HIGHT WANTS HISTORY AND REPEAT WIN IN BRISTOL
BRISTOL, TN (June 12, 2012) --- There are only a handful of current drivers who can say they won 250 rounds of Funny Car racing. They are multiple-time world champions, veterans and Hall of Fame contenders. With two round wins at the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals Robert Hight can join a group of current drivers with a minimum of 250 round wins that includes John Force (1,103), Tony Pedregon (502), Cruz Pedregon (451), Ron Capps (444) and Tim Wilkerson (261). Hight could achieve this feat in only 171 races (including Bristol) which is a pace of nearly 1.5 round wins per race. The only driver who has a better round win to race ratio is Force (1.85).
“Getting round wins is what this sport is all about. I remember when John got his 1,000th round win in St. Louis a few years ago. I don’t know if I’ll get that many but you look at the list of guys that have won 250 rounds and it is an impressive group. These are drivers you want to pattern your career after,” said Hight, the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car champion.
Before Hight can consider going round he has to get his Elvis 35th Anniversary/AAA Insurance Ford Mustang qualified for the 12th installment of the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-City Ford Dealers. This will be the first time Hight will be racing an Elvis themed Funny Car and the impact of representing Elvis Presley Enterprises is not lost on the crewman turned driver.
“Elvis has fans all over the world and to be associated with a person of that stature is amazing. Music has always been an important part of my life and when you think of rock ‘n’ roll, the first name that pops into your head is Elvis. I won at Bristol last year and it would be amazing to get my Auto Club/Elvis 35th Ford Mustang back into the winner’s circle this year,” said Hight.
Lionel NASCAR Collectables will offer 1:24 and 1:64 scale die-cast cars of both John Force’s Castrol GTX High Mileage/Elvis 35th Ford Mustang Funny Car and Robert Hight’s AAA Insurance/Elvis 35th Ford Mustang Funny Car. Each die-cast is currently available for pre-order at www.johnforceracestation.com and www.nhradiecast.com – home of the officially licensed die-cast of the NHRA.
As the defending event champion Hight is looking forward to getting his AAA Insurance Funny Car back on the fast racing surface of Thunder Valley Raceway. Last year Hight qualified No. 6 but on race day he took out Ron Capps, Mike Neff, Jeff Arend and Jack Beckman to get the win. All four of those drivers were tough last year but this year they are even tougher when you consider Capps is on a five final round appearance streak, Neff, Arend and Beckman are all solidly in the Top Ten.
“It may sound like a broken record but this year’s Funny Car class has to be one of the toughest ever. There have been six different winners already this season. There are a handful of drivers that are right on the cusp of getting their first wins. Everyone wants to lock up the last open spot in the Traxxas Shootout that will guarantee a chance to race for $100,000. The eighth spot is open for a lottery so you don’t want to leave anything to chance,” said Hight.
“Bristol is such a special track. It was a place I really wanted to win so last year was really special. We set the national speed record which was my first national record. I came in early this year and talked to the media so I want to perform,” said Hight.
Last year Hight left Bristol with the national speed record of 316.45 mph. Hight ran that speed in the semi-finals and then backed it up with a 314.90 mph run in the finals. That speed record was Hight’s first national speed record and with two round wins on Sunday Hight can set another personal record that will further improve Hight’s racing resume.
NEFF KNOWS THERE ARE NO SURE THINGS IN RACING
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Whenever Mike Neff comes back to Bristol Dragway, as he does for this week’s 12th annual Ford Thunder Valley Nationals presented by the Tri-Cities Ford Dealers Association, he is reminded why, in a sport like drag racing, one never can take anything for granted.
The former off-road truck mechanic learned that lesson in 2008 when his dream of winning for the first time as a professional Funny Car driver quickly turned into a Thunder Valley nightmare.
After qualifying No. 1 at a best-of-the-race 4.783 seconds, the California native coaxed his John Force Racing Ford down what then was a quarter mile course in 4.877, 4.873 and 4.871 seconds. The latter earned him final round lane choice against Melanie Troxel, whose Dodge had advanced with a traction-challenged 5.639.
That’s when everything went terribly wrong for the 45-year-old veteran and crew chief John Medlen.
After the obligatory burnout, when Medlen tried to access the engine, the latch securing the carbon fiber body to the chassis jammed. Despite the efforts of everyone around, it simply wouldn’t release which made it impossible for Medlen to make final adjustments. That made the result painfully predictable.
Focused on his job and unaware of the problem, Neff left the starting line first. That was the only thing that went right before the engine expired at approximately 400 feet. To compound the frustration, Troxel motored to victory in just 5.066 seconds.
Neff, who didn’t get his first win until 18 months later at 2009 Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif., will use the memory of that disappointment as motivation this week when he returns with an 8,000 horsepower Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang on which he serves as both driver and crew chief.
Now a seven-time tour winner as a driver, Neff first rose to prominence in the sport as a crew chief. In that capacity, he directed Gary Scelzi to the 2005 NHRA Funny Car championship, an historic accomplishment insomuch as it ended John Force Racing’s 12-year monopoly.
Among those most impressed was Force himself who, two years later, following the tragic death of teammate and protégée Eric Medlen in a testing accident, paired Neff with Eric’s dad on his team’s No. 2 Funny Car. Neff responded by earning Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 2008.
When funding for his car became an issue at the end of the 2009 campaign, Neff took on the challenge of returning Force to prominence. As crew chief on Force’s 25th anniversary Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford, he directed the Hall of Famer to a remarkable 15th series championship in come-from-behind fashion.
Now he’s trying to take a third different driver to the title – himself.
A winner this year at Houston, Neff currently is in third place in Full Throttle points. A year ago, he was a runaway leader. Nevertheless, a stumble in last year’s Countdown to 1 playoffs left him fifth in the final standings – and frustrated.
“Sure, you want to qualify and you want to win,” he said, “but these early races are worth nothing at the end of the season. The reality is that your whole season comes down to how good you are in those last six races. Nothing else is important.
“So, in the back of your mind, you know that no matter what happens here this week or when we go to Chicago or Norwalk (two races in which he is the defending champion), they’re going to reshuffle the points after Indy anyway,” lamented the one-time motocross racer.
“No matter how big of a lead you have, it’s only gonna be 30 points (going into the playoffs), so we’re just trying to get ready,” he said. “We’re trying some different stuff. Some of it’s working and some of it isn’t.”
FORCE HOPES IT IS OTHERS WHO ‘SEE ELVIS AT 1,000 FEET’
BRISTOL, Tenn. – On fire, spinning backwards on the quarter mile track at Memphis Motorsports Park, his Castrol GTX Funny Car just seconds away from bone-crunching impact with the guardrail, a distressed John Force claimed he had a vision and “saw Elvis at 1,000 feet.”
It’s one of the Hall of Fame driver’s most famous quotes, the title in fact of book of Force-isms published more than 10 years ago.
Fast forward two decades to the opposite corner of the state where drag racing’s biggest winner is offering up a literal vision of Elvis for everyone else in the sport. His newest Castrol GTX® HIGH MILEAGE™ Ford Mustang has been adorned with likenesses of the “King of Rock ‘n Roll” for this week’s 12th annual Ford Thunder Valley Nationals presented by the Tri-Cities Ford Dealers Association at Bristol Dragway.
As a result, if anyone sees Elvis at 1,000 feet this time around, it’s going to be those against whom the 63-year-old icon is competing this season for an unprecedented 16th NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship.
The Fords of both Force and points-leading teammate Robert Hight are all-Elvis this weekend in recognition of the 35th anniversary of Presley’s passing at his Graceland home in Memphis. For Force, it’s the third time around with Elvis and he’s hopeful that it indeed is a charm.
He first raced an Elvis car on May 3, 1998 at the Castrol Nationals at Dallas, Texas, qualifying second and reaching the final round before losing to Ron Capps. That car now is displayed permanently at the Elvis Presley auto museum.
On April 7, 2002, he started an Elvis-themed Ford from the No. 1 qualifying position at the SummitRacing.com Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway but ran afoul of Del Worsham in round two.
“We never got Elvis to the winners’ circle,” Force said. “Now we’ve got another chance and I feel good about how our car has been running. We’re getting better. We’re consistent. Our ol’ hot rod goes down the track, now, but, at the end of the day, we’ve got to be quicker.”
Indeed, Force has had one of the most consistent cars in the Funny Car class over the last few events. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been consistent at the 4.0 second levels that would take it back to its customary position at the top of the category.
Of course, the reality is that despite his perceived struggles, Force has won this season, one of only six Funny Car drivers to have done so. The problem is that since his season-opening win at Pomona, Calif., he hasn’t been running with the lead group. In fact, since Pomona, his Ford has been the least productive of the four Mustangs in the JFR stable.
However, the man who has won at least one race in 26 different seasons believes that the tide finally is turning for him and his perplexed crew chiefs, Dean “Guido” Antonelli and Danny DeGennaro.
“You’ve heard it before,” Force said. “We’ve been struggling. This (combination) is new to ‘Guido’ and Danny from Indy (Force’s way of distinguishing his crew member from son-in-law Dan Hood, who occupies the same assistant crew chief position on daughter Courtney’s Traxxas Mustang), but they’ll get it and we’ll be fine.
“I’m not done racing,” said the May inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala., “and I promise you, I ain’t dead. I still love it and I’m going to keep on racing until someone tells me I can’t do it anymore.”
Right now, no one is saying a word.