HIGHT LOOKING FOR TRIPLE PLAY IN TOPEKA
TOPEKA, KS (May 14, 2012) --- Last year in Topeka Robert Hight was attempting to set a couple of personal records and one giant team record when his Auto Club Ford Mustang rolled up to the starting line beside teammate Mike Neff in the NHRA Dollar General Summer Nationals final round. On the line for Hight was the possibility of defending his 2010 Summer Nationals win and he was also gunning for his first three-race win streak. The big prize for Hight or Neff was winning the 200th NHRA Funny Car race for John Force Racing. Hight got the win 4.284 to Neff’s 4.562 and kept his winning streak alive.
“Getting that win in Topeka last year was pretty amazing. We came in early for the press conference and Don Garlits was there. We got to talk for a few minutes and that really got me fired up for the weekend. I love talking with legends like Garlits, Prudhomme, and Bernstein. I wanted to repeat at Topeka and also keep that winning streak going. I had never won three races in a row so that was really a big deal for me,” said Hight.
“We also knew that there was the chance to win the 200th Funny Car race for John Force Racing. I really wanted to that honor. I had seen John win so many big races that to be the driver to get the 200th I thought that would be pretty cool. It worked out great because it was me and Neff in the final so there was no pressure. You knew one of us was going to get the win and we just let it all hang out in the final.”
After that win Hight raced to his fourth consecutive final before falling to Matt Hagan in the final round at Chicago. Hight won an impressive fifteen consecutive rounds during his winning streak. Hight used some of that experience this season when he got on a roll winning four races in a row including the tough Four-Wide Nationals. Ironically, Hight won four races in a row, but only equaled his personal-best round win record at 15 due to the three round Four-Wide race. Hight set his latest round win record at 17 consecutive rounds when he continued winning and raced to the semi-finals at Houston.
“Last year we got three wins in a row and this year we have won four in a row. I want to get three in a row at Topeka. There are just a handful of Funny Car drivers that have won the same event three years in a row and I would love to join that club,” said Hight.
If Hight wins this weekend he will become the third Funny Car driver to win the Dollar General Summer Nationals three consecutive years. The first to get the three-peat was Funny Car world champion turned Top Fuel crew chief Marc Oswald who won from 1989-91. A decade later Tony Pedregon took three Wally’s in a row at Topeka from 2001-03. Only five drivers – Don Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein, Oswald, Pedregon and John Force - have won three consecutive Funny Car titles or more at the same event in NHRA history. The longest event winning streak is held by John Force who won the historic Gatornationals five consecutive years from 1992-96.
Hight has a commanding lead - 203 points over No. 2 drivers Mike Neff and Ron Capps - in the points racking up 702 points in just seven races. If his stumble – a first round loss to No. 16 qualifier Todd Lesenko - at the season opening Winternationals is subtracted he is averaging 110 points per race. This is 85% of all available points. As it stands, even with the Winternationals included Hight has garnered an astonishing 77% of all available points for Funny Cars over the first seven races.
“Having this points lead is a luxury. (Crew chief) Jimmy Prock and my guys have been giving me a great race car. We got to the final in Atlanta and gave Capps a run for his money. I think if we would not have dropped a cylinder versus Head in the semis we might have had lane choice and then who knows what the outcome could have been. Capps’ Funny Car has been running great lately and so has this Auto Club Ford Mustang,” said Hight.
Prior to the Dollar General Summer Nationals, Hight will be one of many NHRA drivers attending the Speedfest in downtown Topeka. The free event will give fans the chance to meet a number of drivers as well as participate in contests, racing simulators, music, food, prizes and race car displays. The free event is scheduled from 11:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m. on 8th Street and Kansas Avenue.
“I am really looking forward to the Speedfest in Topeka. I know Brittany Force’s BrandSource Top Fuel dragster will be on display. The fans in Kansas and the Midwest are great,” said Hight.
AFTER ATLANTA STUMBLE, NEFF BACK ON TRACK
TOPEKA, Kan. – Mike Neff’s qualifying failure at the most recent event in the NHRA Full Throttle drag racing series prompted the versatile 45-year-old to pay a grudging compliment to the Countdown to 1 playoff system that burned him so badly a year ago.
“Days like that are one thing that is positive about the Countdown,” he said of his stumble at the Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta, Ga. “Fortunately, that’s not going to hurt us too bad.”
In fact, Neff didn’t even lose a position in the driver standings. He will begin his bid for a Funny Car victory in this week’s 24th annual Dollar General Summer Nationals at Heartland Park-Topeka trailing only teammate Robert “Top Gun” Hight in points.
That is not to say that the man who is both driver AND crew chief on the Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang is mellowing his stance on a system that last year transformed his virtually insurmountable 215-point regular season lead into a margin easily overcome by not one, not two, but four different drivers including eventual champion Matt Hagan.
“These early races are worth nothing at the end of the season,” Neff said of the 17 events leading up to the Countdown. “They’re going to reshuffle our points after Indy anyway. Sure, you want to qualify at every race – and you want to win, but you’re going to have good days and bad days. We’re trying some different stuff right now and some of it’s working and some of it isn’t.”
In fact, a mechanical issue was Neff’s undoing at Atlanta.
“On the very first run, it was running down there and ‘pop,’ there goes the blower,” said the World Championship-winning crew chief to Gary Scelzi (2005) and John Force (2010). “We’re thinking ignition, so we replaced all that.
“Then, (on the last run) we were running good enough to qualify and the cap for the spool where the barrel valve slides in (came off),” he explained. “Basically, it unplugged the barrel valve while the fuel was in it. That made it run lean and it popped the blower.
“It wasn’t going to be anything earthshattering,” he admitted, “(but) it was going to qualify. That’s just drag racing. I guess we used up all our luck to get the win in Houston. We’ll be fine.”
Except for Atlanta, where he DNQed for just the third time in his driving career, Neff has been one of the top two or three contenders at every race this season. Runner-up at Pomona, Calif., and Phoenix, Ariz., he finally won at Houston despite the erratic performance of his usually flawless Ford.
Trying to become the first Funny Car racer in 38 years to win the series championship while serving in the dual role of driver/crew chief, the former motocross racer and off-road truck mechanic knows that whatever success he enjoys right now is inconsequential in his pursuit of the ultimate goal.
“It’s all about timing,” he said. “These early races are about finding the limits and getting ready for the Countdown. It’s all about who has the best car in those last six races. You could win all the other races and it still wouldn’t matter. It comes down to a six-race season.”
That said, the seven-time tour winner still is committed to winning as many of the remaining “preliminary” races as possible, a quest that begins Friday in an event in which he was runner-up to teammate Hight just a year ago.
FORCE IS STILL WITH US - GOING STRONG AT 63
TOPEKA, Kan. – The word itself is a bit oxymoron-ish, but there’s little doubt that John Force is one of the nation’s most prolific sexagenarians.
A world champion at 61 and an NHRA national event winner at 62, the now 63-year-old driver of the Castrol GTX® HIGH MILEAGE™ Ford Mustang tries to add to his already bulging resume this week when he returns to Heartland Park-Topeka, site of one of the most memorable and emotional of his 134 career victories.
It was four years ago that Force beat Tim Wilkerson in the final round of the Dollar General Summer Nationals, a Full Throttle tour event contested this week for the 24th time at Heartland Park. It was his only win of the 2008 season, significant not because it was particularly lucrative (the standard NHRA purse applied), nor because it was a milestone like, say, his 100th career win six years earlier in Houston, Texas.
It simply was his first victory since almost losing his life in a 2007 crash at the Texas Motorplex in Dallas. It was a win that doctors, quite frankly, told him would never come after they put him back together in six hours of surgery following a 315 mile-an-hour collision that left him with broken bones in every appendage.
As a result of that single win, the Summer Nationals forever will be special to the former truck driver even though he had enjoyed considerable previous success at Heartland Park and at the old Kansas City International Raceway.
In fact, other than his home track at Pomona, Calif., and the track Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota, nowhere has Force won more tour events than he has at Heartland-Park. Nine times he has put a Castrol GTX Funny Car in the winners’ circle. Two times he has set the NHRA national record.
This time, he’s hoping to work his Kansas magic to put his 2012 Full Throttle title bid back on track.
Since winning the season-opening Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., Force admittedly has struggled to keep pace with his John Force Racing teammates, particularly son-in-law Robert Hight, who has won four of seven races this season and is the two-time defending Summer Nationals champ.
Currently eighth in points, Force’s sense of urgency is somewhat diminished because of the 2007 implementation of the current playoff system. Under the rules in place when he won his first 14 titles, being 348 points down to the leader after seven races would be cause for panic. Now, though, Force knows that all he has to do is maintain a Top 10 berth and anything can happen in the six-race Countdown.
“We’ve been struggling,” he said. “This (entire set-up) is new not just to ‘Guido’ (crew chief Dean Antonelli), but also to Danny DeGennaro (the assistant crew chief who came over this year from Cruz Pedregon’s team). Jimmy Prock (Hight’s crew chief) and Mike Neff are trying to teach them. They’ll get it. We’ll be fine.”
Force’s biggest concern is that people will think that his recent induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega, Ala., is an indication that his racing career is at an end. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“I always thought they put you in the Hall of Fame when you were done racing or dead,” said the 1996 Driver of the Year for all American moto racing. “Well, I’m not done racing 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.”
Even then, there obviously is no guarantee that he’ll listen.
A TOP ROOKIE GOING INTO TOPEKA
TOPEKA, Kan. (May 15, 2012) – Coming out of a successful weekend for John Force Racing as a whole, Courtney Force looks to boost her top ten position in the points and go some rounds at Heartland Park Topeka for the 24th annual Dollar General NHRA Summernationals, May 18-20.
“I'm so excited going into the Topeka race this week and I'm confident in my Traxxas Ford Mustang and my team that we can perform well. My car has been pretty consistent this entire season and coming off of a good weekend in Atlanta, I think we will have a competitive race car going into this weekend,” said Force.
Force qualified in the no. 9 spot in Atlanta for the 32nd annual NHRA Summit Racing Southern Nationals. She upset veteran Jack Beckman in the first round match-up and then gave teammate Robert Hight a run for his money in second round. Force was quickest off the line by .020 of a second over the 2009 champion. Although she lost, Courtney was pleased with her effort against her brother-in-law, who won by just .013 of a second.
Force, the youngest daughter of 15-time Funny Car champion John Force, is currently in 10th place in the Full Throttle Funny Car standings. She is the highest positioned in front of Alexis DeJoria (15th in Funny Car) and Khalid AlBalooshi (13th in Top Fuel), her two main competitors for Auto Club’s Road to the Future award for “Rookie of the Year,” a prestigious award that recognizes the most accomplished rookie driver of the season.
“It's definitely an amazing feeling to be in the top ten in points so far this season and I'm really hoping we can stay in it. There are so many tough competitors in the Funny Car category, so we are just going to have to be consistent and earn those points. I'm so proud of my team and obviously couldn't be in the top ten without their dedication and hard work,” said Force.
Force has the most round wins, five, compared to DeJoria, one, and alBalooshi, zero. She also defeated DeJoria in their only head to head race this season, the first round of the O’Reilly Spring Nationals in Houston two weeks ago.
This weekend, Force will be partaking in several media opportunities to advance the race at Heartland Park Topeka. A main focus for her, aside from racing, will be to give fans inside information as to what she is experiencing during the weekend. Force will be writing a daily column for the Topeka Capital Journal that can be found in the newspaper Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
“I'm looking forward to sharing my experience at the Topeka race with a behind the scenes article for the Topeka Capital Journal. I'm excited to share with fans a look into my life and our team throughout the entire race weekend, while sharing about our progress throughout the race with a personal twist. On top of that, who knows what will happen with dad around,” Force said.