Old Bridge Township Raceway Park
Hight No. 2; Force, Neff Best Of Saturday At Englishtown
On Saturday the pressure was ratcheted up at the 42nd annual NHRA SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. Going into the final day of qualifying the two Castrol sponsored Ford Mustangs were not qualified for the race in their sponsor’s backyard. After the first session Mike Neff, driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, and John Force driver of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang were qualified but their positions were tenuous. Midway through the final qualifying session 15-time champion John Force found himself momentarily on the outside of the qualified field looking in. Fortunately for the winningest driver in NHRA history his crew chief tandem put together a great combination and Force raced down the track in his last qualifying attempt in 4.107 seconds, good enough for the No. 5 position. The run was the quickest of the session, good enough for three qualifying bonus points and enough of a rush to have the four-time SuperNationals winner giddy at the top end.
“I came here with the Napp family (track owners) a hundred years ago. Nobody knew who I was. Some of them still don’t. They do today because we qualified. I am telling all my girls to just pray, pray for me,” said Force as soon as he excited his Mustang. “They told me I was the 15-time champ and I can anything. I told them that wasn’t how it worked. (Co-crew chiefs) Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas, that team was fighting to put that Mustang in. I just signed a contract with Castrol probably till the end of my career. This is no day to not qualify. Englishtown I love you. I want to say thank you to all the fans. I feel like I just won the race and all I did was qualify.”
A few pairs after Force Mike Neff powered his Castrol GTX Mustang to the No. 7 spot with a 4.111 second run and lane choice over DHL–backed Jeff Arend in the first round. Neff struggled yesterday but made two good runs on Saturday. The fact that his last run was the third quickest of the session had the four-time 2011 finalist confidence going into race day.
“It didn’t go down the track yesterday and we were playing catch up. The track was tricky and we were under the gun. On the first run we ran 4.15 and we backed it off too much. We got after it a little bit more in the second run tonight and it still didn’t run quite what we were looking for,” said Neff, the 2011 Gatornationals winner. “All in all it was the third quickest run of the session. It was right in there. The encouraging thing is I would rather go down the track twice on Saturday than on Friday. I got a couple solid runs today that we can work with. We are in a lot better shape today than we were yesterday. I feel good about going into tomorrow.”
Robert Hight was tops of the field on Friday and on Saturday he and crew chief Jimmy Prock took advantage of their lofty position to try a few things on his Auto Club Ford Mustang.
“We tested a little today. We found some ways to make our motor run better. We are not going to run some of the stuff tomorrow. We do believe it is better. It showed that today and we will probably start out Bristol with them. We are not quite comfortable to run them on race day. We’ll go back to normal. Lane choice will be a big deal tomorrow,” said Hight, the Topeka winner.
Hight knows he will have a tough first round match-up against Don Schumacher backed Johnny Gray and the Service Central Dodge Charger.
“I am excited about tomorrow. There are no easy ones. We have Johnny Gray from that Schumacher team and they are tough. We know what we are doing too. We didn’t make it down the track today but we learned some stuff. If we could go back and make that run again with what we learned we could run 4.02 or 4.03 with a few little changes. We picked the early part of the run up tremendously.”
“We learned a lot and where that is going to pay off is later on in the year during night sessions or in the Countdown when we have good conditions. That will be in the back of our minds and we will keep inching up on that. Tomorrow we don’t need to race like that. We need to come back and race smart. We have a tough first round and a tough second round if we get that far against Mike Neff or Jeff Arend. We could leave here with the points lead tomorrow and that is what we are shooting for.”
They were put into a bad deal.
At the end of the day Force was able to look at how his three Mustangs performed and feel some satisfaction that all three were in the top half of the field with lane choice on Saturday in the first round. He was also happy to see if things went their way he could be looking at another all John Force Racing final round. He is not putting any added pressure on his young drivers.
“I tell my drivers when you get bumped you turn the switch off and you can’t worry about that. Worrying will only make you do your job wrong. I had a lot of pressure because Castrol signed me to an extension this week. I got in the show and then I was excited. The fans here at Englishtown are great and have been so great to me and my teams,” said Force.
At the top end Force was thrilled with the performance but later in the evening the 132-time winner knew the importance of getting the show and the long term effects of racing on Sunday. He also knew that the performance struggles of the past two days were not limited to his team.
“Your adrenaline is up because that is why we come; to make the show. If you are not in the show, you’re not in and the sponsors don’t know you were here. I was excited mainly because Dean and Ron brought this Mustang back. They were put into a bad deal. Look at all the hitters that usually run low and couldn’t get in until the end. Once you are not in that first session then you have to pull it back. We pulled it back and then it was dropping cylinders. They just put it back where they knew it should be and it went.”
Force will square off with a tough first round opponent in Matt Hagan. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m.