This Week in Ford Racing: Teleconference 2009-10-01 An inteview with Robert Hight Ashley Force Hood Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang Funny Car and Ashley Force Hood, driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car, are ...
This Week in Ford Racing: Teleconference
An inteview with
Ashley Force Hood
Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang Funny Car and Ashley Force Hood, driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car, are currently number 1-2 in the in the NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car standings with just four races remaining. Hight and Force Hood have won three straight NHRA Full Throtte Funny Car events and a Ford Mustang has won six of the last seven races. Ford drivers have won nine of the last 12 NHRA Funny Car championships - including eight by John Force.
YOU ARE SECOND IN THE STANDINGS, TWO RACES INTO THE COUNTDOWN TO 1. IT'S BEEN A VERY GOOD 2009 FOR YOU THIS YEAR. CAN YOU RECAP TO WHERE YOU STARTED AND WHERE YOU ARE NOW?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: "Yes, we've had a wonderful year. We've really enjoyed this year and of course it's easy to enjoy it when you're running well, that's a big part of it. My team and I, we've just really gotten on a roll with this car. My crew chief Dean [Antonelli] and Ron [Douglas], they've gotten it figured out and tuning these cars is not a simple thing to do. Then you throw in all the different conditions that we're in and sometimes from round to round the weather conditions can change, the humidity, all those things play a huge part in whether these cars get down the track or not. To see how well they've done in all the different situations that we've faced across the country, I'm really proud of them and how they've done. Of course, on the driving side of things I know nothing about tuning the car or working on the car, I only know my side of it, getting the car down the track but when your team gives you such a consistent car it sure makes my job a lot of fun and really it helps me to learn because I do have a car that isn't having problems every run or not starting or anything like that. It's consistently put together perfect, ready to go and that has been a huge part in our success this year."
TO LOOK AT WHERE ROBERT [HIGHT] IS, HAS THERE BEEN ANY KIND OF SHARING BETWEEN THE TEAMS, MAYBE LOOKING AT SOME OF YOUR PROGRAM AND ADAPTING SOME OF THAT TO HIS PROGRAM AND HE SEEMS TO BE THRIVING BECAUSE OF IT?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: "Yes, all four of our teams share information, what they learned on each run, what they're doing. Not always does the other team take it. Each of our teams kind of run their own show, so to speak. The data and the info is always there and available. In the past years, 'Guido', Dean [Antonelli], we call him 'Guido' it probably mixes people up when I switch back and forth. But Dean and Ron, they've really studied under Bernie [Fedderly] and Austin [Coil]. So, my tune-up has always been very similar to my father's just because that's where the learned. Where Jimmy Prock, on Robert's team, and John Medlen on Mike's team, they've kind of done their own thing. This year it's kind of switched around and we've seen that our tune-up just has been very consistent and that is getting to become very important in this category. It's not always just about who has the fastest car, it's about who has the car that's getting down the track consistently and still running good times. Ron and Dean they've really figured it out. They worked a lot with Jimmy when he kind of got into a slump earlier this year. Jimmy has always run a very, at least from my standpoint, when he goes, he goes and that car has made some amazing runs. They've held records, they've really pushed it, but there are times when these cars get finicky and don't want to get down the track, so they struggled with that this year. I know Ron and Guido talked with them and worked on how they can get all four cars running consistent, but it was definitely a team effort. None of these crew chiefs want to ever give themselves any credit and they really should because it's just amazing to see when things all come together and you have a car that's running really, really fast also getting down the track every run, you have recipe for success there. I'm really glad to see that Robert's team has come around, that they didn't give up on themselves. That's a long amount of time to have struggled, especially when they've had such success in the past and run for the championship for Robert's entire time in Funny Car. To see them struggle this year, we just tried to keep the motivated and be there to support them. They really are a strong team, I think they showed that this year. It's paying off now. It's come full circle. You can see the grins on their faces, they're so glad to have their good old car back. The rest of us just better watched out though because now that car is running good. Our team is exactly where we want to be. We want to be battling each other for the championship right down to the end. I don't at all count out Dad and Mike. I know the focus has kind of been on Robert and I because we've done well and gone rounds these two races and Robert has won the last two races. The points are so close right now that it's anybody's game. Anybody in this top 10, there's still time to move into that number one spot and Robert showed it by coming from the very bottom of the pack and in two race weekends moved from 10th to first. It's been real exciting for John Force Racing and everyone's real pumped up at how our team is going."
SPEAKING OF YOUR FATHER, A MONTH AGO HE BASICALLY PUT EVERYBODY ON NOTICE THAT THEY HAD TO SHAPE OUT OR HE WAS GOING TO SHIP SOME FOLKS OUT. THAT SEEMS TO HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE PARTICULARLY WITH ROBERT'S TEAM. YOU HAVEN'T HAD TO WORRY ABOUT THAT BUT ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT MAYBE IT TOOK THAT KIND OF ULTIMATUM FROM YOUR DAD TO GET THE PERFORMANCE IN LINE FOR THE WHOLE TEAM?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: "I think you have to do what you gotta do. Sometimes that works for certain teams and sometimes it doesn't and every team is different. I know my team, maybe because we're a newer team, maybe newer than some of the other teams we're competing against. I think my guys they perform the best with kind of positive reinforcement. They're out there, they want to do everything perfect, not because they don't want somebody mad at them or they don't want to get yelled at but they really want to make our crew chiefs proud. They really look up to Ron and Dean and I just see that with my team. So, for our camp, not threatening and doing it that way really works for us. But for some teams that have been out for a lot years have been on the top, we've kind of been growing and moving up slowly but steadily where other teams, like Robert's team, they're used to being on top of the pack and they're used to running for that championship. For them, I think maybe the way that Dad did it worked for them. It just mixed everything up and said, 'You guys are a great team and you're in the slump and we're going to get you out of it. We just need to work together and do whatever we need to do.' For them, that's what it took. It's hard, I'm sure, when you're working on tuning these cars and you think, 'I think I've got it figured out. This is going to fix it.' Once you get to a certain point in the year, when is that point that you say, 'You know what? I've got scrap everything I've been working on and just start new.' That's not an easy decision to make, especially when you think you're that close and you might be at a turning point. But I think for Dad, he felt the timing ran out and we've got to switch things around. It was a scary step for everybody but fortunately it paid off for us and the team's back to running really well. I think just even mixing up the drivers, I know when Dad went over and ran for that team, of anything, I'm sure it was scaring those guys having Dad in their camp looking over everything and probably not understanding that much about the cars where Robert really does have a mechanical background. But maybe that was enough to move some things around and get it working because it did. And that's kind of seems how Dad's life works. He does things sometimes where we all think he's nuts, but in the end, it all works out for him."
AS FAR OF THE STRESS AND PRESSURE OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP RUN, WHAT DO THINK YOU LEARNED FROM YOUR DAD ABOUT THAT? WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU BROUGHT PERSONALLY THAT SEEMS TO ADAPT TO THE COMPETITIVE CHALLENGES THAT YOU HAVE TO FACE?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: "Well, my father and I are very opposite personalities. Anybody who has ever spent anytime around us, it's very clear to everyone. He does his best under intense stress. The more on the line, the better for him, he performs the best. Not that many people, I don't think, are like that. For the most case in the world, I see most people do their best when they're not feeling that pressure. There are certain athletes and Dad's one of them that are able to really get out what they need to do in that final whatever it maybe, the final round, the biggest race of the year, it seems like it's always those stories around Dad. I know a few years ago it was he and Tony, I think, in the semis of the World's Finals at Pomona and the whole championship had come down to that run. I can't even imagine, it was so exciting to be there and to watch for it, but that's when he really shines. Where for me this might be a disadvantage to myself because it probably is going to come down to the last few round of the year. But I really do good with just consistency, not changing too much stuff, keeping within my own team, not getting mixed up in mental games or trying to mess with who I'm running. I really do best when I just focus on my own self and what I'm doing. That's kind of the take that I'm looking at going into this where my Dad is probably coming from a whole other angle. I think whatever works for yourself is what you've got to do. I know even looking back and reaction times have been a big part of my year and working at how do I get better at that. I've had a lot of people, where my Dad, he runs around doing jumping jacks and being crazy, he gets in the car and is killer. If I did that I'd be all mixed up and probably red light, if anything else. It was interesting to me that a lot of people that I had talked to, my crew chiefs, even other drivers - Jack Beckman, he taught that when he taught at Frank Cawley's Racing School. If you can find your certain level where you perform at where you're focused and you're concentrated, you're not tired or anything like that, but you can find that perfect spot you can be in, that's when you give yourself the best chance. Whether it e keeping the car in the groove, good reaction times or whatever, and the funny thing that I've seen is the races that I was the most stressed and wanted to cut a good light, whoever I was against. If I was running Tony Pedregon or somebody who has left on me a lot of times before, my reaction times would get worse. It was like, 'I'm trying really hard, it should be getting better,' at yet two races ago at Charlotte, I was horribly ill. I had food poisoning and I've never been sick like this in my life and I was just trying to get through the weekend. I wasn't even thinking about reaction times or anything, I was just trying to get through each hour of the day and I cut the best light that weekend that I've cut my whole life. And I look back now and go, 'Well, I'm not going to be going out and get food poisoning for the next four weeks, but what was there that I could learn from?' and it really was that I was focused on what I needed to do. One - to make sure I didn't get sick in my helmet going down the track. Two - that I did everything right and did what I needed to do, did my job right but I just wasn't worrying about my reaction times. I was more worried about not having any problem when the parachutes hit down track. It was a funny thing but it was a really clear lesson for me on how I perform. I really perform best when I don't put that over my head. I'm going to try to use that for these next four races, I haven't quite figured out how I'm going to do that yet other than eating bad chicken. I don't think that's the ticket, but it was just an interesting thing to me that I learned about my self. When you do take the pressure off, you obviously have to be concentrated and excited and pumped up to go, but there does come a level when you go passed it, you're only hurting yourself. It's a balance that I'm still learning, that's for sure."
JERRY PUNCH IN NASCAR MENTIONED THAT WHEN DRIVERS ARE INJURED, THEY PERFORM BETTER, MOST OFTEN. CAN YOU UNDERSTAND THAT BETTER NOW? DO YOU THINK THAT'S A CONSTANT THING?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: "I really think you have no choice but make sure you're focused because you're not at your best, that you're 100%. I don't know that much about the body and how it works, but I just know from my own experience, it was very clear. Maybe it was just coincidence and it was lucky, but I've had enough people around me when they've given me advice said, 'If you can find that balance and not put the pressure on and be worried about something, you're just filling your mind with other stuff.' You need to clear your mind and just leave when the tree comes down and react to the car. Sometimes you can do yourself a disservice by thinking too much, not that you don't have to worry about it. Finding that balance is the secret. Yet my father has the complete opposite way of that. If you were going to ask him this question, he would have given definitely a different answer. But it's what works for each of us and we're all different."
HAVE YOU MET DANICA PATRICK? HOW DOES IT FEEL TO REPRESENT SUCH A LARGE POPULATION OF WOMEN ENTHUSIASTS?
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: "It's great. It's fun to see how far drag racing has come. I think our motorsport is very different from a lot of other motorsports including what Danica races in. I really think the whole gender thing is kind of old news. We have a lot of women in our sport. We have just a great mix of people that drive these cars, that work on these cars, so they do try to put the attention not on whether I'm a girl or a boy, obviously, I have no say in that. I was born as a female. Am I getting better at my driving? Am I messing up in my driving? My team, how are they're performing together. My crew chiefs, how are they're figuring out the tune-ups. It's nice, it does take that pressure off me as a female and being the only one in the Funny Car category this year. But it is exciting to see so many women and young girls at the races. Now it's getting to be a while ago, but I was that kid that would be out at the track watching my Dad. My sisters and I would go around to all the pits and we'd collect signed hero cards from the drivers and we'd wait in line to get the front and the driver would be like, 'I just had dinner with you and your family last night. Why are you waiting in this line? You could have gotten my autograph yesterday.' But that wasn't the point. The point was that was fun for us when we were children and now to be on the other side of the ropes and have kids coming up to me and getting autographs, it's neat because I remember being in their shoes. As far as Danica, I've met her only one time. We were actually both at an event together for each of our sponsors and we're in this little room before we went down to the big showroom. I was over with all the NHRA and she was over with her people. She actually came over and introduced herself and I was engaged at the time. So, she was asking me how the wedding plans were going and it was such the opposite conversation that I'm sure most people would think two women race car drivers would have. You know when you get girls together, even though we are race car drivers but we also have other lives as well. She had been married a few years back. It was just neat. I only talked to her for a few minutes. She's very nice. I think a lot of people want a rivalry between us and almost want me root against her and I don't really know anything about her. I don't know that much about the racing that she does. I really only pay attention to drag racing, I am guilty of that. I think for any driver, whether a female or a male, it's tough in motorsports. It's not an easy thing to win races and I know the pressure has been put on a lot of new drivers that are getting into the sport. The 'Why aren't you winning?' or 'Why aren't you winning more?' or 'Why are you messing up on your reaction times?' We're all trying our best, it's not going to be an easy journey for any of us. I've just been really fortunate that the car that I've been put into, the team that I have, they really have their stuff together. Certainly made me look probably better than I really am, but it is the learning curve and if you can stick through it and stick through the critiquing that all of people give athletes in any kind of sport, then you will become a better one."
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE LAST 30 DAYS?
ROBERT HIGHT: "Well, it's definitely been a crazy month that's for sure. The biggest deal is honestly Ashley's team helping our team, Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas getting my crew chief and my team, and my engine combination back on track. Once that happened, we haven't looked back. My car runs as well now as Ashley's has all year long. We probably tried and tested way too many things early in the year, and stuck with things we shouldn't have, but with the Countdown and knowing if you get in the top 10 you have a chance, that's probably what kept us going longer than we should have. At the same time, there is a testing restriction, you have four days a year to test, so we've just changed way too much with what we had to work with. Getting John and having him switch with me, and getting in my car in Reading, Pennsylvania, that's when my car turned around. Actually, as a driver, I went to Austin Coil's car and we started smoking the tires, and then John was going down the track every run, so then I started thinking, whoa, maybe this is me here. After Austin Coil was ill at Indy, and he couldn't make the race, John decided that well, we better switch back and that was our best chance at getting in the Countdown, we had one race left. We performed well. We were number one qualifier at Indy and ended up racing Ashley in the finals. She beat me, but we got in the Countdown and ever since then it's just been spectacular."
YOU'RE A BIG BASEBALL FAN. RIGHT NOW YOU'RE KIND OF LIKE A WILD CARD TEAM MAKING THE RUN FOR THE WORLD SERIES. IS THAT AN ACURATE ASSESMENT?
ROBERT HIGHT: "For sure. In the beginning I wasn't for the Countdown, and even in the beginning, what has been 15 years or so when they started the wild card thing in baseball, there used to just be three divisions, four divisions actually, and the best team in each division would play off and the winners would go to the World Series. I wasn't for the wild card, but now that I'm on the other side of this Countdown, I'm definitely for the wild card system, all of that. When they had the first Countdown in '07, if they hadn't changed the point system that year, we would have been the champ. We collected the most points, won the most rounds. If we could go on and win this thing, I'm just going to be very fortunate that they have a Countdown. We deserve it. Our car is running well enough now, and within the rules and the way the Countdown works now we made it. The biggest thing for us now though is we've been the chasers all year long, and now that people are chasing us, we can't change what got us here in the last three or four races. We've got to continue to go out there, and first and foremost get qualified, and then just race the race track. We need to work with the conditions they give us, the atmosphere conditions, not worry about who is in the other lane and not worry about the points, just do what got us here, and I like our chances."
YOU SAID THAT YOU DON'T WORRY ABOUT WHO IS IN THE OTHER LANE GOING INTO THE RACE. DOES THAT INCLUDE TEAMMATES?
ROBERT HIGHT: "Well no, I'll be honest with you, it's hard to race your teammates. You can go back and look at my averages on my lights and everything else, I don't do as good a job when I'm racing my teammates, especially John. He has given me this opportunity to drive one of these cars, probably no one else would've so you don't have the same, go for the throat want to beat the other guy so bad when you're against your teammates, especially John. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here, so it's harder to race them. It's honestly really hard to race Ashley right now because her crew chiefs fixed my car. It almost doesn't seem fair, but that's how John Force Racing works. We all work as one big team, we help each, and we share data. In fact before the semifinals in Charlotte, we swapped data with each other even though we were racing each other. We help each other. We want to see what each other is doing, and that's just how it works over here. The goal is to have one of these Ford Mustangs win this championship. Ashley has had the better car all year long, there's no doubt about that. Probably if they hadn't reset the points, she would be leading it under the old system right now. It is tough to race your teammates, but we still need to race the race track. To answer your question, whatever is dealt to us we've got to go out there and race the race track. Last weekend was a perfect example of that in Dallas. It was a one-lane race track. The right lane would not take rubber, so basically, you were not racing the guy in the other lane, you were racing the guy that was in front of you. We try to be at the back each round so we could see who the next guy we were going to race was, and you needed lane choice. You had to shallow stage, be real critical on how you staged the car because you needed lane choice. We were actually racing the guy in the same round that we were going to face in the next round and trying to out-do him. That's just part of the game."
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE PROGRAM SINCE YOU SWITCHED BACK? IS IT MORE CONSERVATIVE, MORE RESPONSIVE TO YOU NOW?
ROBERT HIGHT: "My crew chief, Jimmy Prock, has always been very aggressive, trying to be low ET every round. We've got a lot of number one qualifiers because of that, and we've also smoked the tires because of that. In all honesty I give John a lot of credit for what he did on all of this big switch because it wasn't about the tune-up, or John changing the tune-up per say. I'm a big baseball fan and Tommy Lasorda, when he used to manage the Dodgers, would go out and coach third base some of the innings in some of the games and I used to wonder what is he doing, he's the manager. Last year at the World Finals we got to run the Dodgers AAA car, he was out there and I asked him what he was doing. He said he was just switching things up. He said when that batter looks down there, he's not just looking at the third base coach, he's also looking at the manager, and maybe that was the same situation here with Jimmy Prock. When he would pull that car to the starting line, he knew his boss was in there driving, and maybe it's just a little different mind-set and it worked. I'm definitely glad John did it, and I wouldn't want to go back. Maybe it would have worked if John didn't do it, but I'm going to give John credit on this one."
DO YOU THINK WHAT GOT YOU IN THE COUNTDOWN WAS A SMALL INCREMENT, NOTHING REALLY HUGE?
ROBERT HIGHT: "Yea, I think that was definitely what it was. I've been saying all year that we're not that far off, and it was just a little tweaking here and a little tweaking there that got us. Our clutch application for the most part was great, we didn't change anything there. What we had problems in was inconsistencies with was our engine. It would burn up, it would drop cylinders and there was no happy medium. That's where Ashley's crew chiefs, and Austin Coil, talked Jimmy into switching to their engine combination, and they helped us out. We worked through the bugs, and it's definitely friendly now. My car now will run 309-310 miles an hour. We've been top speed here the last few races, so that's huge. When it runs a big speed like that, it means the engine is happy and all the parts are still together and working at the end of the race track. It was little things, but I'm definitely pleased jimmy listened to those guys, and couldn't thank them enough for helping us and getting us to where we are."
WHICH ENGINES ARE YOU ALL USING NOW?
ROBERT HIGHT: "It is the same engines that we've really run all year. The biggest thing is components on the engine, manifolds and camshafts and injectors, but Ashley has run the same thing the last couple of years so they have a lot of runs on that combination. My team had a lot of different parts, and at times Jimmy Prock was able to make it work, but for whatever reason it was not friendly this year with what we had and how we were trying to run it. We've now adopted her engine combination."
-credit: ford racing