HIGHT ENDS PERSONAL STREAK WANTS TO MAINTAIN TEAM STREAK IN ATLANTA

Robert Hight
Robert Hight

Photo by: NHRA

ATLANTA (May 1, 2012) --- When Robert Hight’s Auto Club Ford Mustang struck the tires in the semi-finals at the O’Reilly Spring Nationals in Houston his goal of winning five consecutive Funny Car NHRA national events went up in smoke. For many racers getting that close to a historic accomplishment and coming up short might have had them sulking in their lounge for the rest of the day.

Not Hight. Less than an hour later he was on the ropes at the end of the Auto Club trailer signing for his fans and accepting encouraging words from hundreds of supporters. He was also on the starting line supporting his teammate Mike Neff’s bid for his first victory of the 2012 season. As the win light came on for Neff, Hight took a huge amount of satisfaction in the fact that the John Force Racing winning streak was still intact at 6-0 to start the season.

“I would be lying if I told you I didn’t want to win five races in a row. Honestly, when I saw Capps driving away from me the first thing I thought of was a feeling that this was going to be Neff’s day. I wanted Neff to keep the JFR streak going and that is just as good as me winning. He’s locked into the Traxxas Showdown at Indy and so far the only three drivers guaranteed a spot are me and my teammates (Neff and Winternationals winner John Force),” said Hight, the run-away points leader in Funny Car.

Hight’s run for history may have come up short by he is still in rare air as a four in a row winner. Only five drivers in the history of NHRA have won four Funny Car races in a row and that roster is a Hall of Fame Who’s Who. Names like Prudhomme, Bernstein, Cruz Pedregon, Force and Hight. When Hight sees that list he is still amazed his name ranks with those greats.

“The guys that have won four in a row are hands down Hall of Fame drivers. I just want to keep doing my job and getting the most out of the Auto Club Ford Mustang. I want another Funny Car championship. (Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) and I talk about dominating for a whole season. We won 17 consecutive rounds which is the most for either of us. We can get another streak started in Atlanta but it won’t be easy,” said the two-time Summit Racing Southern Nationals winner.

In his previous seven appearances at Atlanta Dragway Hight has raced to four finals and he’s picked up two wins. This year he is bringing arguably his most dominant car but the competition has never been stiffer. Even though only three drivers have won Funny Car races so far in 2012 Hight knows that there are at least half a dozen Funny Cars that are capable of getting a win at any moment.

“You look at the level of competition and it is never been higher in Funny Car. We have four strong Funny Cars at JFR. The Don Schumacher Funny Cars have been in the hunt all season. Jeff Arend had a great car in Houston plus you add Cruz Pedregon, Bob Tasca III and Tim Wilkerson and on race day your battle starts in the first round,” said Hight.

Hight will start his race week on Wednesday night at the Coca-Cola Champions banquet. On Thursday night Hight’s boss and team owner John Force will be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega.

“I am looking forward to the Coca-Cola Champions banquet and I am really excited Force is going into the Hall of Fame with Kenny Bernstein and NASCAR team owner Richard Childress. I have seen how hard John works to be successful and if anyone deserves the Hall of Fame it is him,” said Hight.

With six races off the schedule Hight has already won multiple races, been No. 1 qualifier three times, secured the points lead and moved up the all-time Funny Car win list (from 9th to 7th all-time). Heading into Atlanta he knows that getting another win is within his reach based on his team’s recent performance.

“Jimmy and Eric Lane have been working great together. We have won races in just about every temperature so the weather this weekend, which is predicted to be in the high 80s- low 90s, should not affect us. My Auto Club Ford Mustang will be ready and our goal will be to get another win and keep our sponsors like Auto Club, Castrol, Ford, Mac Tools, BrandSource and Traxxas in the winners’ circle,” concluded Hight.

After Houston win, Neff looking for style points

ATLANTA, Ga. – One of the quotes attributed to Atlanta Pro Stock legend Warren Johnson is: “there are no bad wins and there are no good losses.”

While he wouldn’t disagree entirely, Mike Neff would suggest that some wins certainly are better than others. For instance, his breakthrough first victory of the season last week at Houston, Texas, definitely was not the artistic success he had anticipated.

That’s why, when he sends his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang after the Funny Car championship at this week’s 32nd annual Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, the two-time former World Championship-winning crew chief (2005 with Gary Scelzi and 2010 with John Force) hopes to do it with a little more style.

“I don’t feel good about winning like that,” Neff said after beating Ron Capps in a bizarre Houston Funny Car final. “He was out in front of me (and) was on a good run when something happened to him. I definitely backed my way into it. It wasn’t the way we like to do it, but we’ll take it.

“I like to be able to run quick in all the sessions,” explained the man who serves as both driver and crew chief on one of the world’s most powerful race cars.

“Sometimes, it’s just your day,” he conceded, “and sometimes it’s not. Anything can happen. That’s what’s exciting about NHRA drag racing. You can’t make it up in the next turn. You get one shot at it. You either get it right, you catch a break or it’s over with – and you have to do that four times in one day.”

Before Houston, the breaks, unfortunately, had all gone the other way.

Neff was dominant at the season-opening Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., but lost in the final on a hole shot to Force, his boss and teammate.

In the first five races, his was THE single most consistently quick-and-fast Funny Car in the category, one that averaged 4.176 seconds on 12 competitive trips down the 1,000 foot racecourse. No other car was even close to that average including the Auto Club Ford of teammate Robert Hight.

Nevertheless, Neff had nothing to show for his effort except a couple of runner-up finishes and second place standing in Full Throttle points.

That all changed last week at Royal Purple Raceway where the Castrol Ford was anything but consistent. In fact, it was all over the high speed landscape. The seven-time tour winner only made the field on his final qualifying attempt, started the race without benefit of lane choice and, in the first round, narrowly avoided a foul start against Jim Head.

His winning times were 4.495, 4.199, 4.176 and, finally, 4.239 seconds. In addition to troubles on the track, there also were issues in the pits with malfunctioning parts and pieces that had to be changed on the fly.

All-in-all, it was a wholly atypical performance for the meticulous former off-road truck mechanic and motocross racer.

He expects his 8,000 horsepower Ford to be far more consistent this week in a Southern Nationals event in which he was runner-up to Jack Beckman a year ago and in which he and his John Force Racing teammates will be trying to extend their season-opening winning streak to seven straight

Force is still with us – and going strong at 63

ATLANTA, Ga. – John Force moves one step closer to Social Security this week, but the former truck driver, wannabe football quarterback and NHRA drag racing champion isn’t likely to apply for benefits any time soon.

In fact, in an era in which mandatory retirement no longer is a factor, Force plans to keep working for as long as he can do his job.

The 15-time Funny Car champion, who turns 63 on Friday, the first day of qualifying for the 32nd annual Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, is contracted to drive the Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford, one of the world’s most powerful race cars, at least through 2014.

However, based on his continued competitiveness (he’s already won a race this season), there really is no reason to believe the sport’s biggest winner will climb out of the cockpit, even then, to devote his time exclusively to team ownership.

“I still love the roar of the crowd,” Force said, “and I still love the competition. This isn’t like NASCAR. It’s not like I’ve gotta drive around for four hours. As long as I can still get my energy up for all these kids, including by daughter Courtney, I can do this. I think I’ve still got a lot of racing in me.”

Force already has done a lot of racing at Atlanta. The high school quarterback who lost all 27 of the games in which he played at Bell Gardens High School (in southern California), has lost only 21 of the 83 two-car heats in which he has been involved in the Southern Nationals.

The 15-time Auto Racing All-America selection raced in the Atlanta Funny Car final EVERY year from 1992 through 2000. His seven victories are the most in either of the top three NHRA pro categories and he is the track record holder at the 1,000 foot distance at 4.072 seconds, a mark that earned him a No. 1 start just one year ago.

Nevertheless, the racing icon has become almost as well known for his Atlanta losses as for his wins.

In 1996, the year he expanded his race team to include two Castrol Funny Cars, the same year he won 13 of 19 races and was named Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing, Force was upset in the final round of the Southern Nationals by teammate Tony Pedregon

Eleven years later, he was beaten in the first round by his own daughter, Ashley Force Hood, who thus became became the first woman ever to beat him in a head-to-head race in the NHRA series.

One year later, she would beat him again, this time in the final round, to become the first woman to win an NHRA Funny Car event.

This week, one in which he hopes to close the gap on front-running teammate Robert “Top Gun” Hight in the Full Throttle point standings, Force must confront the possibility that another daughter, 23-year-old Courtney Force, will be trying to duplicate her older sister’s Atlanta performance.

While he enjoys racing with his kids (middle daughter Brittany is testing a Top Fuel dragster for a possible 2013 debut), Force admits that he still wants to win himself.

“You love your kids and you want them to do well,” he said. “I want (Courtney) to do well for her sponsor, Traxxas, but when she beat me (in the first round) at Phoenix, I have to admit, that stung a little.”

That may lead to one more lesson in Courtney’s Drag Racing 101 class: paybacks are heck.

C. FORCE GOES INTO NOTEWORTHY EVENT IN ROOKIE BATTLE LEAD

COMMERCE, Ga. (April 30, 2012) – Coming out of the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals in Houston, Texas this past week, Courtney Force accomplished one major goal by beating fellow “Rookie of the Year” candidate for Auto Club’s Road to the Future award, Alexis DeJoria. Now, she moves on to the seventh event in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing circuit, the 32nd annual Summit Southern Nationals, May 4-6 at Atlanta Dragway.

Overall, Force had a great experience at Houston’s Royal Purple Raceway, taking out the only other female competitor in the Funny Car category and snagging her very first qualifying bonus points of the season when she bolted to the no. 2 spot with a 4.15 ET in the first round of qualifying on Friday.

Force had lane choice of DeJoria in first round of eliminations and posted a 4.126 ET at 309.98 mph to DeJoria’s 4.202 ET at 294.31 mph making the margin of victory 0.0645 seconds (approximately 28 feet).

“Going up first round we knew we had a tough competitor in Alexis. We pulled it together. We ended up running a 4.12 against her and getting that win light,” said Force.

This was the quickest and fastest pass of the weekend for the Cal State-Fullerton graduate and sent Force to face-off with Ron Capps in round two of eliminations. Unfortunately, that’s where Force would fall to the numbers of Capps.

“It was a close race. It was definitely tough going up against Ron Capps. We ran a 4.17 to a 4.16. I saw him right out my window. I was really holding on and hoping for that win light,” added the 23-year-old Auto Club Road to the Future “Rookie of the Year” contender.

This weekend’s Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway has significance to the Force family, especially the daughters, as Ashley Force became the first female to win an NHRA Funny Car race there in 2008.

After qualifying 11th, she beat Del Worsham, Jim Head, Ron Capps and, finally, her dad, John Force, to win the Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.

The year before, in a first round race, she became the first woman ever to beat her famous father, something Courtney Force accomplished at only her second professional race earlier this year at the NHRA Arizona Nationals. She posted a 4.146 ET at 307.30 to take the win. At that race she also advance to the semi-finals before falling to eventual winner Robert Hight.

“I’m so excited going into the Atlanta race and feel like I’m learning so much as a new driver. The racetrack in Atlanta is fairly new to me, but I feel confident having a great car, amazing team and supportive sponsors in Traxxas, Castrol, Ford, Auto Club, Mac Tools, BrandSource and Freightliner. Ashley (Force Hood) won the 2008 Summit Southern Nationals and became the first woman to win a Funny Car event, so I’m really excited to get there and try it out,” Force said.