John Force Racing seeking a big weekend at Las Vegas

HIGHT HAS SIGHTS ON VEGAS DOUBLE-UP

The Big O Tires NHRA Nationals is the penultimate Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event for 2012. In 2009 Robert Hight and his Auto Club Ford Mustang Funny Car team won this event and all but wrapped up their first NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship. This year Hight will be trying to become just the sixth different driver and third JFR Funny Car driver to sweep the two Las Vegas events. Hight took out Bob Tasca III at the spring event final and this weekend he will be trying to double-up in 2012 and win for the third time in his past four appearances at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Robert Hight
Robert Hight

Photo by: Michael C. Johnson

“I love racing at The Strip. Las Vegas has always meant a lot to me even before I won in 2009. I didn’t clinch here but all I had to do was qualify in Pomona. This year the win the spring was our third win in a row this season and we went on to win four races in a row. I want to get another win here and finish this season on a high note,” said Hight.

A win by Hight would continue a strong streak of success when you consider a JFR driver has won five of the previous six Las Vegas NHRA national events. Hight has three wins and John Force has two. Force and former teammate Tony Pedregon are also the other two Funny Car drivers that have swept the Las Vegas Funny Car category.

Hight is less than two rounds out of 4th place in the Full Throttle point standings. While he is currently in 8th place, a tight grouping of drivers has Hight focused on making a strong run up the point standings starting this weekend. Hight has finished in the top ten every year of his professional career and that streak will continue this season.

“Your goal at the beginning of every season is the championship. Right now our goal is to finish as strong as possible. You look at all the drivers bunched up and there are some heavy hitters. We want to try and win as many rounds as possible to close out the season,” said Hight.

This year in the Countdown Hight has had to battle a number of issues including tough qualifying efforts and an even tougher Countdown field. Hight’s Auto Club Ford Mustang has qualified 7th, 15th, 7th and 10th in the first four races. For a Funny Car that has consistently been one of the quickest of the field this slump could not have come at a worse time.

“I have confidence in my crew chief Jimmy Prock and my guys. The Countdown is a completely different animal and you have to be hot at the end of the season. We have done that before but this season we were a little off coming into Charlotte and we just haven’t gotten our footing. We are not hanging our heads by any means and we are going to throw everything at the track this weekend,” said Hight.

COURTNEY FORCE GAUGES TEAM PROGRESS SINCE FIRST LAS VEGAS APPEARANCE

The NHRA 2012 Full Throttle Drag Racing series is approaching the completion of the season and is currently preparing for the second-to-last event; the 12th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas. Lead “Rookie of the Year” contender Courtney Force says the pressure is on to keep up momentum and finish strong in her first professional year.

“The Las Vegas race is going to be exciting because I will be participating in the FanFest for an autograph signing along with my dad and my sister, Ashley, as well as some of the other drivers. I'm definitely looking forward to this race because my dad will be running a specialty Destination Force body which I'm excited to see! He will be making the Destination Force Comic book come to life in his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Funny Car,” said Force.

Force had a memorable weekend in Reading, Pa. two weeks ago when she introduced and ran a special hot pink Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car body for breast cancer awareness and research. She qualified in the No. 5 spot, but suffered a tough loss in the opening round of eliminations on Sunday.

“Being that it is my Rookie Season, I'm very proud of our accomplishments as a team and what I have learned throughout the season. There are so many great rookie drivers competing this season, but I'm just proud to say that I'm one of them and just getting the opportunity to drive one of these 8,000 horsepower cars is a dream,” said Force.

The last time Force competed at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it was only her fourth professional race in the Funny Car category. Since then, Force has competed in 17 races, picked up a win in Seattle, qualified in the No. 1 spot twice (Indianapolis and Dallas), and has broken a number of personal career-bests.

“It's crazy to think how much things have changed for our Traxxas team since the Summitracing.com NHRA Nationals in Vegas earlier this year. That was only our fourth professional race I had participated in with my new team. Now, we have much more experience and we’ve all really meshed well as a team. I'm so proud of everything we have accomplished and feel like I have learned a lot since the beginning of the season,” said Force.

Force’s older sister, Ashley, went to her first two final rounds at Las Vegas; one in the fall of 2007 and one in the spring of 2008. The new mother of Jacob John Hood was also No. 1 qualifier at Las Vegas in the fall of 2010.

“Being that this is the second-to-last race of the season, I'm hoping that we can have a consistent car throughout qualifying and really try to go rounds on Sunday so that we can go into Pomona in a good position. We just hope to get qualified and do the best we can and hopefully move forward in the points standings,” said Force.

NEFF HAS HIS CHANCE AS TOUR MOVES TO LAS VEGAS

Jack Beckman and Ron Capps lead the NHRA Funny Car contingent into this week’s 12th annual Big O Tires Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway because theirs are the two quickest hot rods in the history of 1,000-foot drag racing, both having covered that distance in fewer than 4.0 seconds.

Mike Neff and his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang are in contention for the $500,000 championship for far more cerebral reasons.

That he has a chance with only two races remaining in the Full Throttle Series is testament to Neff’s discipline as both driver and crew chief on a Ford that has won four times this season, never from the No. 1 starting position but twice from qualifying spots outside the quick eight.

Coming off a back-to-the-wall victory two weeks ago at Reading, Pa., the 46-year-old trails Beckman by 54 points and Capps by 31 with only this week’s showdown and the season-ending Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif., remaining.

“I just wanted to be able to head out west with a chance,” Neff said of his Reading victory, his 10th in a driving career that didn’t begin until he was 41. “We did exactly what we needed to do. Jack and Ron had a pretty good lead on us and we couldn’t give up any more ground. Realistically, we needed to win the last three races to have a chance. Now we just need to win two.”

Although he has won just one racing round at Las Vegas as a driver, the former off-road truck mechanic prefers to focus on 2010 when, as crew chief, he sent boss and teammate John Force to consecutive victories to end the season and win the championship.

That’s a scenario he feels like he must duplicate if he hopes to become the first in 38 years to win an NHRA Funny Car title in the dual role.

His advantage is his ability to adapt to conditions and to avoid temptation.

While his rivals were swinging for the fences in Reading, Neff was content to take what he could and avoid the big mistake. It’s a strategy he’ll adopt again this week.

“Those three second runs were impressive,” he said, “but I just didn’t have that. I didn’t want to take the chance, try to run three seconds and smoke the tires. I decided to play it safe and just try and get the round wins. We did all we could and it felt good to make some forward progress.

“We've been running better lately,” said the two-time former world championship-winning crew chief (first with Gary Scelzi in 2005), “and I'm just happy to be in contention. Definitely, these last two races are going to be exciting for everyone.”

Indeed, Neff was burned a year ago when he led the points for most of the regular season, winning five times, but then fading to fifth place in the Countdown. This year, he admittedly used the regular season races primarily as preparation for the playoffs.

“It’s not an exact science,” Neff has said of preparing an 8,000 horsepower race car for a zero-to-320 mile-an-hour trip down a 1,000 foot straight line race course. “There are always challenges you have to deal with. Anything can happen.

“(But) that’s what’s so exciting about NHRA drag racing. You can’t make it up in the next turn. You get one shot at it. You either get it right, you catch a break or it’s over with – and you have to do that four times in one day.”

That’s the challenge. It’s one that Neff welcomes.

“This is why you put all that work in over the winter and go through the whole season,” he said, “to come to the very end and have a shot to win. That’s all you can ask for.”

FORCE'S DESTINATION STILL UNDETERMINED

The thought of John Force as comic book superhero is not as far-fetched as it might seem on the surface.

After all, the 63-year-old drag racing icon, who competes this week at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a “Destination Force” version of his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang, has lived a life that defies normal convention.

He overcame childhood polio, grew up in poverty as the youngest son of a fry cook and a truck driver, failed in a bid to follow his brother Walker into law enforcement because, as he tells it, “I failed the ink blot test,” and, ultimately, survived his own ineptitude and that of his volunteer crew to become a professional drag racer.

Starting out with a car that could barely get out of its own way, he went from the spectacular to the sublime, trading the crash-and-burn image he nurtured early-on (“if you can’t win, be spectacular) for the mantle of NHRA Full Throttle World Champion.

Not one championship, mind you, but 15, the last at age 61 after coming back from a crash in Dallas, Texas, that would have ended the career of any normal human being. Force, as it turns out, is exceedingly abnormal.

Despite a compound fracture of the left ankle, broken bones in his hands, feet, fingers and toes plus ligament damage, Force, despite a month-long stay at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, was back in his race car four months after the accident and in the winners’ circle at Topeka, Kan., four months after that.

Having endured all of the physical and mental trials – plus knee surgery before the start of the current season, it doesn’t seem all that strange for the 134-time tour winner’s futuristic adventures as righter-of-wrongs to be chronicled in “graphic novel,” modern-speak for comic book.

Unveiled at last month’s Indianapolis Comic Book Show, the Destination Force Castrol Mustang will be on display Thursday night on Fremont Street before making its only competitive appearance in the 12th annual Big O Tires Nationals starting Friday.

A project undertaken by daughter and two-time former Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Funny Car champion Ashley Force Hood, Destination Force is projected as a continuing series of adventures loosely based on Force’s experiences in the real world.

“I wanted to race this Funny Car the minute Ashley showed me the comic book,” said the 2012 inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala. “The whole story behind Destination Force was my story and to take it in a whole new direction with a comic book was great.

“I know the fans loved the book and we have been selling a lot of them at the car shows, through our John Force Racing website and the John Force RaceStation apparel store,” he said. “We’ll be selling them on Fremont Street, too. Bottom line, I want to get this Destination Force car in the winners’ circle.”

Although he has said he “never says never,” Force concedes that his bid for a 16th series championship may be over.

“Maybe I can’t win the championship,” he acknowledged, “but we moved up (from 10th to sixth in points with a semifinal finish two weeks ago at Reading, Pa.) and we’re gonna keep fighting these next two races.”

While LVMS once was Force’s nemesis (he won just once in his first 18 appearances and twice failed to make the starting lineup), the 15-time Auto Racing All-America selection has turned things around since his first appearance in the Big O Tire Nationals resulted in a first round double disqualification involving himself and Bob Bode.

In fact, just two years ago became only the fifth driver in history to sweep the spring and fall races.

Source: John Force Racing

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Tags force, ford, hight, las vegas, neff, the strip

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