Brainerd: John Force Racing final report

JOHN FORCE REACHES SEMIS IN BRAINERD -14-time champs effort lone bright spot in frustrating day for Team Castrol- BRAINERD, MN -- John Force and the Castrol GTX Hight Mileage Mustang were headed towards familiar territory at the 28th annual ...


-14-time champs effort lone bright spot in frustrating day for Team Castrol-

BRAINERD, MN -- John Force and the Castrol GTX Hight Mileage Mustang were headed towards familiar territory at the 28th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals as he reached the semi-finals for the 19th time in his career at Brainerd International Raceway, unfortunately former teammate Tony Pedregon stopped him before he could reach his 14th final round. The semi-final loss ended the racing day for John Force Racing which was on the ropes early when three of the four entries dropped their first round match-ups.

Force defeated Gary Scelzi in the first round but immediately following him No. 1 qualifier and daughter Ashley Force fell to Ron Capps for just the second time in five meetings, son-in-law Robert Hight was upset by Melanie Troxel when both cars lost traction early and Rookie of the Year front-runner Mike Neff was upended by points leader Tim Wilkerson. Those three losses put a damper on a day when all four Team Castrol Mustangs held four of the top five qualifying positions and were in separate quadrants of the bracket and potentially could have all reached the semi-finals.

In the only JFR second round race Force grabbed the win over nemesis Cruz Pedregon and as his team prepared to head to the semi-final round a clutch problem was detected in the pits. Force's team worked furiously against the clock to install a new clutch, warm-up the 8000 hp Ford BOSS 500 motor and reach the starting line. While the possibility of missing the call for the semi-finals was never in doubt and in the semis versus the youngest Pedregon his Mustang slowed in the rising heat, having his team pull together under the stress was impressive to the team owner.

Ashley Force -- the 2007 Rookie of the Year and No. 1 qualifier - was unable to capitalize on her second No. 1 qualifying effort in a row as she dropped her first round match-up to Ron Capps. While the young driver is pleased with the consistency of her Mustang on Friday and Saturday she knows that it is the performance on Sunday that really matters.

"You know everyone is gunning for you because we ran the best of the weekend heading into race day. Capps had a great run and we actually found out later that we had something go wrong on our car," said Force. "It was just a random thing. It is frustrating because you get so hopeful you think you got everything you want you got Full Throttle, you are No. 1 and everything is lining up right and then to go out in the first round was just a bummer. Especially since Robert and Mike followed me shortly there after."

As the highest positioned JFR Mustang in the Funny Car point standings Robert Hight held out a slim hope of grabbing the No. 1 position in the point standings from Tim Wilkerson by the conclusion of the Mac Tools US Nationals. His first round loss to Melanie Troxel all but ended any hope of moving to the top of the standings. Hight actually dropped a spot from second to third, in the point standings when Tony Pedregon reached the semi-finals

"All we needed to do was go down the track to beat her (Troxel). Honestly if we'd have gone down the track all day long with what we ran yesterday in the heat - the 4.20 second run - we'd have won this race. It drives me crazy but first round is different because it was cooler so we thought the track was better than it was," said Hight. "We should have backed off a little. When it got hotter in the later rounds we would have. We were testing some things yesterday and we kept them on the car -- primary levers -- but I don't think any of that caused us not to go down the track."

Rookie of the Year front-runner Mike Neff also dropped a spot from ninth to tenth in the standings. With only two races before the Countdown to One Neff and the Old Spice Mustang are now just 79 points in front of fellow rookie Bob Tasca III who sits in the 11th spot. Neff had a tough draw in the first round facing points leader Tim Wilkerson. Crew Chief John Medlen was utilizing the same tune-up that propelled Neff to the quickest run of the last qualifying session yesterday but that was not enough to beat a much improved performance from Wilkerson.

"I really felt good coming into today. We qualified good. We ran the best run of the day yesterday. I felt good about all that. I didn't really catch a good break having to race Tim Wilkerson. He can step up and run good at any time and that is exactly what he did," said the Rookie of the Year front-runner "He ran low ET against us. We actually were trying to run better than we did. The clutch didn't apply itself quite the same way as it did yesterday. We had it set up the same and we thought it would run a 19 or 18. It just fell off."


JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 2nd at 4.112 seconds, 301.27 mph

Race Results: Beat Gary Scelzi, Cruz Pedregon. Lost to Tony Pedregon.

Notable: 19th time in 23 races Force has reached at least the semi-finals...14th time in 16 races of 2008 that at least one JFR Mustang has reached the semi-finals.

ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 1st at 4.110 seconds, 299.40 mph

Race Results: Lost to Ron Capps.

Notable: No. 1 qualifier for the second time in her career...won Full Throttle Award for her qualifying efforts on Friday and Saturday.

Quotable: "We are just a little low on our luck. Our car has been running good. I haven't been making mistakes. Guido (crew chief Dean Antonelli) and I were talking about it up on the starting line that we just have to keep doing what we are doing. We can't start thinking too much. We need to keep being consistent and it will come back around."

ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 3rd at 4.119 seconds, 300.26 mph

Race Results: Lost to Melanie Troxel.

Notable: Second Funny Car driver to clinch position in Countdown to One.

Quotable: "My mindset has changed I was second and now I'm third. Our mindset now is to get as high as we can. We can't catch (Tim) Wilkerson but we want to get as high as we can. More than anything the only way you are going to do that is to have a good running car. We have a pretty good race car right now."

MIKE NEFF, 41, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 5th at 4.176 seconds, 298.80 mph

Race results: Lost to Tim Wilkerson.

Notable: Fell one position in POWERade point standings from 9th to 10th with two races remaining before Countdown to One.

Quotable: "We have been hoping to keep moving forward. It is crunch time right now. We need to go some rounds. Unfortunately we didn't. On the one hand I am excited that we are even in the Top Ten and that we have a chance. On the other hand it is not where you really want to be at this point being vulnerable. I feel good that we ran well this weekend. I feel good that we should be able to keep that going."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Melanie Troxel , Robert Hight , Bob Tasca III , John Medlen , Mike Neff