top of the field in the first session and that early success was key considering in the second round he dropped a cylinder two seconds into the run and was able to lift knowing that he was solidly in the field.

"We are still just a hair off. For whatever reason the engine is putting cylinders out and it is just not happy," said the current Funny Car points leader. "We have to keep working on it but luckily we were qualified because that would have been really ugly if I'd have driven it to the finish line on the second run to try and get in the show."

Hight will match-up against Del Worsham in the first round, a repeat of last year's Gatornationals, where Hight took the win. Hight will have to overcome his worst starting position, No. 7, if he ants to capture his first Gatornationals win.

Team leader John Force was the qualifying mirror image of son-in-law Hight as he sat on the outside of the top sixteen qualifiers when he pulled through the water box for his last chance to get into the show. Force blasted down the famed Gainesville Raceway in 4.816 seconds, good enough to hold the top spot until former teammate Tony Pedregon bettered him by three tenths of a second.

"There were a bunch of us on the outside. We made some changes to the chassis and we are learning about it. (Legendary crew chief) Austin Coil did his job for Castrol. We are in the game and that is all that matters," said the 14-time world champion.

Early qualifying success was critical for Ashley Force and the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang but she still had some nerves as she fell out the top sixteen before the final qualifying session. Thankfully her crew chief Dean "Guido" Antonelli knew just how to put his young driver at ease.

"I wasn't feeling very good about that run because of Phoenix and how that ended up for us (not qualifying). I haven't had many laps on this track in a while," said the Cal State-Fullerton grad and 2007 Rookie of the Year. "I was a little nervous but Guido was being goofy and I always feel more relaxed when he is being goofy. I know that he must be feeling confident if he can act that way."

2008 Rookie of the Year candidate Mike Neff had a good run in the first round and was looking to build on that success before a twisted oil shaft forced the Old Spice team to abort their run on the starting line. Neff was optimistic about the timing of the problem.

"We had oil pressure in the pits but it is one of those weird things. Fortunately, (crew chief John) Medlen caught it. The last thing we want to do is run down there burning it up and with the thing on fire," said the former crew chief. "It was unfortunate we were pretty psyched up and we were looking forward to making that second run. We felt like we could make a pretty good run. It just wasn't meant to be on that run but better today than tomorrow.

Tomorrow will be an emotional day for everyone with John Force Racing with all four drivers looking to get into the winner's circle in honor of their fallen teammate Eric Medlen but Ashley Force summed up the team's attitude and mission as the sun set and each team prepared for the job ahead.

"(Getting a win) would be very bittersweet. I think we are all have Eric on our minds but I definitely think he is watching over us. I think he is here with us and everywhere giving us a little extra luck. If we can get into the winner's circle and make something good of this weekend that would be the best thing. When people talk about Gainesville they bring up last year (when Medlen crashed during a Monday testing session) and we don't want to remember Gainesville for that. This is a great race track and Eric wouldn't want us to remember it for that. He'd want us to make new good memories so that is what we are going to start doing tomorrow."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , John Force , Ashley Force , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , Mike Neff