VEGAS JACKPOT: ASHLEY FORCE REACHES BACK-TO-BACK FINALS Force Grabs Funny Car Points Lead (LAS VEGAS) --- A quarter of a century ago 14-time Funny Car champion John Force was hoping for a son to carry on his drag racing legacy, today Ashley...
VEGAS JACKPOT: ASHLEY FORCE REACHES BACK-TO-BACK FINALS
Force Grabs Funny Car Points Lead
(LAS VEGAS) --- A quarter of a century ago 14-time Funny Car champion John Force was hoping for a son to carry on his drag racing legacy, today Ashley Force, his 25 year-old daughter nearly joined her record breaking father in the history books, almost grabbing her first national event win -- and the first Funny Car win for a female in the 39-year history of the class - at the 9th annual Summitracing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"I didn't know I was the points leader until after the race. I was surprised. It definitely made not winning a little better. We are enjoying it now while we have it, but we know there are three other teams in our camp alone who are gunning for that number one spot. We are happy to enjoy it now and remember this great weekend in Las Vegas," said Force.
Force dropped her second consecutive final round of the season today losing to Tim Wilkerson and veteran Del Worsham two weeks ago in Houston. She has dropped her three finals by a total margin of .229 seconds (.018, .064 and .147 seconds) and at LVMS that margin shrinks to .082 seconds.
She will leave Las Vegas with a five point lead over Wilkerson. She becomes the first woman to ever lead the Funny Car points and only the sixth woman overall to ever lead a professional points class.
"I never even knew it was possible to leave with the points lead. I am just trying to stay in the Top Ten. I have been happy to be in the Top Ten. Maybe I need to be more of a go-getter," said the 2007 NHRA Rookie of the Year. "Now that we have a taste of that top spot and we see that it is not just the Robert Hights, the (Ron) Capps, the (Gary) Scelzis and the (John) Forces that can do it but maybe Dean Antonelli, Ron Douglas, and my team can do it too."
Force had to work her way through Tommy Johnson, Jr., Gary Densham, and Bob Bode before she squared off with the veteran Wilkerson in the final round. Wilkerson, a long time family friend, was consistent all day and in the final he never trailed the graduate of Cal State Fullerton.
"My daughter (Rachel, 16) is an Ashley Force fan, there's no doubt about that, but she's okay with her dad winning this one," Wilkerson said. "To beat those John Force guys makes me really proud. Ashley's a class act and so is her dad. I would like to see her get her first win, but I don't want to be the guy in the other lane."
Team leader John Force watched from the sidelines as his three young drivers took to the track. The 14-time champion narrowly missed making the field behind the wheel of his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang. The winningest driver in the history of the NHRA was a victim of the new qualifying structure when his quickest Friday qualifying pass of 4.97 seconds was not one of the twelve quickest of the day. It did not carry over into Saturday's session and he was unable to grab one of the remaining four spot leaving him on the outside looking in at the end of qualifying.
Robert Hight suffered a setback in his quest to regain the Funny Car points lead when he dropped his second round race with Bob Bode, The winner of the Full Throttle Award -- given to the most consistent team in qualifying - lost traction immediately after launching. He tried to pedal -- releasing the throttle and then accelerating - his Auto Club Ford Mustang but he could not regain enough control to overtake Bode.
"It started shaking and I felt it but it wasn't violent shake or anything. On a 120 degree race track our Mustang should go and not shake. Then it blew the tires off," said the defending event champion. "I came off the throttle and I squeezed back into it and then I hit it and it hooked back up. I heard (John Force co-crew chief) Bernie (Fedderly) say something on the radio and I thought he said I had cylinders out. These cars just don't have enough traction right now."
Ultimately the Auto Club Ford Mustang team is making progress on figuring out the performance of one of the most feared Funny Cars in recent history.
"We've done the clutch management and it is working pretty good. I think the balance of the car is off. We need to try and get more weight over the rear of the car for traction. We are going to work on that and I am looking forward to testing tomorrow," said the No. 1 qualifier. "The weather is supposed to be clear and hot and we are going to make as many runs as we can. We are going to start at 9 a.m. in the morning and go all day."
Mike Neff was a long shot, 20-1, to win the race according to Vegas oddsmaker Micah Roberts of Palace Station Casino and his luck ran out early when his Old Spice Ford Mustang smoked the tires as soon as it launched in the first round.
"We had something in the clutch that didn't act right and then it smoked the tires. It had no momentum. It was tough I tried to pedal it a couple of times. I could see him out there and I knew I wasn't going to catch him," said the Rookie of the Year front-runner "It was a disappointing day. We really wanted to do some good here. We aren't living up to our expectations but we are staying positive. When it is our day it will happen for us.
Neff will head to Atlanta looking for his first round win of his rookie season.
Fellow rookie Brittany Force lost in the first round of Top Alcohol Dragster on Saturday losing to eventual TAD finalist Jim Whiteley in the first round. The 21 year-old junior at Cal State Fullerton was the No. 15 qualifier in her first NHRA national event.
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TEAM CASTROL/TEAM JFR Details:
JOHN FORCE, 58, Castrol High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: DNQ, 18th at 5.020 seconds, 277.72 mph.
Notable: This is the first time John Force as failed to qualify for the same event two years in a row...Force is still only four round wins away from historic 1000th round win.
Quotable: "All around happy with my teams. Ashley did well. She leaves here with the points lead. I told her not to get that in her head because that'll jump around. Robert is still in it. I'm still up in the top 10."
ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 4th at 4.867 seconds, 320.97 mph.
Race Results: Beat Tommy Johnson Jr., Gary Densham, Bob Bode, Tim Wilkerson.
Notable: Leaves Las Vegas with the Funny Car points lead... Ashley is the first female to ever lead the funny points at any time...Reached her second final in a row and third final of her career...
Quotable: "The thing about drag racing that we all know is you can go from hero to zero very quickly. Last year we went to each race and we would go a few rounds but we never had any real highs or lows as far as our competition. This year we have done the opposite."
ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 1st at 4.849 seconds, 321.27 mph.
Race Results: Beat Jack Beckman. Lost to Bob Bode.
Notable: Moved up to third place in the Funny Car point standings.
Quotable: "Once we get the hot track tune-up getting a tune up for a cool track will not be a problem. We proved that last night. We can tune the thing up and make it run fast."
MIKE NEFF, 40, Old Spice Ford Mustang Qualifying position and performance: 8th at 4.894 seconds, 320.51 mph.
Race results: Lost to Bob Bode.
Notable: Mike Neff is still looking for first round win.
Quotable: "We had something in the clutch (that) didn't act right and then (we) smoked the tires. It had no momentum. It was tough I tried to pedal it a couple of times. I could see him (Bob Bode) out there and I knew I wasn't going to catch him. It was a disappointing day.
BRITTANY FORCE, 21, BrandSource A/Fuel Dragster
Qualifying position and performance: 15th at 5.597 seconds, 237.21 mph.
Race Results: Lost to Jim Whiteley
Notable: Qualified for her first national event...was eliminated in the first round by TAD finalist Jim Whiteley.
Quotable: "My first national event was fun and you can't win them all. I was so overwhelmed with getting qualified and making my first elimination run. I will definitely be ready for my next race."