HIGHT FOCUSING ON ROUND WINS HEADING TO HOUSTON
HOUSTON (April 23, 2012) --- Robert Hight is not looking at streak records or career stats as he gets geared up for the 25th annual NHRA O’Reilly Auto Parts Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway Park this weekend. The winner of the past four NHRA Funny Car national event titles says his number one goal for this weekend is to get his AAA Texas Ford Mustang Funny Car qualified on Friday and then make consistent runs on Saturday to get ready for Sunday’s eliminations.
“I am proud of my guys and especially my crew chief Jimmy Prock for giving me a Funny Car that has been in position to win the past four races. It has been a team effort. The car has won some races and I have done a pretty good job driving it. We are all focused on just getting qualified and going rounds,” said Hight, a three-time No. 1 qualified in 2012.
While Hight attempts to downplay the significance of his current win streak he recognizes that he has placed his name on a list with some legendary drivers. Only three other drivers have ever won five races in a row and they are hands-down first ballot Hall of Famers when you consider their names are Don Prudhomme, teammate and boss John Force and two-time Funny Car champion Cruz Pedregon. Only five drivers have won four races in a row when you add Hight and 2012 International Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee Kenny Bernstein to that trio of drivers.
“You look at the final quad of racers at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals. It was Force, Pedregon, Ron Capps and me. Those three other guys are guaranteed Hall of Famers. That was a big win for us. It is hard enough to win one race out here but to win four in a row is more than I could have dreamed,” said Hight.
Hight’s career has been meteoric from the start when you consider he won for the first time at Royal Purple Raceway Park in only his fifth start as a professional. His Auto Club Ford Mustang Funny Car was so dominant in qualifying his rookie season that he earned his way into the Skoal Showdown even though he did not compete in half of the eligible races. He has won multiple races every year of his career and he has led the points at least one event every year as well. Those two stats are qualifications that no other driver has ever achieved.
“I have been lucky to get a great opportunity from John Force to be with a tremendous team led by Jimmy Prock. The biggest key to my success has been the fact that we have kept my crew guys together. Our core group of 7-8 guys has been together since my rookie year. I want to continue to keep getting better as a driver because I know my guys are pouring their guts into this race car,” said Hight, a former clutch specialist on John Force’s Castrol GTX Mustangs in the 90s.
With four wins under his belt so far in 2012, Hight has ironically only tied his all-time consecutive round win record. In 2010 he won three races in a row and advanced to a fourth consecutive final versus Matt Hagan before losing in Chicago, giving the 2009 Funny Car champ a career-best 15 straight round wins. He has matched that streak this year, but he has four Wally’s to show for the effort considering he got his fourth win in only three rounds due to the unique Four-Wide format in Charlotte.
“You definitely want to win as many races as you can. I have had a number of interviews lately when people have asked me would I rather win now or in the Countdown at the end of the season. I want to win now and at the end of the season,” said Hight, a 27-time Funny Car national event winner. “I don’t think you can pick when you win. You just have to take advantage of every opportunity. Jimmy and I have talked about wanting to dominate a whole season. I am hoping we are on one of those streaks like Force in ‘96 or Tony Schumacher in ’08. Those guys won over ten races in those seasons and they won Driver of the Year. I am not looking that far ahead, but I want to keep going rounds and see where we wind up at the end of the season.”
Neff back to make amends at houston
HOUSTON, Texas – Endurance typically is not a term applied to drag races that take as few as four seconds to complete.
However, it was lack of endurance, pure and simple, that cost Mike Neff and the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang a victory last year at Royal Purple Raceway.
After a long day serving as driver AND crew chief on one of the world’s most powerful race cars, working in the heat and humidity without proper nutrition, Neff made a rookie mistake and, as a result, fouled away his chances in an event in which he had been dominant in the first three rounds.
With a year of double-duty experience behind him, the 45-year-old with the Hollywood good looks returns this week prepared to make amends in the 25th renewal of the O’Reilly Spring Nationals.
“It was so humid out there,” remembered the man who this season is trying to become the first in 38 years to win an NHRA Funny Car title as both driver and crew chief. “I just didn’t take care of my physical self. I got to the final and my brain was just not all there. I just wore down and made a mistake. That’s the long and short of it.
“I asked myself, ‘why did I do that?’” he recalled, “(and) I realized I hadn’t eaten anything and then I got dehydrated and chugged some water. Then I popped some aspirin.”
It was formula for disaster but one that became a learning experience for the man who won NHRA World Championships as crew chief to Gary Scelzi (2005) and current boss and teammate John Force (2010).
The former surfer, motocross racer and off-road truck mechanic returns to Royal Purple confident that this time he can manage both of jobs without any adverse effects.
He also returns at the wheel of the most consistent race car in the category, a Mustang that has made just one non-representative trip down the 1,000 foot course in 12 competitive tries this year. His average for those 12 runs, even with a 4.959 two weeks ago at the 4Wide Nationals at Charlotte, N.C., is 4.176 seconds.
No one else is close, not even teammate and points leader Robert Hight who, although he has won the last four races in the Full Throttle Series, has averaged “only” 4.369 seconds on 16 race day runs.
My guys have given me a great car every race,” Neff said. “Our second round (at the 4Wide), it just seemed like when the car left, it kind of pulled me over towards the centerline. I got out of the groove and it spun the tires. It was a little disappointing to go down that way because we actually did feel pretty good (going in).”
In fact, Neff is a tour victory just looking for a place to happen. He’s had one of the top two or three cars at every race this season and twice has reached the final round. As a result, he is second only to Hight in Full Throttle points.
While he learned last year that “win” isn’t as important in the NHRA playoff era as “when,” Neff would like to get at least one victory on his 2012 resume before the start of the Countdown. If he could do so this weekend, it would earn him a berth in the inaugural Traxxas Nitro Shootout to be contested Sept. 2 in conjunction with the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.
At present, the only two qualifiers to race for the $100,000 top prize in that bonus race are Hight and Force. Neff would love to keep it “all-John Force Racing, all-Castrol, all-Ford, all the time.”
Force aims for old consistency at houston
HOUSTON, Texas – On the 10th anniversary of his historic 100th NHRA tour victory, John Force is on a mission to reclaim the suddenly-elusive consistency that once made him virtually unbeatable.
The 62-year-old drag racing icon, who in one incredible stretch went to the Funny Car final in 119 of 210 races and won every championship from 1993 through 2002, currently is locked in a bizarre sort of competitive routine in which he seems either to go to the final or to go nowhere.
In the last 16 events in the Full Throttle Series, Force has driven his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang to a pair of victories including one in this year’s season-opening Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif. Moreover, two weeks ago, he was one of the final four at the NHRA 4Wide Nationals at Charlotte.
By contrast, during that same stretch he has been ousted in the first round an unheard of 11 times. To put that statistic in perspective, consider that from 1990 through 2002 (a span of 265 races), he lost in the opening round just 32 times – an average of 2.5 times per season.
Not surprisingly, the sport’s biggest winner is frustrated by the current roller coaster ride which this week takes him to Royal Purple Raceway for the 25th running of the O’Reilly Spring Nationals.
Force has been exceedingly successful at Royal Purple, as he has been at most stops on the tour. He twice set the official NHRA quarter mile record at the track – at 4.996 seconds in October of 1993, just weeks after Chuck Etchells had become the first to break the 5.00 second barrier, and at a blistering 4.788 in October of 1999.
He won both Houston races in 1999, one of only two drivers to accomplish that feat, beat Tommy Johnson Jr. in the 2002 final to earn his 100th win and has won a track record seven events overall.
The downside is that he hasn’t won or gone to the final round at Royal Purple since that 100th win, a situation he’ll try to address this weekend in a bid to lift himself back into title contention with teammates Robert “Top Gun” Hight, winner of the last four races in the series, and Mike Neff.
“Our car is making a lot of progress,” Force said, “getting to the final set of cars at the 4Wide. We still have a lot of work to do to get back in the hunt. At the end of the day, we’re not as consistent as Robert and Neff. Their cars go down the track almost every run. That’s what we need. We don’t need to beat ourselves.”
Force, who has won at least one tour event in 25 different seasons, rolls into Texas in fifth place in points behind his teammates and Dodge drivers Jack Beckman and Johnny Gray.
“We’ve always run good in Texas,” Force said, “so I feel good about going back (to Royal Purple Raceway). “‘Guido’ (Dean Antonelli) and ‘Danny D’ (DeGennaro) are working hard to figure this thing out. We’ll be okay.”
Indeed, Force is the track record-holder at the 1,000 foot distance in negotiated in a career best 4.011 seconds at 316. 08 miles per hour on a No. 1 qualifying run in 2010. In fact, the 15-time Auto Racing All-America selection who next month will be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala., has started his Castrol Ford from No. 1 three times in his last five Houston appearances.
The rub is that he won just three rounds in those three races. He and his crew chiefs hope to turn that around this week.
FORCE GOES FULL SPEED AHEAD INTO HOUSTON
BAYTOWN, Texas (April 20, 2012) – Courtney Force, driver of the Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car is steadily moving forward and into the sixth race of her professional NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series career this week at the 25th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Royal Purple Raceway in Houston, Texas.
The 23-year-old daughter of 15-time Funny Car Champion John Force took her first shot at Four-Wide two weeks ago at zMax Dragway in Charlotte, N.C. She qualified in the no. 12 spot with a run of 4.151 seconds at 301.47 mph. The Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car was up against a trio of Jack Beckman, Cruz Pedregon and Todd Lesenko. Fellow rookie Lesenko smoked the tires early, but Force dropped a hole and was eliminated in first round by the numbers of Beckman and Pedregon.
“First round of eliminations on Sunday my Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car dropped a hole and just kinda slowed my car down, so it lost a lot of ET and mph because of that. The guys (Beckman and Pedregon) went around me so we lost first round. I felt really good about four-wide after looking at our 60-foot and 330-foot incrementals from Sunday and a couple of the qualifying runs. Seeing that reminds me that we have potential for a good racecar, but we’re just working out the kinks still as a new team.
“I'm so excited to be back at Royal Purple Raceway where I'll be running in my Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car. We weren’t as successful in Charlotte as we would have liked to be, but my Traxxas crew tested the Monday after four-wide and has been working really hard these last couple of weeks to get our car sorted out, hoping to make some change before going into Houston. I think we have a great race car and I'm excited to see what we can do this weekend in Houston,” Force said.
Force will have her hands full this week prior to the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals. The Auto Club Road to the Future Rookie of the Year candidate is coming in early to attend the first ever Spring Nationals Charity Golf Classic put on by the Royal Purple Raceway Foundation and a special all-female NHRA press conference.
The Charity Golf Classic will be held on Wednesday, April 25th, at the Wildcat Golf Club in Houston, Texas. The proceeds from the tournament will benefit Wounded Warrior Project and Combat Marine Outdoors, two outstanding charities the Royal Purple Raceway Foundation has aligned itself with.
“I'm honored to attend the first ever Spring Nationals Charity Golf Classic this week in Houston, Texas. All proceeds to the charity will benefit Wounded Warrior Project and Combat Marine Outdoors. I'm excited to show my support and thanks to all of the men and women who are putting their life on the line to serve our country,” Force said.
The Royal Purple Raceway Foundation committee will officially present tournament proceeds to both organizations during pre-race ceremonies on Sunday, April 29th, before the start of final eliminations at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals.
The Spring Nationals Charity Golf Classic will have a shotgun start at noon. The awards ceremony and dinner will follow at 5:30pm in the club house.