Heartland Park Topeka
JFR In Great Positions For Success At Topeka
TOPEKA, KS --- All three John Force Racing Ford Mustangs and their respective drivers can make strong cases for success on race day at the 23rd annual NHRA Summer Nationals at Heartland Park – Topeka.
Robert Hight and his Auto Club Ford Mustang made three runs in a row to close out qualifying. For Hight this was a big step in the right direction based on the inconsistency he has suffered the past two national events.
Crew chief turned driver Mike Neff has enough confidence in his current qualifying efforts that in the final session he pressed to see where the edge of the envelope was for his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.
The crew chief tandem of Dean “Guido” Antonelli and Ron Douglas had John Force’s Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang running like a near bracket car. They recorded ETs of 4.10, 4.09, 4.11 and 4.13 seconds during the two days of qualifying.
Going into race day Robert Hight has more confidence and based on his No. 3 qualifying effort partnered with the subsequent runs he has the horsepower to back up that feeling.
“We are going down the track. That is what we need to do. It is hard for (crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) because he picks every run apart trying to figure out what he could have done better. He constantly wants to change things. At least we are not making big changes,” said Hight, the defending event champion.
“We are keeping up with the track temperature and going down the track. I feel way more confident going into race day having it go down the track all those runs. It is not like we made just one run and got lucky or we just don’t have a clue,” said the No. 3 qualifier. “Last year I think I set low ET in the first round. I like our chances tomorrow. I think we are in good shape. We are running good and we are not hurting anything. It is definitely going down the track.”
Hight will square off with veteran Dale Creasy Jr. in the first round. They have met twice before with Hight holding a 2-0 record versus the racer from Beecher, Illinois.
“There are not going to be any easy ones. There are going to be a lot of close races. If I do my job on the starting line and this thing keeps running. I think we can go deep into the day,” concluded the 20-time national event winner.
For Mike Neff the three time finalist in 2011 race day will be a continuation of a hot streak that started in Houston. The Gatornationals winner will try and pick up his second win of the season but first he will have to beat two-time Funny Car world champion Tony Pedregon. Neff secured the No. 4 qualifying position on Friday night and on Saturday he took a shot in the final qualifying session at seeing where the track condition boundaries stood.
You get conditioned for it.
“We were trying to run a little better (in the final session) and it was. It just came loose. We learned from that and I am trying to find out where the boundaries are. If I have to push tomorrow I need to know how far I can go. I don’t want to have to wait and try to guess tomorrow. Everything is going good so far,” said Neff.
“I’ll tell you this race track here in Topeka is really surprising how good it is. You saw a lot of great runs out there. The track was pretty warm but it is a great facility. There are a lot of cars going down the track and that is great for the fans.”
“Every week it always seems that the tracks are a little different. You adapt to the conditions of the track. You look at how your car is running and how your engine is running.”
With back to back final rounds under his belt Neff has confidence but he also know his team is ready for a long day.
“Anytime you are going to the final round you are getting more experience. Your guys are getting in the groove of going rounds. Going four rounds on Sunday knocks it out of you especially if you haven’t gone four rounds in a long time. The first time you go all those rounds you feel it. On a consistent level when you are going to the finals all the times and you get used to it. It is still a big deal but you handle it better. You get conditioned for it.
In Neff’s rookie year he took the tree and the next thing he felt was his hands and steering wheel hitting him in the forehead. Neff’s steering wheel had disconnected from the steering column as his then Old Spice sponsored Mustang accelerated down the track. As Neff pulled up on Friday he took a few minutes to double check his equipment.
“It did cross my mind. The first time I rolled up there on Friday I gave it an extra tug on the wheel. I had a flash back when I rolled into the right lane,” said Neff.
John Force came into this race on a strong qualifying streak picking up No. 1 qualifiers at the past four NHRA national events. Last week in Atlanta he tied Pro Stock legend Warren Johnson atop the all-time career No. 1 qualifier list at 138. This weekend Force had a consistently quick Funny Car but ironically he will be the only Funny Car driver who recorded a qualifying time in the 4.0 range without lane choice in the first round.
Force is the No. 9 qualifier, 4.095 to Jim Head’s No. 8 effort at 4.093 seconds. These veteran drivers have met nineteen times previously with Force holding a 13-6 edge. Force was the only driver to pick up qualifying bonus points in three sessions but again ironically his quickest run of the weekend garnered him no bonus points. On Friday night nine different Funny Cars made runs in the 4.0 range and Force was the slowest of the bunch. The winningest driver in NHRA history is undeterred.
“I love racing in Topeka. The fans here are great and we have had a lot of success here,” said Force a nine time Summer Nationals winner. “You look at my young drivers. Robert has two wins and Neff won the Gatornationals and has been to the last two finals. I’ll get a win. Hopefully it will happen tomorrow. Guido and Ron are giving me a great hot rod and I’ll do my job for them tomorrow versus Head. He is a great driver and I’ll have to be ready for him. I am going to go work out and get to bed.”