HIGHT RUNNER-UP AT AUTO CLUB FINALS
POMONA, CA --- The 2011 Full Throttle Drag Racing season wrapped up for John Force Racing with Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang racing in the final round versus 2011 Full Throttle Funny Car champion Matt Hagan. In the quickest side by side Funny Car race ever Hight was narrowly edged out by Hagan 4.009 to 4.031 seconds. Hight will finish the season in fourth place followed by teammate Mike Neff.
“That was a great race and we just came up on the wrong side of the win light. You always want to end the season on a win but this Auto Club team doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. That was our best run of the weekend. Jimmy found a few things this weekend and my Mustang was consistent all weekend,” said Hight.
“We are headed to Las Vegas to test. The 2012 season starts for us on Wednesday. I congratulate Matt Hagan on his championship. We will be coming after him and all the Funny Car teams next year. I won five races this season, the most of my career in one season, and we are going to build on that momentum for next year.”
In a day when the focus was on securing the 18th Full Throttle Funny Car championship for John Force Racing, Hight and Neff were both outrun by a surging Matt Hagan on the last day of the season. Neff’s championship aspirations were extinguished in the second round when he was defeated by Johnny Gray, the surprise dominant Funny Car of the Countdown. Gray won more rounds than any Funny Car in the Countdown but unfortunately for the Service Central Dodge driver he was not in title contention. He did however have an impact on Hagan’s championship today.
Robert Hight had a slim chance to win his second Full Throttle Funny Car championship but when points leaders Matt Hagan and Jack Beckman both advanced to the second round his hopes were dashed. He did persevere to reach his sixth final of the season. This was the fourth time Hight has raced Hagan in a final round over the course of their careers. The biggest margin of victory has been .044 seconds. This season Hight defeated Hagan by a margin of .013 seconds to win the Winternationals and today Hagan edged Hight by .038 seconds. The slowest ET between these two superstars was 4.103 seconds.
Hight and Neff finished the 2011 season with category leading five wins each and Neff led all Funny Car drivers with nine final round appearances this season. Hight reached the second most finals with six. The trio of JFR Funny Cars reached sixteen final rounds with eleven wins.
“We have had a great season and it is a disappointing finish. Unfortunately we didn’t perform like we needed to when it counted the most. That is kind of a bummer. We still feel good here,” said Neff, the No. 5 finisher in Full Throttle points. “We know we had a great year and we have a great team. We know the only way anybody could have beaten us was with the Countdown. If there wasn’t a Countdown it would have been no contest.”
“The thing is there is a Countdown and you have to perform in it. No one had gone into the Countdown with a lead that big over 200 points so it is hard to swallow. You have that stripped away and then not perform when we needed to. That is what it comes down to. We needed to perform in the Countdown and we didn’t. We have no one to blame but ourselves.”
After he was eliminated from championship contention Neff met with his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang team and expressed his admiration for their efforts this season as well as last year’s championship run.
“I can’t say enough about my guys. We haven’t had an oil down in two seasons. My guys have been awesome all year. We won five races and went to nine finals because of the Mustang my guys give me. I could not be prouder of them. I told them no matter what we can hold our heads high. Either Matt Hagan or Cruz Pedregon will be great champions. They earned the championship and I respect that,” said Neff, a two-time champion as crew chief.
John Force’s day started with a track walk as the NHRA Legend, a celebration of his 15th champions being recognized as the Greatest Moment in the 60 years of the NHRA and the naming of the Top Eliminator Club seating area the John Force Grandstand. Unfortunately those were the highlights for the 2010 Full Throttle Funny Car champion as he dropped first round race to Johnny Gray extending to seven the number of races he has lost in the first round. This is the longest such streak of his impressive career. For the 133-time winner the end of the season has only focused him on success in 2012.
“I didn’t have a very successful Countdown but I am not going to get down or beat myself up. We won the championship last year and we had two Mustangs in the hunt today. I couldn’t be prouder of my team led by Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas. They took this old man and put me in my daughter Ashley’s hot rod. We got some No. 1 qualifiers this season and won Denver. I made the Countdown so I am going to hold my head up. We will be back. I am going to take the off-season and get ready for next year. This old truck driver isn’t going anywhere.”
“My heroes are drivers like (Don) Garlits, (Don) Prudhomme, Shirley (Muldowney), Kenny (Bernstein) and Connie Kalitta. To be recognized as a Legend with them is huge. I want to thank the NHRA for this celebration and I want to thank the fans. Without you there would be no John Force. Having a grandstand named after me blows me away. I want to thank Tom Compton (NHRA president) and Tom McKernan (Automobile Club of Southern California, CEO) for that honor.”