Four wins puts Funny Car driver in control of the points
After battling the elements and tricky track conditions for three days the Auto Club Funny Car team led by driver Robert Hight and crew chief Mike Neff shook off any Monday depression and won for the fourth time in 2014 and the third time in a row. Hight and the Auto Club team, the No. 3 qualifier at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals, have raced to six consecutive finals this season and have a commanding points lead heading to the NHRA Kansas Nationals in Topeka.
Hight was racing his teammate Courtney Force for the first time in a final round and there was history to be made no matter who took the win light. For the youngest Force she was chasing the 100th win by a female NHRA pro competitor. For Hight, who won his 300th round win with a victory over Bob Bode in the first round, it was extending his final round streak and also moving up in the all-time Funny Car win list. He is now only one win behind Cruz Pedregon (34) and two wins behind Don “The Snake” Prudhomme (35) out of 5th and 4th place, respectively.
“It’s kind of funny that Courtney and I have never raced in final, usually the boss (John Force) hogs it and he’s in there with the other one. Actually, the first non-John Force all JFR final was Eric Medlin and myself it had always been John with one of his other teammates. So, it’s pretty cool, you know, it would’ve been big win for Courtney but you know what, we have a lot of momentum, we want to make some history here this is six straight final rounds. I’ve never done this and six out of seven (races), I would’ve never guess this. I’ve won three in a row a few times but I want to win four or even five in a row. I want to see where we can go. We got to take it one round at a time and that’s what we’re doing, it’s a total team effort,” said Hight.
This was the 42nd all-JFR final round and it assured the 230th Funny Car win for John Force Racing. This was the 14th straight race in which the JFR team has had a least one of its Fords in the final round. Courtney Force was the sixth different teammate Hight has opposed in a final round joining John Force, Neff, Eric Medlen, Ashley Force Hood and Phil Burkart Jr.
In Hight’s second round win over fellow Ford driver Tim Wilkerson Hight overcame an uncharacteristic driver error to advance to the semi-finals. Hight was distracted in the cockpit and had a 1.4 second reactions time.
“The car had such a vibration, I was actually afraid to hit the gas and was thinking ‘this thing is going to blow up,’ so, add all that up. So I staged and looked over to see if Tim Wilkerson was staged and all of a sudden, he left. My initial thought was he red-lit and then my brain just froze,” said a shocked Hight. “After that, we got in synch and we were back as a team again.”
“Mike Neff has a calming effect on me, you have a lot of confidence as driver with him out in front of you. Last night, when everything was going on with the starting line and cars weren’t making it down the track and crew chiefs were making rash decisions decide what they were going to do, Mike Neff was Mr. Cool. He stood back and said ‘I think the tracks getting better every round with every pair that runs. We’re not going to do anything until it gets to our turn then, then we’re going to see what we’re faced with,’” said Hight.
“He helps me and I think it’s because he was a driver, he knows what I’m facing, the pressure, and he just takes that pressure away from me. Right now, we’re clicking and like I said down there on top end, ‘That Peak antifreeze can’t cool that Auto Club car down,’” said Hight in the Atlanta Dragway pressroom.
When he was asked about the historic nature of the match-up with his teammate Hight showed why JFR is one of the most competitive and supportive teams in motorsports history.
“She (Courtney Force) has a job to do for Traxxas and I have a job to do for Auto Club. She wouldn’t have wanted to win it any other way. I believe that Traxxas car is starting to come around and Courtney’s going to have a shot at it. We’re on roll here and we go to two more races in row (Topeka and Englishtown) and Brittany’s Castrol EDGE car is starting to come around and to be honest, I’d like for Brittany get her first win and it would be the 100th female NHRA pro victory,” said Hight.
Courtney Force and the Traxxas Ford Mustang team broke through at Atlanta Dragway reaching the final round for the first time in 2014. It was a solid effort by the 2012 Auto Club Road to the Future winner and moved the third year driver from 10th to 7th place in the Mello Yello point standings. Force is just eleven points out of sixth place.
The three-time tour winner started her day by defeating two different two-time Funny Car champions outrunning Cruz Pedregon in the first round and then beating Pedregon’s younger brother and former JFR driver Tony Pedregon in the second round. The semi-finals set up another JFR vs. DSR slugfest with Force getting the best of 2011 Funny Car champion Matt Hagan running 4.135 seconds to his tire smoking 8.265 second run. Force had a spectacular .033 reaction time to give her team every advantage in this important round.
In the final it was another world champion this time in the left lane and that proved to be the downfall of the Traxxas team. They ran the best run in the toughest lane, a strong 4.117 second pass but it was not enough for Hight. An understandably disappointed Force was candid about missing her shot at winning the 100th NHRA pro national event by a woman driver.
“We’re improving every time we get a run out there and we’re trying to look at the positives. We moved up in the points, which is exactly what we needed but I really wanted to get that win but we didn’t get it,” said Force. “Another positive is the Traxxas team is starting to come around with this car and I think we’ve learned a lot, especially this weekend. It was a long weekend for my guys and I’m very proud for what they did. Hopefully we can move forward and go after a win in Topeka.”
Once again, the 16-time NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car Champion will leave Atlanta Dragway empty handed as John Force and his Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang lost in round one to fellow Ford Racer Tim Wilkerson.
At the hit of the throttle, John Force’s race car smoked the Goodyear slicks due in part to a glitch in the clutch system. John Force tried to pedal his 8000 horsepower race car with hopes of regaining traction and getting the win but it was to no avail. The 2013 NHRA Funny Car champ was looking to end his drought today as the last time he won the NHRA Southern Nationals was back in 2005. John Force has been to Atlanta Dragway winner’s circle seven times in his career.
“I had a malfunction with the clutch. It locked up right at the hit of the throttle and it was over. That’s the way the game is played,” said John Force.
During the weekend, John Force did struggle during qualifying but was able to make one good run which was a solid 4.077 second pass. He raced from the sixth spot today and had lane choice.
“All we can do is put this one behind us and head to Topeka for the next race. Right now we’ve got gremlins and we got to sort them out. Luckily, we have a little bit of a cushion in the NHRA Mello Yello points. But, if we stay like this, it isn’t good so we’ll fix it,” said John Force
The Castrol GTX High Mileage team leaves Atlanta with 524 NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car points and still in second place. With NHRA Kansas Nationals next weekend, John Force and the crew will head to Heartland Park Topeka for another chance of going rounds and possibly getting his 140th career win.
“Now we’re getting in a groove that we have three races in a row. I actually enjoy racing every weekend, we don’t have time to dwell on what went wrong,” said John Force.
Sunday’s eight-hour rain delay also put a damper on Brittany Force’s hopes of getting her first Top Fuel victory and potentially being the 100TH NHRA Pro female winner. Being the third pair of race cars out on a relatively green track, Brittany’s 10,000 horsepower Castrol EDGE Dragster immediately overpowered Atlanta Dragway’s tricky surface at the hit of the throttle. Her opponent, Pat Dakin, also experienced traction woes and both machines began to smoke their massive Goodyear slicks.
“I was the third pair and the car didn’t leave the starting line when I hit the throttle. It went up into smoke and it wasn’t going to run. I got out of it and I feel like I waited long enough for it to settle down. When you are up there on the starting line it feels like forever. I rolled back into it with the throttle. I have never felt the car not move or hook-up when you get back on the throttle,” said Force, the 2013 Rookie of the Year. “I hit the throttle four or five times inching my way down the track. I was racing Pat Dakin and he was doing the same thing. We were both just trying to get to the finish line but we weren’t budging. We have timers on our Castrol EDGE dragster for safety reasons and the timers got me. They shut the car off and deploy the chutes, which is what happened at about 400 feet. I would rather have that safety equipment in the long run even though it may have cost us that run. I feel safer in my car knowing I have that protection and that extra safety equipment,” said Force.
Brittany began to “pedal” her machine in hopes of catching Dakin, who had a slight lead, and beating him to the finish line. The 2013 NHRA Rookie of the Year did everything she could in applying the right amount of throttle pressure to the supercharged BOSS 500 engine. She was on and off the throttle and tried in vain to reel her dragster back in the groove, but the track conditions were not compatible with the brute power of her Castrol EDGE Dragster.
Fortunately for Brittany, her first round loss will not impact her Top Fuel points standing. She’ll leave the NHRA Southern Nationals still in the top ten, with 336 NHRA Mello Yello points and in the eighth spot. She will also have a new personal best elapsed time as her team heads to Topeka.
“That was the most frustrating part about the weekend. We qualified well and we ended up No. 6. We had two awesome runs in a brand new car. We ran 3.78 and 3.777 which was a career best. To do that and then go out in the first round is really disappointing and not what we wanted. My whole team felt confident that we would go rounds. The weekend didn’t turn out like we wanted it to but luckily we will go right into Topeka,” concluded Force.
John Force Racing