Hight begins pursuit of second championship at Charlotte

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SECOND CHAMPIONSHIP PURSUIT STARTS NOW FOR HIGHT

Robert Hight
Robert Hight

Photo by: John Force Racing

CHARLOTTE, NC --- Three years ago Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team jump started their first championship run with a win at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals. In the past three seasons, eight of the 12 winners of the Countdown opener at zMAX Dragway have gone on to win championships. Hight wants to keep that streak alive and build momentum right out of the gate.

“We are focused on Charlotte and the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals right now. There are six races in the Countdown and you can’t afford to make a mistake. You don’t want to start looking too far down the schedule. (Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) and my guys have this Auto Club Mustang ready to rock and roll and that will start on Friday in Charlotte,” said Hight, the winner of this season’s Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway.

Hight is looking to be the first driver to win both the Four-Wide Nationals and the Countdown kick-off event in the same season.

“Winning both the Four-Wide and the first Countdown race would be a pretty good double. I love racing at zMax Dragway. The track is great and the fans really love coming out. The key for us and really any team is to start strong in Friday and build on each run. I have so much confidence in my guys. We have won the most events this season and we have been in a little bit of a dry spell since we won here in April,” said the four-time 2012 season winner.

Going into the Countdown Hight and the Auto Club team are in second place, 30 points behind Full Throttle points leader Ron Capps. The veteran driver of the NAPA Dodge Charger took the points lead from Hight in Brainerd after Hight had carried the lead for the majority of the season. The Auto Club team had a chance to reclaim the points lead at the Mac Tools US Nationals but a second round defeat to Matt Hagan stalled his comeback chances.

“Our goal in the regular season was to get that 30 point lead going into the Countdown. Capps got it from us in Brainerd and we want it back. We can start cutting into that lead in Charlotte with qualifying bonus points and round wins. They have a good Funny Car and there are a lot of teams behind me and Capps that have the same idea. We will have to be on top of our game,” said Hight.

With the postponed Mac Tools US Nationals concluding on a previously open weekend on the NHRA Full Throttle Series most of the teams will be going into Charlotte off of back-to-back weekends in Indy with three races in a row after this weekend. It will be a daunting six week stretch that will surely test the stamina of the teams and their hardware. For Hight the crewman turned driver the constant battle on the track is a welcome challenge.

“I have to be honest. I love being at the track with my guys. I would race every weekend whenever the NHRA scheduled a race. This is what you prepare for all season and all off-season. This is the Countdown and you have six races to get a Full Throttle Championship. You have to dig deep both in the pits and on the track. We want to get a second championship,” said Hight.

NEFF CARRIES MOMENTUM INTO COUNTDOWN

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Indianapolis resident Mike Neff attributed his success in winning last week’s 58th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals to the fact that he could drive his own car to and from the track, sleep every night in his own bed and count on the presence of daughter Chloe and son Chase for moral support.

He’ll have none of those assets this week when the NHRA’s Countdown to 1 playoffs begin with the fifth running of the O’Reilly Auto Parts Nationals at zMAX Dragway so Neff will just have to get by with a very fast Castrol GTX Ford Mustang and a whole lot of momentum.

For the former off-road truck mechanic, who this year is trying to become the first in 38 years to win an NHRA Funny Car championship in the dual role of driver/crew chief, the difference between this Countdown and last is like the difference between analog and digital.

A year ago, his performance in the regular season sent him into the playoffs with a giant bulls eye on his back. After winning five times and reaching the finals in more than half of last year’s regular season races, he admittedly “lost the handle” on his tune-up and faded to fifth in the final standings.

This year, Ron Capps has assumed the favorite’s role and that’s just fine with Neff. Actually, the sport’s most reluctant superstar had been racing under the radar for most of the current season.

He failed to qualify at Atlanta, Ga., lost a couple of races on hole shots and exited in the first round five times. Nevertheless, his ability to avoid distractions may have ended last week when he recorded the quickest time of every racing round and became just the fifth driver in history to win the sport’s oldest, largest and richest event in consecutive seasons.

That peformance thrust him prominently back into the Funny Car spotlight.

Even though he will start this week from the No. 4 position, 50 points behind Capps and 20 behind John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight, he will attract his fair share of championship attention.

“We are well prepared for the Countdown,” he said. “We didn’t tear anything up (at Indy). We’re ready. It’s going to be exciting and it will be nice to go in with a little momentum.”

The two-time world championship-winning crew chief (2005 with Gary Scelzi and 2010 with John Force) actually helped determine the 10th and final qualifier for the Countdown when he beat 2011 champion Matt Hagan in the semifinals of the U.S. Nationals.

That win ended Hagan’s 11th hour bid to make the Countdown and confirmed journeyman Jeff Arend’s participation along with Ford Racing’s Tim Wilkerson. That drew an unexpected response from Arend.

“After the semis, when I beat Matt Hagan, Jeff Arend came over and actually came up in my lounge and gave me a kiss on the cheek,” Neff laughed. “He said ‘thank you’ and I asked ‘for what?’ He said he was in the Countdown because I beat Hagan.”

This week, though, Neff hopes to do something for himself. Runner-up to Hagan at last year’s O’Reilly Nationals, he hopes give himself a very special 46th birthday present (Sept. 13) by taking his Ford a step beyond.

“Drag racing is all about making adjustments,” Neff said, “and that’s especially true in the Countdown. Whether it’s Charlotte or Vegas or Indy, the track may be the same, but the conditions that you have to deal with are never the same. That’s what makes drag racing such a great sport.

“The thing is, if it was easy, everybody’d be winning.” And everybody is not.

C. FORCE AND TRAXXAS TEAM LOOK STOUT ENTERING COUNTDOWN

CONCORD, N.C. (September 11, 2012) – Since the moment Courtney Force stepped out onto the stage at John Force Racing headquarters and announced her debut into NHRA’s professional Funny Car category with Traxxas by her side, the team and 24-year-old driver have impressed many in the racing community with their various accomplishments in such a short amount of time.

“I was so thankful to have Traxxas come on board at the start of 2012, not only for my team, but for all of our John Force Racing. They gave me an opportunity of a lifetime and I’m so proud to be a representative for them. Since the beginning of this season, I have learned so much in the seat of my Ford Mustang Funny Car.

“At the start of 2012, my main goals were to use my rookie season as a learning year and I had high hopes of qualifying at each event. I didn’t expect to accomplish all that we have so far. This season has been such an amazing experience,” said Force.

This week, Force returns to zMAX Dragway in Charlotte for the second time this season. She will compete at the fifth annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, the first race in the Countdown to the Championship.

“I’m so nervous going into the first race of the countdown in Charlotte because I know that every round and every point we can gain counts. However, our Traxxas team is going into the countdown with confidence and drive because we know we have a fast race car and one that is capable of giving my competitors a run for their money,” said Force.

Force’s first encounter with the track recognized as the “Bellagio of Dragstrips” came back in April in only her fifth career start. Force qualified No. 12 and experienced “Four-Wide” racing from the seat of her brand new Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car.

“I definitely gained a lot of experience competing in Charlotte at the Four-Wide Nationals because I learned how to drive my race car and how to adjust my driving to go with a different kind of Christmas Tree and 3 other cars in the lane next to me. Although it felt very overwhelming at the time, it was such a cool experience to be a part of,” said Force.

Since the start of her career, the youngest Force daughter and her Traxxas team led by Ron Douglas and Dan Hood have managed to stay in the top ten in the point standings, get their first event win at Seattle in only their 15th start and most-recently set a track speed record along with a No. 1 qualifier effort at Indy.

“It’s a very overwhelming feeling. All of our accomplishments so far this season are because of my sponsors who have supported me, my teammates who have taught me, and my Traxxas team who has given me a great Funny Car. I feel confident going into the countdown and we’re going to do the best we can through these next few races to gain points and knowledge and go after that trophy,” said Force.

In addition to her record-setting performance at Indy, Force’s 4.049 second run scoring her the No. 1 spot also stands as her new career-best ET (elapsed time).

Force says she is ready to go into the Countdown at Charlotte with a clean slate and an open mind. She was able to lock-in the No. 6 spot in the points and will begin the Countdown to the Championship 70 points out of the lead.

“It’s been a crazy, busy year so far, but we’re just getting started,” said Force.

EVEN AT 63, FORCE IS IN IT ONLY TO WIN IT

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Simply by qualifying for the NHRA’s Countdown to 1 playoffs, John Force extended the drag racing record for consecutive Top 10 seasons in any professional category to 28. The last time the sport’s biggest winner didn’t make the podium was 1984, when he finished an unlucky 13th.

While that is an amazing streak, it is not the accomplishment for which the 63-year-old icon would like to be remembered this season.

Despite his eighth place standing, Force enters this week’s fifth annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Nationals expecting his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford to once again put him in a position to contest the $500,000 Full Throttle championship that has been his 15 times over the last 22 seasons and his team’s 17 times in the same time frame.

“I know I said you have to be in it to win it,” said the 134-time NHRA tour winner, “but I don’t want to be in it if I CAN’T win it. It’s all about the competition. Racing against all these kids, it keeps me young. We haven’t had a season like Robert or Neff, but I still have faith in my guys, ‘Guido’ (Dean Antonelli) and Danny (DeGennaro). I still think we can win it. The proof, though, is in the pudding.”

Although he won the season-opening Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., this hasn’t been a memorable year for the 2012 inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala.

After starting the campaign as the points leader, he slid all the way to 10th place before rallying to finish eighth. That means he will start the six-race Countdown 90 points behind No. 1 seed Ron Capps.

“(In the Countdown), whoever gets the hot hand, can win it all,” said the man who was the first drag racer ever recognized as Driver of the Year for all of American motor sports (1996). “There are a lot of great race cars out there right now. Capps, (Jack) Beckman and Cruz (Pedregon) plus Robert (Hight), (Mike) Neff and Courtney (Force, his youngest daughter and driver of the Traxxas Ford Mustang). But we’re pretty good, too.”

Although he hasn’t fared well in the O’Reilly Nationals, Force is encouraged by the fact that, on the same zMAX track, he won the inaugural 4Wide Nationals in 2010.

“Bruton’s tracks are the best,” said the 15-time Auto Racing All-America selection of the tracks owned by racing mogul Bruton Smith. “No excuses. We’re just gonna line up with these guys and race our ‘ol hot rod and see what happens.

“I’m just glad to be in it, glad for all my hot rods to be in, especially my daughter Courntey’s Traxxas Ford, acknowledged the former truck driver. “And the end of the day, though, it’s about winning. I still want to win.”

Coming off a disappointing first round exit at last week’s 58th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., Force nevertheless is not discouraged.

“Our car’s been getting better,” he said. “Last week was just a fluke. This week, we expect to hurt somebody’s feelings besides our own. An all-concrete track? That’s what we like. ‘Guido” and Danny can go out there and throw everything at it. We’re not out of this thing.

“Robert won from No. 10 (in 2009),” Force said. “We’re eighth. We just need to win a couple of races and that starts with winning a couple of rounds. I’m amped up. The playoffs, that’s what it’s all about.”

Source: John Force Racing

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Tags force, ford, funny car, hight, neff, zmax

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