Las Vegas II: John Force Racing final report

HIGHT WINS LAS VEGAS, EXTENDS POINTS LEAD LAS VEGAS, NV --- Robert Hight and his Jimmy Prock tuned Auto Club Ford Mustang dominated their competitors at the 9th annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals today in way that was reminiscent of last ...

HIGHT WINS LAS VEGAS, EXTENDS POINTS LEAD

LAS VEGAS, NV --- Robert Hight and his Jimmy Prock tuned Auto Club Ford Mustang dominated their competitors at the 9th annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals today in way that was reminiscent of last year's Countdown performance by Cruz Pedregon in grabbing their third win in five races. Hight ran the quickest elapsed time of every elimination round in route to his third victory in five races.

In the first round he faced arguably the toughest car all year in the Funny Car category teammate Ashley Force Hood and her Castrol GTX Mustang. Coming into the race he had a thirteen point lead over Force Hood but in an unlikely turn of events Force Hood struggled in qualifying and was forced to race a teammate in the opening stanza. Hight knew whoever won that race would have a great shot at winning the entire event and setting themselves up for the Full Throttle Funny Car championship.

"I knew that we would figure this thing out and fix it. Jimmy Prock has just done such a great job since the Countdown started even at Indy getting three wins in the countdown in five races. That is stout. It has all been on performance. We have not gotten lucky. I haven't had to pedal the race car. We have just out muscled these guys," said Hight.

"That is what Cruz Pedregon did last year. To have a 105 point lead going into Pomona it gives you a lot of confidence. It is still not over. I think the only person that really has a chance is Ashley. I still believe if she would have beat me first round she would be standing here today. That is a great race car. They are the reason we are on this Countdown. They fixed us. It is amazing what a win can do and get you that confidence back. You can see it in Jimmy Prock. He is not lost out there. He doesn't go to the car a hundred times and change things. He might make a little change here and there in the staging lanes. That was a close race in the final. It hurt itself. All the rest of the runs this weekend were on performance."

In the past five seasons Hight has been in contention for the Funny Car championship but for the first time he will be heading into the Auto Club Finals as the points leader. The former crewman for John Force Racing is excited about the final race of the season but also wary of getting over confident. Hight's confidence is directly attributed to the performance improvement of his Auto Club Mustang.

"My Auto Club Mustang's performance gives you a lot of confidence. You don't have to go out there and do dumb things trying to pull wins out. I did that earlier in the year when we were struggling. I got lucky since I never red-lit. I was trying to do too much because I knew the car needed little help. It doesn't work that way. You have to do what you know how to do. It is all about confidence," said Hight.

"I never thought I would get to this point. I never thought I would get to drive a race car. I was happy and content to be driving down the road in one of John Force's trucks and working on his race car. I just owe it all to him for giving me this opportunity to come out here. When you are on a team like this you are expected to win. That put a little added pressure on you. You also know you have good equipment and a good car. That makes it easier to learn and trust me I am still learning. "

Hight defeated Force Hood in the first round then solidly outran John Force in the second round 4.125 to Force's tire smoking 5.723 seconds. In the semis Hight made the quickest Funny Car lap of the day under the hottest conditions a blistering 4.08 at 312.57 mph to Tim Wilkerson's 4.233 at 285.41 mph. In the final Hight outdistanced Beckman 4.125 to 4.154 in a spectacular fire spewing side by side race.

Ashley Force Hood entered the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals in second place in the point standings and she is leaving in second place. Unfortunately she knows that her championship aspirations are now a little more of a long shot. Each season she has improved in the point standings and this year she is in contention for her first title in only her third year driving a Fuel Funny Car.

"My goal going into this year was to finish fourth or better I would be pumped with that. To be fighting for first or second this year has gone better than I ever expected it to. When you are right in the middle of it you get greedy and you want everything. Really if you take a step back I never expected to be running for first. Now after this year we will be gunning for first," said Force Hood. "That is not to take away from my team we are only three years in. It is not something I expected to happen. The sky is the limit for us next year. If we can have a team like we did this year next year sometimes luck plays a part in it. We will just do the best we can. Either way if we can be celebrating in Pomona everything that builds up the stress and the anxiety doesn't matter. In Pomona if one of our teams is on that stage in first place that is all that matters. That is what we have been working for all season."

After the race team leader John Force was happy for the success Hight is experiencing especially since he has seen him miss a number of championship opportunities.

"We still haven't wrapped it up but (Robert) has a heck of a lead. Ashley still has a shot. At the end of the day for Auto Club it is great. They have been real loyal. They have stood by us. Even when we struggled they supported us. For Ford motor company in this economy it is a great time to deliver a win. This only makes sense if we can pull it off. One more race and we will know. I have two cars trying to run for the championship. We will be rooting for them and pulling hard for it," said Force.

"If you look back a few years ago Robert should have won the year Eric (Medlen) was killed. We had to go into missing races and we didn't make it. That hurt us. Now the new Countdown actually gave him a chance to get back in at Indy. The car has been magic ever since."

In order to get to the second round Force had to face one of his toughest opponents Cruz Pedregon. The 14-time champion was up to the fight and grabbed the win with a tire smoking Mustang swinging 4.662 to 4.855 battle. At the top end Force was over the top as he described the ride.

"I wanted to give these fans a show so they will go buy Castrol motor oil, Ford Mustangs and Auto Club insurance. I have to tell you that race was for me. That was a great white knuckler against my buddy, Cruz Pedregon. I was sideways and I was like I am going to take the whole side of this hunk. I love this hot rod. I love my team of Austin Coil and Bernie (Fedderly)."

Mike Neff was pulling double duty (driving and tuning) with a twist as he tuned and drove his Ford Drive One Mustang that was resting on one of the new John Force Racing chassis. The switch to the new chassis gave the 2005 Funny Car champion crew chief a new set of issues to deal with. He was up to the task getting his car qualified by in the first round he did not have enough to get around jack Beckman.

"It was a disappointing weekend for us. It is kind of the new car blues. The new chassis we built is great and it will be better than what we have. The problem that we discovered is the parts we put on it that control all the electronics it changed everything. We couldn't get a handle on it. It kind of threw us a curve ball. We are going to fix all that and go to Pomona. We will be close and take a shot at it. The biggest thing here for Team Force is we are thrilled to see Robert win. We want to put a nail in that coffin for the championship. That is what it is all about and that is what our goal is. That makes me feel good even after out disappointment. It turned out to be a good weekend," said Neff.

In the Top Alcohol Dragster ranks Brittany and Courtney Force both advanced out of the first round today but in doing so they set up a sister versus sister second round. Courtney took the win but stumbled in the semi-finals against Brandon Johnson.

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Ashley Force , Robert Hight , Austin Coil , Mike Neff , Courtney Force