HIGHT WANTS TO ADD ANOTHER ‘MAJOR’ WIN IN ENGLISHTOWN
ENGLISHTOWN, NJ (May 29, 2012) --- There are races that only need to be mentioned by their nicknames for race fans and historians to understand how important they are. Indy. The Gators. The World Finals. E-town. They don’t need sponsor pre-fixes or adjectives to translate their importance, just a strong memory of the historic moments drivers have recorded at each facility.
This weekend Full Throttle Funny Car points leader Robert Hight will be looking to add another “major” win to the stat sheet for his Auto Club Ford Mustang by winning his first Toyota SuperNationals title at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. Earlier this year Hight won the historic NHRA Tire Kingdom Gatornationals, outrunning Johnny Gray in the final to pick up his second win of the season. He went on to two more consecutive wins and near insurmountable points lead halfway through the NHRA regular season.
“There are races you want to win and have on your resume at the end of your career. The Gatornationals was one I hadn’t won until this season and the Supernationals in Englishtown is also on that list,” said Hight. “Englishtown has so much history you just want to be able to say you won there. I have won Indy a couple times and getting the championship in 2009 was my biggest achievement. I want another championship this season and getting big wins gives your whole team confidence.”
Confidence has been the key word for Hight and his Auto Club Ford Mustang team this season. After a surprising first round loss at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals Hight went on to win 17 consecutive rounds of racing including four races from coast to coast. He reached the semi-finals in Houston, then the finals in Atlanta before another semi-final exit in Topeka. If you drop out the season opening hiccup in the first round Hight has averaged three round wins per race every race of this season.
“I have so much confidence in my crew chief Jimmy Prock and the rest of my Auto Club crew guys. They are working so well together. Every time I get into that Funny Car I feel like we would run low ET. We are not going to let up. Our goal is to dominate all season and we want to get back into the winner’s circle starting this weekend in Englishtown,” said Hight.
In addition to winning half the races Hight has also been running well in qualifying. He has four No. 1 qualifying efforts this season and his lowest qualifying position this season was No. 9 in Topeka two weeks ago. His average starting position this season is 3.75 which is impressive when you consider how diverse the racing conditions have been over the first eight races.
“My Auto Club Ford Mustang has been so consistent. We have 22 round wins and have gotten down the track just about every time I have hit the throttle, whether it is qualifying or eliminations. Our goal coming into this year was to not beat ourselves. We want to qualify smart and race smart. We may not win every round, but we don’t want to give away round wins. I look at it as kind of a Moneyball idea where the Oakland A’s were trying to squeeze the best play out of small budget players by looking at statistical performances. We are looking at making the most runs as quick as possible without pressing too hard when we don’t need to,” said Hight, an avid baseball fan.
Hight’s biggest competition for his first win at Englishtown most likely will come from within the John Force Racing camp. Last year’s SuperNationals winner Mike Neff has to be one of the favorites as well as rookie of the year candidate Courtney Force who is looking to add her name to the Traxxas Shootout by getting her first win. It is also impossible to count out 15-time Funny Car champion and four-time SuperNationals winner John Force. With eight races in the books for the 2012 NHRA season six of the wins have been captured by JFR drivers.
“I can’t say enough about how well the entire JFR team has been running this season. John started the season winning the Winternationals and he was in the final round of the Four-Wide Nationals. Neff has been to three finals and won in Houston,” said Hight, JFR president. “Courtney has been to a semi-final and we have matched up the last two races when she had one of the strongest Funny Cars. It has just been some bad draws that have kept her from winning more rounds. There is no doubt that Traxxas Funny Car is one of the toughest cars out here along with those two Castrol Funny Cars.”
Neff Defends Title, Hosts Metro Ministries Kids
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. – Mike Neff unquestionably is a champion. He has the hardware to prove it. However, the cause the 45-year-old former surfer is championing this week means more to him than a repeat victory in Sunday’s 43rd annual Toyota SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
The native Californian, driver AND crew chief on the Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang, will take a little time from his pursuit of the NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car Championship to play host, along with his principal sponsor, to a group of kids from Brooklyn-based Metro Ministries.
The charity, which supports at-risk children in the inner city and elsewhere, has become one of Neff’s passions since first he met the group’s founder, Pastor Bill Wilson. “Pastor Bill’s” ministry and message resonated with the two-time world championship-winning crew chief.
Ever since the first meeting, Neff and his former crew chief, John Medlen, have been trying to raise public awareness of Metro Ministries and its work with homeless and abandoned children not just in the United States, but internationally.
Ironically “Pastor Bill,” himself abandoned by his mother as a child, won’t be able to watch Neff defend his title this week because he is dealing with ministry work outside the country. Instead, he has sent a group of 10 Metro Ministry kids to cheer Neff’s pursuit from the comfort of the Castrol suite.
“Obviously, since I have two kids of my own (Chase, 13, and Chloe, nine on June 15), I know how big a deal it is for these kids to have someone like Bill Wilson to be an advocate for them,” Neff said. “I’m just trying to help them out any way I can and the kids that come out this weekend, we’ll be doing our best to get them in the winners’ circle with us.”
If Neff can repeat as Funny Car champion, it would constitute a milestone in his brief driving career. Four round wins in Sunday’s eliminations would give him 100 round wins in just three-and-a-half seasons behind the wheel.
Last year’s regular season champion, Neff has endured an up-and-down 2012 campaign although much of the roller coaster ride has been self-induced, the result of a change in his racing philosophy.
In addition to a victory at Houston, Texas, and runner-up finishes at Pomona, Calif., and Phoenix, Ariz., Neff failed to make the 16-car starting lineup at Atlanta, his first such failure since 2008, and almost missed the field at Houston.
“My attitude changed some after how we finished last year,” Neff said,” a reference to the fact that he led the points for 13 of 16 regular season races but ultimately finished fifth.
“These early races are worth nothing at the end of the season,” he continued, “because they’re going to reshuffle the points after Indy (the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals) anyway. We’re trying some different stuff and some of it is working and some of it isn’t.”
Last year, Neff led by 215 points at the end of the regular season but, with a single computer keystroke, the NHRA reduced that margin to 30 points entering the Countdown to 1 playoffs where everything that went right for the seven-time winner in the first eight months, went terribly wrong.
Now, he’s just trying to learn as much as he can to give him the best chance of having the best car for the six-race showdown that determines the champion.
Force Seeks To Reclaim ‘Match Race Magic’
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. – He wouldn’t say it’s been a long time since he won a race at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, site of this week’s 43rd annual Toyota SuperNationals, but the last time John Force did so, it was, quite literally, a different century, one in which he hadn’t yet qualified for the senior breakfast at Denny’s.
Inexplicably, since 1999, the Hall-of-Fame driver has won 53 Full Throttle tour events, but not one at Raceway Park. For Force, the frustration is compounded by the fact that the New Jersey track is one of those on which he first made a name for himself through the benevolence of the late track operator, Vinnie Napp.
“I used to run for Vinnie Napp back in the match race days,” Force said. “We’d run on Wednesday nights, Friday nights, Saturday, Sunday. They always had somethin’ going on. He was one of the first guys who gave me a chance. I wasn’t nobody but he saw something in me even back before I won a race.”
When Napp still was alive, Force won with regularity at Raceway Park – and usually in spectacular fashion. For example, when he won in 1998, he drove his Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang to an NHRA national Funny Car speed record of 323.89 miles per hour which, at the time, made his the fastest drag racing vehicle in the known universe, faster even than the Top Fuel dragster of Joe Amaro (323.50 mph).
That was an unprecedented distinction for a Funny Car, but one that the 15-time series champion maintained for six months before Gary Scelzi finally bumped the Top Fuel standard to 326.44 mph.
In his prime, how dominant was Force at Raceway Park? Well, in one nine-year stretch, he took a car to the final round six times and to the winners’ circle on four occasions.
However, since going back-to-back in 1998 and 1999, the 63-year-old icon has been shut out. He has gone only 15-12 in elimination heats, not bad for most of those in this week’s field, but not for someone who, in a 33-year pro career, has won 71 percent of the two-car races in which he has been involved (1,102-445).
That relative lack of production on one of his favorite racetracks is doubly troubling because the 134-time winner’s primary sponsor for the last 26 years maintains its headquarters in nearby Wayne.
Because of that proximity, there always is a large contingent of Castrol employees on hand to support not only his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE™ Ford but also the Castrol GTX Mustang of defending event champion Mike Neff.
“You always want to do well in your sponsor’s backyard,” Force said. “Fortunately, we’ve got a four-car team that’s covered for me but, at the end of the day, you want to feel like you’re pulling your own weight and I still have that gut-ache to win.”
Although he has struggled since winning this year’s season-opening Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., Force believes the crew chief tandem of Dean “Guido” Antonelli and Danny DeGennaro is becoming more comfortable with a new engine-clutch combination that mimics those in the cars of Neff and points leader Robert “Top Gun” Hight.
“Now, we’re going down the track,” said the 15-time series champion. “We weren’t doing that before. We’re a little slow, but it’s consistent. Now we can focus on getting faster.”
C.FORCE HANGS ONTO TOP TEN GOING INTO E-TOWN
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. (May 29, 2012) - It’s been an interesting rookie season for Courtney Force and her Traxxas Ford Mustang in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series so far. From going up against her dad, 15-time Funny Car champion John Force, in the opening round of eliminations on Sunday of only the second race of her professional career in Phoenix, Ariz. to dueling it out with fellow female Funny Car driver in the running for Auto Club’s Road to the Future “Rookie of the Year” candidate Alexis DeJoria, the youngest of the Force family has demonstrated consistency, a composed nature and a strong sense of competitiveness which combined helped her to victory on both of those attempts and has kept her in the top ten in the points; the No. 9 spot.
“As a Rookie Driver this season, I'm continuing to learn everything I can to become a better driver. I'm happy with how our Traxxas Ford Mustang team is running this season and couldn't ask for it to go any better. We are continuing to learn about the car and how to push it to its limits, while I'm learning how to drive it to its limits. I'm having so much fun this season in the seat and it has been fun to race with fellow Rookie of the Year contender, Alexis DeJoria, in the Funny Car category,” said Force on competing for the prestigious award given out at the end of the season to the top rookie in the NHRA. “It's definitely going to be a tough season fighting for Rookie of the Year especially against such great drivers, but I will try to continue to do the best I can throughout this race season.
This week, Force will be turned on to a whole new realm of exciting challenges as she takes her Traxxas Ford Mustang to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. for the 43rd running of the Toyota NHRA SuperNationals, the ninth of 23 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
“I’m looking forward to racing this weekend in Englishtown and am excited to be back at a familiar track where I grew up watching my dad compete. It's also a familiar track to me as I raced in the Top Alcohol Dragster category with my sister, Brittany. Now that I'm racing for the first time in the Fuel Funny Car category at this track, I hope to get this Traxxas Ford Mustang qualified well, stay consistent and go some rounds on Sunday,” Force said.
Last weekend, Force qualified in the No. 8 spot and snagged a few bonus points along the way. The Traxxas Ford Mustang’s only downfall of the weekend was having to face the four-time race winner for 2012 thus far, Robert Hight and his Auto Club Ford Mustang.
“In Topeka we had one of the most consistent Funny Cars out there. We were qualified in the top half of the field in the No. 8 spot and earned a few bonus points throughout qualifying. I feel like our car is progressing and I'm progressing as a driver. Unfortunately we got beat in the first round of eliminations by my fellow teammate, Robert Hight who had a killer run of a 4.05 in his AAA Funny Car. We had a competitive number of a 4.12 on that run, but we couldn't advance into the next round. We have a strong team and I am excited going into Englishtown. Having a consistent car with our Traxxas Ford Mustang, I feel confident going into the race and hope to continue to work hard to stay in the top 10 in points,” said Force.
Part of the Force crew, including Courtney, Brittany and mother, Laurie, are jumping into the Englishtown festivities early this week to do a little site-seeing and catching up with some old friends, then making their way to Bristol, Conn. to visit ESPN.
“I'm going in a few days early to explore Englishtown and see NYC with my mom and sister, Brittany. On Thursday I will be going on a tour of the ESPN campus in Bristol, Connecticut and doing interviews for TV, ESPN The Magazine and ESPN radio, as well as an online chat. I'm looking forward to visiting this campus which is the base of all major sports news. I'm hoping to expand their knowledge of NHRA drag racing as well as the products of the fastest name in radio control, Traxxas, and am excited to learn about the ESPN campus,” said Force.