John Force Racing set for quick weekend at Route 66 Raceway

John and Ashley Force along with Robert Hight and Mike Neff are prepared to dominate the weekend

Hight wants winds of change in Chicago

Robert Hight
Robert Hight

Photo by: NHRA

CHICAGO (June 26, 2012) --- Two weeks ago in Bristol, Tennessee Robert Hight suffered his second first round defeat of the season losing to Johnny Gray in the opening session of the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. The last time Hight was ousted after just one run on Sunday was the season opening NHRA O’Reilly Winternationals in Pomona. Hight is hoping his Auto Club Ford Mustang will react similarly to getting extra time off on race day.

Following Pomona Hight and his Auto Club Funny Car team went on a tear through the competition winning the next four races in a row and reaching the semi-finals at the fifth race. Hight won from coast to coast reaching the winner’s circle in Phoenix; Gainesville, Florida; Las Vegas; and Charlotte. The run propelled him to the points lead and has the former crewman turned driver ready to get back to the winner’s circle.

“The start of the season was unbelievable. I won four races in a row which only a handful of Funny Car drivers have ever done. In addition my teammates John Force and Mike Neff also won so in the first six races John Force Racing had six wins. Since then we have reached some finals but haven’t been able to get over the hump. I don’t think anything is wrong at JFR but I am ready to start winning races again, said Hight.

Heading into Chicago for the 15th annual O’Reilly Rt 66 NHRA Nationals Hight has is goal set on winning for the first time in the Windy City. He reached the finals here twice losing to teammate John Force in 2006 and then dropping a heart breaker to Matt Hagan in 2010. John Force Racing has six wins in Chicago including last year’s race which Mike Neff won in dominating fashion. This race starts a tough five races in six weeks stretch that Hight would like to get underway with a win.

“Now it is going to get fun. We race five weekends out of six including the Western Swing. I love to be at the races and going rounds. I think you could look at this like a mini-Countdown. You want to win as many races as possible here to get ready for the real Countdown. The goal is to be at the top of the points but another goal is to be ready with a solid tune-up and some momentum,” said Hight.

For Hight this season has continued a streak of success for the driver and president of John Force Racing that started in 2005 his rookie season. Each season Hight has competed at the highest level he has won multiple races and has led the points at least once. This year with four victories he is one shy away from his personal best five wins in a season which he accomplished last year. Ironically it was his championship season of 2009 where Hight had one of his lower win counts winning just three times. All the wins came in the Countdown a pattern repeated by Matt Hagan last season.

“You want to win every race no doubt about it. I talk with Jimmy Prock all the time about dominating all season long. We got on a streak early this season and there are other drivers who are hot right now. We all know you need to also get hot in the Countdown. These races starting Chicago will be big for everyone to get momentum or keep momentum. I love the position we are in now as the points leader. I want to get my first Chicago win and then head to the next race in Norwalk and win there. Neff won both these race last year so it can be done,” said Hight.

One other piece of business Hight would like to take care of is joining the Funny Car 250 round win club. There are only a handful of current drivers who can say they won 250 rounds of Funny Car racing. They are multiple-time world champions, veterans and Hall of Fame contenders. With two round wins at the O’Reilly Rt 66 NHRA Nationals Robert Hight can join a group of current drivers with a minimum of 250 round wins that includes John Force (1,103), Tony Pedregon (503), Cruz Pedregon (451), Ron Capps (448) and Tim Wilkerson (261). Hight could achieve this feat in only 172 races (including Chicago) which is a pace of nearly 1.5 round wins per race. The only driver who has a better round win to race ratio is Force (1.85).

‘Separation anxiety’ a concern for Neff

CHICAGO, Ill. – Every time he straps himself into the Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang, a race car whose supercharged and fuel-injected BOSS 500 Ford engine cranks out an almost unfathomable 8,000 horsepower, Mike Neff faces a unique form of separation anxiety.

It’s something with which the former motocross rider and off-road truck mechanic will have to deal again this week when he returns to Route 66 Raceway to defend his Funny Car title in the 15th annual O’Reilly Route 66 Nationals.

The last two years, Neff has held down two full time jobs at John Force Racing, Inc., the Funny Car dynasty that has won 17 NHRA series championships over the last 22 seasons.

He’s the driver of one of the four Mustangs in the JFR stable, teammate to drag racing icon John Force, points leader Robert Hight and rookie Courtney Force. But he also serves as his own crew chief – and therein lies the rub.

In the roughly five minutes it takes to strap in, tow the 320 mile-an-hour hybrid to the starting line, complete the obligatory burnout procedure and speed down the 1,000 foot racecourse, Neff is in no man’s land.

In his dual role, the 45-year-old father of two no longer can make the last second adjustments available to his contemporaries, adjustments that helped him win NHRA championships as crew chief to Gary Scelzi (2005) and Force (2010).

The bigger problem, though, is making the transition from the creativity required of a crew chief to the focus and intense concentration necessary to succeed as a driver in one of the most competitive categories in racing.

Although he has won seven races since Force afforded him the unexpected opportunity to drive a top-of-the-line Funny Car back in 2007, Neff admits that it’s been more difficult to get in “driver mode” than one might imagine.

“When you’re a tuner,” Neff said, “you’re always second-guessing yourself. So, one of the hardest parts for me is making a decision and, when it comes time to drive, living with it.

“You can go up there thinking about the tuning part and not drive as well as you should,” said the man who this year is trying to become the first in 38 seasons to win a Funny Car title as driver crew chief, “and, in the end, if you don’t perform as a driver, it doesn’t really matter what you did as a tuner.”

The transition has proven more difficult for Neff when facing his own teammates. Twice this season, once against Force in the final round of the season-opening Winternationals and once against Hight in the second round of the Toyota SuperNationals at Englishtown, N.J., his tune-up was dead-on but a lapse of concentration in the cockpit resulted in a tardy reaction to the starting signal and, as a result, two holeshot losses.

“I think when I’m racing against my teammates, I might relax a little bit because you know one of you is going to the next round – and that’s all it takes, just a little break in your concentration,” Neff said. “John has told me that it’s hardest for him to get right mentally when he’s racing one of us and I think that’s probably what’s going on.

“You just have to do one job at a time and not let them affect one another,” he said, “and I haven’t always been able to do that.”

However, when he has managed to achieve that balance, as he did a year ago when he beat Jeff Arend in the Route 66 final, Neff has shown himself capable of the kind of domination on which championships are built.

Force on the cusp of Funny Car resurgence

CHICAGO, Ill. – With apologies to country music star Tim McGraw, drag racing icon John Force “ain’t as good as he’s gonna get, but he’s better than he used to be.”

After an eight-race swoon that followed a season-opening victory in the Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., Force’s 320 mile-an-hour Castrol GTX® HIGH MILEAGE™ Ford Mustang finally showed legitimate flashes of its old form two weeks ago and that has thrust the 15-time champion prominently into the championship picture at this week’s 15th annual O’Reilly Route 66 Nationals.

“We’ve been struggling; everybody knows it,” Force said. “This (engine/clutch) combination is new to my crew chiefs (Dean Antonelli and Danny DeGennaro), but they’re getting a handle on it. We’ve got the consistency and now we’re getting faster.”

Force owes his enthusiasm to a No. 5 start in the most recent event in the NHRA Full Throttle Series, the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn. Not often has No. 5 been cause for celebration in a camp that has generated a record 134 victories, but when you’ve qualified outside the quick eight in five of the previous six races, such a performance constitutes a giant step forward.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t just his qualifying position that provided a boost for the 63-year-old veteran, it was the fact that his Ford had the quickest average time over four qualifying sessions and recorded the second fastest speed of the event at 312.71 miles per hour.

“We’re getting ready for the Countdown,” Force said. “Since they changed it up, it’s all about the last six races and I feel good about the direction we’re going. You gotta be in the Top 10 (to make the playoffs), but if you do that, anything can happen.

“I’m not done racing,” emphasized the May inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala., “ and I promise you, I ain’t dead. I still love what I’m doing and I’m going to keep on racing until someone tells me I can’t do it anymore.”

Based on Force’s current standing (eighth) and his new resurgence, that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

Still, the man who was the first drag racer ever recognized as Driver of the Year (1996) knows that in the present environment, the most competitive in Funny Car history, even speed and consistency don’t assure success.

“Sometimes it’s just not your day,” said the 15-time Auto Racing All-America selection. “We had a day like that (two weeks ago) at Bristol. Good cars but they all went out early and that’s not what the sponsors pay us for. It was a wake up call.”

Force is cautiously optimistic this week at Route 66 Raceway, a track on which he has experienced both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

When he won his first race on the Chicago-area track in 2000, it made him the most prolific winner in the sport’s history. His 86th tour victory enabled him to move past Ford Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden and into the No. 1 position in career wins.

Three years later, with the standard racing distance still one quarter mile, he became the first Funny Car driver to break the 4.70 second barrier when he pushed his Castrol Ford through the timers in 4.697 seconds during Route 66 qualifying.

Nevertheless, it isn’t the NHRA national record he recalls from that race (4.665 seconds at 333.58 miles per hour), it instead is that he lost in the final round to Del Worsham. Those are the memories that keep him motivated.

“Anybody can beat you,” Force said. “There are no freebies anymore.”

Rookie Force turns 24, looks to move up in points chase

Holds the 9th spot going into Chicago for the 15th annual Route 66 Nationals

Chicago, IL (June 22, 2012) - Right before the 11th race of the NHRA Full Throttle drag racing season, the John Force Racing operation finds themselves in recovery mode. Having all four drivers ousted during the first round of Sunday’s eliminations two weeks ago at the 12th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Ford Dealers in Bristol, Tenn., the entire team has been working hard to bounce back from what seemed to be a fluke weekend.

Now, they prepare for what may be one of the most intense 15th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries taking into account that teammate Mike Neff won this event in 2011 and the fact that this may be the last chance for Force to win a spot for her Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout.

“I’m definitely excited for the NHRA Route 66 Nationals in Chicago this week. There are a lot of things that are going to keep us busy leading up to the race weekend. We have the NHRA press conference Wednesday and a full media tour to do on Thursday to raise awareness of the event. I think it’s going to be a busy week and a great way to kick-start the weekend,” said Force, who celebrated her 24th birthday on June 20th. “I really hope the weekend goes well. I’m currently 9th in points and I just need to keep working hard and hopefully the car stays consistent. We really gotta fight to go rounds and keep my position, or even move up for that matter. It’s going to be a huge weekend for all of our teams.”

The Traxxas Ford Mustang team, along with driver and rookie in the lead for Auto Club’s Road to the Future award, has proved to be an outstanding team in the NHRA Funny Car class for 2012, their first year out. It’s no secret that the youngest Force, daughter of 15-time NHRA World Champion John Force, has followed in her father’s footsteps, in addition to those of her eldest sister Ashley Force Hood.

“We didn’t have a great weekend in Bristol, Tenn., my teammates and I all went out in the first round. It was a tough weekend; tough loss, but you know, you learn from these things. Obviously you can’t win them all and we took a lot away from that race. It really shows how strong our competition is,” said Force.

The Cal State Fullerton graduate started off strong grabbing a huge win over her father in only her second professional drag race, the complicated task of driving her car into a qualifying spot at each of the ten completed events and won seven rounds this year, more than any other rookie.

At this point in her short driving career, Force is able to turn the other cheek and view the glass “half full.”

“Being in the top 10 is a huge accomplishment, but even though we had a bad weekend in Bristol, we all still remain in the top 10. The whole deal really makes you more excited about Chicago because we want to make a comeback and we want to win,” said Force

Source: John Force Racing (JFR)

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Tags ford, force, chicago, hight, neff, joliet, mustang

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