JFR At Top Of Seattle O’Reilly Nationals Field
Even though John Force lost control of the No. 1 qualifier spot to fellow Ford driver Tim Wilkerson the JFR pit was all smiles as qualifying concluded at the 24th annual NHRA O’Reilly Auto Parts Northwest Nationals. Wilkerson grabbed the top spot with a 4.109 second run during the first session on Saturday. The three JFR Ford Mustangs all earned qualifying bonus points throughout the day setting them up for solid race day combinations. They finished the day qualified No. 2 (Force), No. 4 (Robert Hight) and No. 5 (Mike Neff).
The biggest improvement came from Hight’s Auto Club Ford Mustang team. They finished Friday by destroying their Mustang when a tire exploded ruining the carbon fiber body and forcing the team to shelve the chassis as a precaution. The team worked well past midnight getting a back up Mustang ready for the final day of qualifying. Their hard work paid off as right out of the box on Saturday Hight raced to near the top of the field with a 4.137 second pass.
“We worked until midnight out here. Luckily, we have a lot of parts and spares. We didn’t want to take a chance with the car which more than likely is OK. We will take it back and look at it. We pulled out the other car,” said Hight. “We know what we have. We make our cars ourselves. As a driver I am very confident in my team. They worked hard and got this Mustang together. We went out there with a brand new unproven car and we got it qualified and we were very competitive. After yesterday even with a car that was proven when we had a car that was shaking the new car has (crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) tuning a little differently. We had to be able to get it down there and we could not have done that with our car yesterday. My guys gave Jimmy a good car today.”
On the starting line crew chief Jimmy Prock recognized the NHRA Safety Safari and track prep team played a major role in the reversal of performance for the Funny Cars.
“We just adapted to the track. NHRA did a good job working on it. The crew did a good job of getting the car back together. It was a good run for us,” said Prock.
Going into race day versus former JFR teammate Gary Densham Hight is excited about the prospects of success for his team.
“We ran 4.13 and 4.12 and those are two great times. At the same time I have way more confidence going into race day than I did the previous two Western Swing races. This Mustang now is acting like a race car. It is backed way off and it is running fast but there is more to go. It is coming together smooth and the clutch is acting like it is supposed to. It is not shaking. It is smooth and fast. I am stoked about race day. We made two great runs and we can build and tune on that. I believe we can get to the finals tomorrow.”
Team leader John Force ended the day with the quickest run of the final session. His Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang powered down the track in 4.117 seconds at 308.85 mph (track record). His elapsed time was equal to Matt Hagan’s but his speed was over seven mph faster. Force also had some good insight into the Friday struggles the Funny Car teams had to endure on Friday.
“It is simple, no cars ran on Thursday. That would have given everyone a view of what was to come. On Friday the pros jump out there. NHRA went right to work trying to clean it up. They worked it and groomed it,” said Force. “They worked late into the night because they want a good race too. That is what gets the fans here. The cars started coming around. A lot of guys struggled but some ran good. We got a show. The Fords are strong and Hagan slipped in there between us. We would have liked to have had four of us in a row. Tomorrow is the big day. You want to win the race.”
When he was asked about his team’s strong performance on Saturday and getting three Mustangs in the top five of the field he was practical about his assessment of his crew chiefs and teams.
“That is what I pay them to do. They have the best parts and they have the best sponsors that fund them and they work together. Teamwork is the key.”
Jeff Diehl will face Force in the first round and will become the 129th different driver to race Force.
Mike Neff opened the day with a solid 4.134 second run but in the final session he was racing for the top spot and smoked the tires. He still has by his estimates a very strong set-up will have him positioned for a successful race day behind the wheel of his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Neff will square off with fellow Ford driver Bob Tasca III in the opening rounds.