Bristol: John Force Racing final report

FORCE HOOD RACES TO SEMIS AT BRISTOL BRISTOL, TN --- Ashley Force Hood raced to the semi-finals at the 9th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals but it was 14-time champion father John Force who stole the show at Bristol Dragway reining in his ...

FORCE HOOD RACES TO SEMIS AT BRISTOL

BRISTOL, TN --- Ashley Force Hood raced to the semi-finals at the 9th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals but it was 14-time champion father John Force who stole the show at Bristol Dragway reining in his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang during a wild first round race with veteran Jack Beckman.

Force was in the left lane at the start of the race then his Mustang got loose and darted left. He manhandled his hot rod back towards the groove in his lane but then he completely crossed the centerline in front of a tire smoking Jack Beckman. Force quickly jerked his Mustang to the left shooting back into his original lane. Both Funny cars narrowly missed each other as Beckman shot past Force to cross the finish line just ahead of the winningest driver in NHRA history. By all accounts disaster was averted because of Force's superior driving skills - honed on tracks all over the U.S. - as well as Beckman's heads-up driving ability.

"I want to compliment (Jack) Beckman. He was a teacher and he taught my daughters. A driver doesn't just have to run his lane. He has to look out for the other driver because the other driver could be in trouble. I was in trouble. I have had cars make turns in my career but never that violently. It went to the right and I took it back to the inside. It tried to go too far and I brought it back. Then it blew the tires off and that shot me across like a rocket," said Force. "I was on the brake and trying to get the front end back so it would steer and right when it hit the cones the wheels hooked. I made a hard left turn and I just missed him. He was watching out for me too. I have to compliment Beckman for that."

"I had my hands full. It was all I could do to find my location on the track. Then all of a sudden I see this big ole blue and white car. I thought, 'Man I am driving him right up into the grandstands.' He moved over just enough that we both cleared and he didn't tail-end me. I can't even remember if I saw him before or after but it was just a mess. I am glad we both walked away. I want to compliment the NHRA for what they put the drivers through to get them licensed. My daughter (Ashley Force Hood) went through a long process, two years of testing in the Funny Car to earn that right to drive. That is what you need if you are going to stay alive in this business."

Ashley Force Hood's day was much less dramatic but still full of her own share of tense moments. In the first round she defeated NHRA upstart Andy Kelley. Force Hood's first round effort of 4.361 was not picture perfect but it was good enough to best Kelley's tire smoking 7.047.

In the second round she pulled up beside veteran Jim Head and laid down a solid 4.171 pass which set her up for a semi-final appearance with former JFR team member Tony Pedregon. Force Hood was feeling pretty good about her chances heading into her 3rd semi-final of 2009.

"We want to win this race. You can only win the race by going four rounds so we are trying to take it one round at a time. Two down and we have two more to go. This has been such a tough weekend. This track is very tricky. I was thankful to get down that pass. You never know what is going to happen. This Mustang is going to the next round and we'll see how it goes."

In the semis she was forced into the right lane and in an exciting side by side race dropped a close round 4.130 to 4.119. Afterwards Force Hood took the positives from a much improved Thunder Valley effort.

"It feels great to be racing later in the day especially when you look at how competitive this class is. There is just not going to be an easy round for anybody no matter how the ladder falls. There is no draw that is any better than the next. Every car that rolls up there and every person that you race could very well be a very good side by side race. Like the race Tony (Pedregon) and I had," said Force Hood.

"That shows how far our category has come. Our class is almost like Pro Stock with how close the racing is. They are showing these races at the finish line where my team is driving down track along side of us and they can't tell who won. I can't tell who has won when I am in the car. That is a good thing. I am glad that I am in those races, the close races. That means our team is up to par with everyone else is doing. If we can keep that up we'll have a really good chance at the end of the year."

2008 rookie of the year Mike Neff was frustrated after his first round race with Cruz Pedregon but after a quick pep talk from John Force he felt a little better. Neff explained what he felt inside his Ford Drive One Mustang and Force reinforced that that is part of the learning curve.

"I just didn't wait long enough after it smoked the tires. That is the hardest part about these cars. You are so jacked up and the car is just so ready to go again I have to be more patient. It got loose and I just got back on it too quickly. That has only happened to me two or three times in my career," said Neff.

The fourth John Force Racing Mustang piloted by Robert Hight was on the sidelines today after failing to qualify. It has been 28 races since the Auto Club Ford Mustang was not able to answer the bell on Sunday morning. On Saturday Hight was apologetic to his fans and sponsors but also determined to turn his program around.

"We had some things go wrong. We also didn't do a good job. This wasn't a real indication of how good this team is. We have been in the fight for the championship every year. Auto Club, Ford, Mac Tools, BrandSource they don't pay us to perform like this," said Hight. "We have to get our act together. We will. I have a great team behind me. I wouldn't trade them for anyone. We are going to get through this. We will be in contention for this championship later on I promise."

JOHN FORCE, 60, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 7th at 4.154 seconds, 297.94 mph

Race results: Lost to Jack Beckman

Quotable: "(Crew Chief Austin) Coil was upset. The track seemed to change today but that is just tuners and drivers. The NHRA they do their best and they do a great job. We pulled it way back. It should have gone. It never should have gotten loose. We were a little surprised. Part of the game is beating the track."

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD, 26, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 1st at 4.105 seconds, 298.67 mph

Race results: Beat Andy Kelley, Jim Head. Lost to Tony Pedregon.

Quotable: "I am sure the crew chiefs have a different opinion but I still would not change anything (about run against Pedregon). I think it was a really good run. The conditions, the lane we were in you know it could have gone either way. We were on the losing end but there are easier loses to take when you don't have any regrets about how we ran. I don't think they should have made any big changes. I am glad I didn't do anything different. That is just sometimes how it goes."

ROBERT HIGHT, 39, Auto Club Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: DNQ

Quotable: "We had some things go wrong. We also didn't do a good job. This wasn't a real indication of how good this team is. We have been in the fight for the championship every year. Auto Club, Ford, Mac Tools, BrandSource they don't pay us to perform like this. We have to get our act together. We will. I have a great team behind me. I wouldn't trade them for anyone. We are going to get through this. We will be in contention for this championship later on I promise."

MIKE NEFF, 41, Ford Drive One/Auto Club Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 11th at 4.186 seconds, 291.01 mph

Race results: Lost to Cruz Pedregon.

Quotable: "I just didn't wait long enough after it smoked the tires. That is the hardest part about these cars. You are so jacked up and the car is just so ready to go again I have to be more patient. It got loose and I just got back on it too quickly. That has only happened to me two or three times in my career."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force , Robert Hight , Mike Neff