Pomona II: John Force Racing final report

HIGHT MISSES CHAMPIONSHIP AT AUTO CLUB NHRA FINALS POMONA -- Robert Hight and the Automobile Club of Southern California/LA Dodgers Ford Mustang had what every driver dreams about on the last day of the season; a chance to win a championship.

HIGHT MISSES CHAMPIONSHIP AT AUTO CLUB NHRA FINALS

POMONA -- Robert Hight and the Automobile Club of Southern California/LA Dodgers Ford Mustang had what every driver dreams about on the last day of the season; a chance to win a championship. Unfortunately Hight's quest for his first title went up in smoke when his 8,000 horsepower Mustang lost traction a fraction of a second in front of his first round opponent Tony Pedregon. A disappointed Hight addressed the media in the Shav Glick Media Center shortly after the loss and he knew that this was a missed opportunity.

"I think lane choice hurt us. NHRA does a great job in preparing the lanes so they are equal but the right lane I think was a little slipperier. Right from the get go when I hit the gas it felt like I was on ice and from then on I was having to drive it. Then it gets the tires too hot and it smokes the tires. I didn't see Tony so I pedaled it real quick. I think mine must have smoked first and he had a little more momentum. He is a great driver. He did what he needed to do for his brother and for those guys to win two championships over there in a row we have to tip our hats to them," said Hight.

Hight, a true John Force racing disciple, will rededicate himself to improving for the 2009 Full Throttle season. He knows that becoming a champion is a 24/7 commitment.

"To be competitive you have to live it like John Force has. It is so all consuming. You have to wake up every day thinking about how you can win, what you can do to make your car better, and what you can do to make yourself better. You get down to the last race and your hopes are so high. I can't wait to start again to get back out here and try to get on top again. That is our goal to win a championship and get John Force Racing back on top. We know we can do it. We just have to work harder. I think this winter will be a little better. We aren't having to redesign cars completely for safety like we did last year," added Hight.

Team leader John Force started the day for John Force Racing by ending Tim Wilkerson's Cinderella championship season. As the second pair of Funny Cars to race down the historic Auto Club Raceway track, Force and Wilkerson squared off in a highly anticipated match-up. Wilkerson handed Force the win and at the time edged Hight closer to the championship when he red-lit versus the 14-time champion. Force was not able to carry that mojo beyond the first round as Force dropped a second round match-up to 2008 Funny Car and Auto Club NHRA Finals champion Cruz Pedregon. At the top end a fired up Force was thankful for this full season after his 2007 season was cut short by a near catastrophic accident in Dallas.

"I needed to get myself back in the game. I am excited about that. Ashley (Force) showed herself as a driver. She knows how to play the game. Robert (Hight) was right there for the title. The old man is back kicking. I'll fight it out out there and for next year. That is what it is really all about. I really want to thank all the fans. I love you for all the support. I want to thank Castrol, Ford, AAA, BrandSource, Old Spice, Sanyo, Mac Tools, Nordic Boat and everybody. At the end of the day congratulations Cruz Pedregon," said the 14-time champion.

Immediately after the eldest Force's race Ashley Force dispatched Gary Densham in a wire to wire win moving another JFR Mustang to the second round. Force left on Densham and never trailed for the entire 1000 feet. Force's day was cut short in the next round when she fell to eventual finalist Ron Capps. Force again made a solid run and while she would have liked to have picked up her second career win she was glad her last pass of 2008 was a competitive, mistake free lap.

"We were hoping to move up a few more positions today. We could have moved up to fourth in points but that was counting on other people struggling. The people that needed to not struggle didn't. I mean Beckman and Capps. They all went some rounds. It is what it is. We really had a good day today even the run we lost on I don't know that we would have done anything differently. At least that is how we ended our year not on something stupid that happened or broke or I did something wrong. We had a good finish and a good car. We'll just start again in a few months," said the sophomore driver.

Mike Neff, blasted to the top of the field at the end of Saturday's qualifying session and his first lap of Sunday was a monster 4.076 second pass which was the quickest pass of the event. In the second round he once again showed the Funny Car field that today might be the day for the sure-fire Rookie of the Year to pick up his first win when he outran Tony Pedregon with a round leading 4.112 second run. The round win was especially significant since it locked teammate Robert Hight into 4th place in the POWERade point standings.

However in the semi-final round Neff pulled up beside newly crowned Funny Car champion Cruz Pedregon and a malfunction with a timing box prematurely ended his run at the Auto Club NHRA Finals title.

"We had a problem with the ignition box, the box that controls the ignition timing, the map we loaded into it for some reason did not take. It never knocked the timing out of it like it was supposed to do one second into the run. We just drove into smoke. It is just hard to believe. We have had that happen before but it is just really unfortunate. John Medlen and the boys had this Old Spice Ford Mustang running so good. We just really felt confident today. To go down like that to something like that that is what makes it tough. Unfortunately there are a million ways to lose and only one way to win. It just wasn't our day. It is definitely disappointing. When you have a car that is running as good as we were running this weekend these are the races that you need to win because you don't perform like that at all the races," said Neff.

As his rookie season wrapped up Neff was pleased with how he had progressed and was looking forward to continuing to improve over the off-season. The experience of driving for a full season exceeded the former crew chiefs expectations as he reflected on his new position in his lounge.

"I feel a lot more comfortable now in the car. There are a lot of things I feel better about. It is such a tough class. There are a lot of good drivers out there. I am going to keep working to try and get better. I am really excited. I just really enjoy driving that thing. It is just such a thrill especially on a weekend like this when it is running that good. It was running easy and it is just exciting to be able to drive it. I have been standing back watching them for so many years. It is still hard for me to actually believe that I am inside that thing. I was so used to watching them run it is hard to believe that I am doing it. I am just really having a great time," concluded Neff.

***

JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 4th at 4.108 seconds, 303.78 mph

Race Results: Beat Tim Wilkerson. Lost to Cruz Pedregon

Quoteable: "I really want to thank all the fans. I love you for all the support. I want to thank Castrol, Ford, AAA, BrandSource, Old Spice, Sanyo, Mac Tools, Nordic Boat and everybody. At the end of the day congratulations to Cruz Pedregon. Ashley showed herself as a driver. She knows how to play the game. Robert was right there for the title."

ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 3rd at 4.092 seconds, 304.87 mph

Race Results: Beat Gary Densham. Lost to Ron Capps

Quotable: "We were hoping to move up a few more positions today. We could have moved up to fourth in points but that was counting on other people struggling. We really had a good day today even the run we lost on I don't know that we would have done anything differently. At least that is how we ended our year not on something stupid that happened."

ROBERT HIGHT, 39, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 9th at 4.122 seconds, 298.14 mph

Race Results: Lost to Tony Pedregon

Quotable: "I think lane choice hurt us. NHRA does a great job in preparing the lanes so they are equal but the right lane I think was a little slipperier. Right from the get go when I hit the gas it felt like I was on ice from then on I was having to drive it. Then it gets the tires too hot and it smokes the tires. I didn't see Tony so I pedaled it real quick. I think mine must have smoked first and he had a little more momentum."

MIKE NEFF, 42, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 1st at 4.079 seconds, 305.49 mph

Race Results: Beat Jeff Arend, Tony Pedregon. Lost to Cruz Pedregon.

Quotable: "(Crew chief) John Medlen and the boys had this Old Spice Ford Mustang running so good. We just really felt confident today. To go down like that to something like that that is what makes it tough. Unfortunately there are a million ways to lose and only one way to win. It just wasn't our day. It is definitely disappointing."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Densham , Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Jeff Arend , Robert Hight , John Medlen , Mike Neff