Team looks to turn around tough season.
In the past three seasons no driver has enjoyed as much success at the unique NHRA Four-Wide Nationals than Robert Hight and his Auto Club team. The crewman turned driver has been one of the most dominant drivers in the category over the past decade and his two wins at zMax Dragway’s premier spring event have come as a result of his two biggest strengths: focus and teamwork.
“The main thing I try and do is just not get distracted. You have to run your own race. I just focus on what I have to do and not get caught up in the fact that there are three other race cars on the track. It is a great event for the fans and Charlotte is a growing market for NHRA,” said Hight, a 34-time Funny Car national event winner. “The challenge for this race is similar to other races when you consider how competitive the Funny Car class is. You have to be at the top of your game to get round wins. The benefit with the Four-Wide is you just have to be the first or second Funny Car across the finish line until that last race.”
In 2012 Hight won the event from the No. 1 qualifying position with a dominating performance on race day. His first round 4.014 second pass was the quickest of the event and led to his first Four-Wide win. Two years later the 2009 NHRA Funny Car champion had to battle all three rounds for the win never having a top lane choice but staying motivated by the confidence his crew chief gave him before every round.
“I think the keys to my success have been having a good team. Last year I don’t think we had lane choice on race day in any of the rounds but my crew chief Mike Neff kept telling me not to worry about it. We had a great race car on race day and Neff gave me a lot of confidence. I love racing at Bruton Smith owned tracks. They do everything top notch and it is always great to win in Charlotte,” said Hight.
In 2015 Hight has raced to two semi-final round finishes and only suffered one first round loss. On the strength of this start the Auto Club Chevrolet Funny Car sits No. 4 in the Mello Yello point standings.
The weekend before Hight took to the track in North Carolina he and his Funny Car teammates, John and Courtney Force, enjoyed some NASCAR action on the West Coast at the Auto Club 400 in Fontana, California. Hight and his fellow drivers took to the Auto Club stage for a Q&A session and spent time with Auto Club backed driver Joey Logano. In addition to chatting with Logano, the group spent some time on the starting grid talking with fellow Chevrolet backed drivers Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as well as Peak sponsored driver Clint Bowyer.
“We had a great time on Sunday at the Auto Club 400 at Fontana. We talked about how we were heading to NASCAR country this weekend and were going to put on a great NHRA show for the fans out here. The fans are great in Charlotte because they have a passion for race cars and we show them something they may not have seen before. We are getting a lot of repeat fans now too and that is really cool,” said Hight.
Courtney Force likes the excitement
After just three races in the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, the series tour is taking a brief hiatus from traditional two-wide NHRA Drag Racing to bring fans a one-of-a-kind event, the 6th Annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway, March 27-29.
Fourth-year Funny Car pilot Courtney Force and her Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS team are geared up and ready to compete at the self-proclaimed “Bellagio of Dragstrips.”
“This year zMax will be like a new track for all the drivers, since it has been repaved. I’m looking forward to the new track and getting a fresh start here,” said Force. “As for the four-wide layout, I have gotten a little more experience from running it the past three years and I’m motivated to push myself even harder when we return. This track is unique from the rest and takes your full attention and focus for every single run. When it comes down to race day, you can’t make any mistakes because you have three other guys gunning for that round win, not just one.”
The Four-Wide event is the first of two stops at the Bruton Smith-owned race track over the course of the 24-race season. Last year, Force qualified her Traxxas Chevy Camaro SS Funny Car in the top half of the field, occupying the No. 6 spot and gave it her all on race day, only to be ousted in the first round. She posted a 4.104 ET, but it wasn’t good enough to get past quadrant winners John Force and Tommy Johnson Jr.
Despite an eventual first round loss, Force tallied up three qualifying bonus points for her Traxxas team and posted top speed of the weekend at 316.01 mph.
“I love being able to come out to the ‘Bellagio of Dragstrips’ not just once but twice a season. We run the four-wide layout only once and it definitely makes it a spectacle for the fans. Every year the conditions are right there to see some record setting runs, which we fully intend to take advantage of this time around,” said Force.
In the past three races, Force has qualified in the top half of the field all three times and earned the No. 1 qualifier title once, unfortunately the Traxxas team’s qualifying efforts have not reflected through to their race day results.
“I’m so proud of my team this year being that we have gotten our Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car qualified in the top half of the field at every race and even had one No. 1 qualifier in just three races, but we’ve been taken out early on race day and it’s time to fight back. My dad has taught me to throw the past races out the window and start fresh every weekend with that ‘fire in my belly’ and with his support as a father, and the support of my sponsors and team, we are pushing forward and are motivated coming into the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals. Although this particular race is unique and presents some challenges, I’m excited to get back in the seat of my race car with that same passion and drive that I’ve always had and try and go after a win here,” said Force.
Brittany Force looking for first of the season
For third year Top Fuel racer Brittany Force every race is still an opportunity to learn something and build confidence. The John Force Racing lone competitor in Top Fuel has a growing list of accomplishments including four final round appearances, three No. 1 qualifiers and a Top Ten finish in 2014. The 28 year-old Southern Californian also knows that the uniqueness of the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals levels the playing field somewhat for all the professional competitors.
“The nerves have lessened a little bit now that this will be my third Four-Wide. The first time that I pulled up and had to look at that Christmas Tree that looked like a puzzle. It will be easier going back for my third year going into the Four-Wide,” said Force. “It is not a natural feeling to pull up and see three other race cars on the starting line with you. I don’t think you would ever get used to that. It takes time but it is about having fun and going after that win.”
Last season Force qualified No. 5 and won her first round of racing at the Four-Wide Nationals before coming up a little short in the second quad of racers. In the opening round she outran Clay Millican and Leah Pritchett before watching Shawn Langdon and Antron Brown advance to the final round. In her rookie season Force was the No. 9 qualifier and was out-distanced by a pair of Top Fuel world champions, Langdon and Tony Schumacher, in the first round.
Two weeks ago at the historic Gatornationals Force raced to the quarterfinals. She moved up to No. 7 in the points and the momentum gained from some early season success has Force excited to be heading to zMax Dragway this weekend for the 6th annual Four-Wide Nationals.
“Getting past the first round motivates the whole team for the next race. It is always tough to lose in the first round. For this JFR Top Fuel team to get to the quarter-finals just pushes us to try and do better next race. We will be ready for Charlotte. That race is always a lot of fun and it is a little crazy. We went some rounds there last year and we are looking forward to getting back there,” said Force.
“It is very important to stay in the top ten. We don’t have to be No. 1 or No. 2 right now. Your points position doesn’t matter until you are in the Countdown. Right now we just want to stay in the top ten and I feel good about being No. 7 right now.”