Sonoma: John Force Racing final report

HIGHT GETS SECOND WIN OF '08 AT SONOMA SONOMA, CA -- Robert Hight has experienced racing action at Infineon Raceway during the FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals from every angle before today but as his Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang...

HIGHT GETS SECOND WIN OF '08 AT SONOMA

SONOMA, CA -- Robert Hight has experienced racing action at Infineon Raceway during the FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals from every angle before today but as his Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang crossed the finish line in front of Gary Densham he added a new view; the winner's circle.

"It's unbelievable. It's always been a dream of mine to win at this race track since I've been driving. I actually have been at every event contested here, every national event. I was coming to the races as a spectator before I ever got a job working on the crew," said the former JFR clutch mechanic. "Just to work on a car, it didn't matter whose car it was would have been great. My favorites were always Kenny Bernstein and John Force and I'd always hang out at their trailers. I knew that I could do that job."

"To finally get a chance to do the job for John, to work on his car for a lot of years and now to drive one of the best Funny Cars in the nation is like a dream come true. I grew up in Northern California. This would be the closest race track to where I used to live," added Hight.

The 2005 Rookie of the Year won his second race of 2008 and the tenth of his young career by mowing down a string of veterans that would have intimidated most drivers. In the first round Hight dispatched Del Worsham, and then he had to work his way past reigning POWERade champion Tony Pedregon and his brother Cruz (1992 POWERade champion) to get to Densham in the final.

Facing Densham in the final was an emotional test for Hight considering Densham was the pilot of the Auto Club Ford Mustang prior to Hight moving behind the wheel. As Hight was transitioning from crewman to driver it was Densham who offered the most assistance, which Hight thought was a true measure of Densham's high character.

"He (Densham) helped me a lot in the beginning. John Force, as great as he is, is not a good teacher. It's hard to learn from him. He's the best at what he does but he can't teach you how to do it. Gary honestly helped me. He was excited when we did good even though I was taking his job. Helping me when he knew when I was going to jump in that seat of his, you've got to give that guy a lot of credit."

The win was also the third in a row for John Force Racing at the FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals a streak that started with teammate Eric Medlen in 2006. The following year in March Medlen succumbed to injuries he sustained at a testing action in Gainesville, Florida. Last season team leader and Medlen racing mentor John Force dedicated his win to Eric and his family. Hight was thrilled to extend the JFR win streak this season.

"When I was out on the road, I was with Eric Medlen. He and I rode together a lot. He and I drove the bus together, at times. He actually got me to sing one time, going down the road. I must have been delirious. It wasn't the same this week," Hight rode with is team and actually drove his rig from Seattle to Sonoma. "He was always good at making a long trip go fast. He was always getting lost. He actually drove 300 miles, the wrong direction one time. He always had to get off and eat. He could eat anything and everything and he had to eat every 3-4 hours."

Number one qualifier Ashley Force and her Castrol GTX Mustang team moved to the second round with an overpowering win over Tommy Johnson Jr.. Force laid down the quickest run of the event, a blistering 4.094 second run and was able to get lane choice over family friend and rival Tim Wilkerson in the second round.

In a great nearly heads up race - .101 to .102 reaction times - Force came up a few feet short at the 1,000 foot finish line versus Wilkerson.

In the first round Mike Neff and the Old Spice Ford Mustang were looking to make a move up the point standings but versus Cruz Pedregon his staging focus was interrupted by an errant radio squelch. Just as Pedregon was rolling in to join an already staged Neff, Neff was distracted enough to force a disastrous .385 reaction time.

"I was staged. I rolled in, lit both of my lights and I was watching for his stage lights. Somehow something got keyed over the radio and there was a loud squelch. At that point I was right one the edge just waiting to go," said the rookie driver. "That loud sound on the radio made me jump and I squeezed into the throttle just a little. From there it just totally screwed me up," said the front-runner for 2008 Rookie of the Year honors.

"I revved it up maybe a 1,000 rpm. Once I did that I had to look to make sure it didn't roll through and turn on the red light. At that point I knew I was late. I wanted to let the car get set again to make sure I didn't double hit it. I didn't want to have the car moving, at least now I'm giving it a chance to go. You could hope something happened to him maybe," added Neff.

Luckily, all the drivers vying to more into the Top Ten were neutralized and there was no movement upwards around Neff allowing him to hold onto his No. 9 position with only three races left until the Countdown begins.

Neff was joined on the list of drivers eliminated in the first round by team leader John Force and the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang. In a match-up against Jack Beckman Force took the tree cleanly but then smoked the tires as Beckman drove away from the 14-time POWERade champion. Force was upset to lose to the Schumacher backed Beckman but focused his frustration on the performance of the smaller budgeted teams.

"Right now the guy that is killing us is (Gary) Densham. Here is a guy running on no budget that is beating me up every week. God bless the guy that can get the job done. I'm counting on Ashley and Robert right now because I just can't seem to get there. We'll be back next event doing it again. If I don't win some rounds I'm not going to be in this Countdown."

Even with an early exit and Densham's run to the final Force only dropped one spot in the POWERade Funny Car point standings from 7th to 8th.

***

TEAM CASTROL/TEAM JFR Details:

JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying performance: 4th at 4.119 seconds, 298.80 mph

Race Results: Lost to Jack Beckman.

Notable: Dropped to 8th in POWERade point standings

Quotable: "I'm counting on Ashley and Robert right now because I just can't seem to get there. We'll be back next event doing it again. If I don't win some rounds I'm not going to be in this Countdown."

ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 1st at 4.096 seconds, 301.60 mph

Race Results: Beat Tommy Johnson Jr. Lost to Tim Wilkerson.

Notable: First No. 1 qualifier...stayed in POWERade top five of POWERade point standings.

Quotable: "It was good to get a round win. My Mustang has been so great all weekend. Guido (crew chief Dean Antonelli) and (crew chief) Ron (Douglas) as well as my whole team gave me a great car. I am excited about our chance as we head towards the Countdown."

ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 11th at 4.194 seconds, 298.57 mph

Race Results: Beat Del Worsham, Cruz Pedregon, Tony Pedregon, Gary Densham

Notable: Robert moved back into No. 2 position in POWERade point standings.

Quotable: "To finally get a chance to do the job for John, to work on his car for a lot of years, and now to drive one of the best Funny Cars in the nation is like a dream come true. I grew up in Northern California. This would be the closest race track to where I used to live."

MIKE NEFF, 41, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 14th at 4.238 290.51 mph

Race results: Lost to Cruz Pedregon.

Notable: Held onto No. 9 position in POWERade points.

Quotable: "At that moment you are just so focused. The fact that there was something loud on the radio, everybody heard it, it made me just jump."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , John Force , Gary Densham , Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , Mike Neff , Tommy Johnson Jr.