This Week in Ford Racing: November 18, 2009 Robert Hight claimed his first NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship last weekend, giving John Force Racing it's 16th overall title in the last 20 years, and 10th as a member of the Ford Racing ...
This Week in Ford Racing:
November 18, 2009
Robert Hight claimed his first NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship last weekend, giving John Force Racing it's 16th overall title in the last 20 years, and 10th as a member of the Ford Racing family. Hight and Force both participated in a Ford Racing teleconference earlier today to talk about coming out on top in the 'Countdown to One.'
CAN YOU TAKE US THROUGH YOUR EMOTIONS THE LAST FEW MONTHS?
ROBERT HIGHT: "It's a great championship for all of us - Ford, John Force Racing - it's been a few years since we've had it and we finally got it back. It has been a crazy season. We struggled for two- thirds of the season with my car and we were terrible. We could not get it right. I remember back in Bristol when we didn't qualify, I made a statement at the other end of the race track that, 'this team and this car were too good, and we will contend for the championship at the end,' knowing that the countdown is coming. But you start thinking about those statements and you think, 'Man, maybe you're being a little bold,' because those things can come back to bite you, but I really believe that. I believed in my team and everybody, all of our sponsors believed in us. They didn't put any pressure on us. They let us do what we knew how to do and that helped get us through it. With the help of our teammates, Ashley and her team, they carried John Force Racing for most of the year with performance, but we adopted their engine combination and we got mine on track just at the right time. That's kind of what winning a championship under this countdown is all about is timing, and we couldn't have done it more perfectly. We won the first two right out of the box and we won half of the countdown races. We hadn't even been to a final before Indy, which was the race before the countdown started, so we did get our car on track at the right time at the end of the year. Hearing you say my name and 2009 Funny Car champ, I'm still getting used to hearing that, but I definitely like how it sounds."
WHAT HAVE THE LAST FEW DAYS BEEN LIKE FOR YOU?
ROBERT HIGHT: "Crazy. I'm starting to see what it's like to be John and Ashley 365 days a year. They deal with a lot of the media around here and it's exciting for me. It's something new. I'm learning, and I definitely have them in my back pocket to help me and get me through it. I'm so excited about going down to Homestead this weekend and trying to cheer on the NASCAR drivers. Hopefully, one of the Ford guys can win the last race. It's real important to win that last race in any form of motorsports because it helps the off-season go a little better and everybody remembers that last race and how well everybody competed and their performance. So we're looking forward to getting down there and watching a Ford guy win this weekend."
CAN YOU BE MORE SPECIFIC ON WHAT YOU DID TO TURN YOUR SEASON AROUND?
ROBERT HIGHT: "I can look clear back to last year. We had a real good car and we contended for the championship right up to the last day, but we didn't have any consistency with our engine. With these cars you burn so much fuel. On one run it would drop a cylinder and that means it's too rich, there's too much fuel in that cylinder. The next run you'd take some fuel away from the cylinder and it would burn it up. It had no tuning window whatsoever, it was one way over center or the other way. So we changed our intake manifold and camshaft - the basic engine combination to what Ashley's team was running and we haven't dropped a cylinder since we put it in there, so it's very friendly and it's got a lot of power. You've seen my car, it was running at least 308 miles an hour plus every run, and that shows that all the parts are still in great condition at the other end of the race track. One run there in Las Vegas two weeks ago we ran 312.5 miles an hour and that, I think, is the second-fastest speed ever in Funny Car at 1,000 feet, so we have a lot to look forward to next year. With a little bit of refining, maybe, I think you're gonna see a Funny Car next year run 315 miles an hour and we definitely hope it's one of our new Ford Mustangs with the 2010 body we're gonna unveil and debut next year. I think you're gonna see some good things out of these Ford Mustangs from John Force Racing."
IS THIS A LITTLE EXTRA SPECIAL SINCE ROBERT IS FAMILY?
JOHN FORCE: "It really is. At the end of the day any one on this team that can get a win, especially when it's family, Robert Hight, who has earned that right for that championship, has fought for it four years, and finally delivers. Jimmy Prock doing an excellent job. We're excited for all the sponsors - Auto Club, but at the end of the day Ford Motor Company because they've been our partner. When things were down. When we lost Eric Medlen in '07 and then my crash, we've been a lot mental around here and safety kind of took over, and safety is a priority, but you've got to win too at the end of the day, and to put it all back together and for Robert to bring the championship home, we're excited. And then the clincher was Mike Neff winning in the Ford. Drive one. I was so excited that I chased down Jesse (Kershaw) and Brian (Wolfe) and I said it was an all-Ford motor, it was an all-Ford chassis, and it was an all-Ford body. That car to go out there and win with Mike Neff, in his second season, that was big for all of us. We were excited."
HOW PROUD WERE YOU TO SEE ASHLEY AND MIKE NEFF IN THE FINAL LAST WEEK?
ROBERT HIGHT: "I'll be honest, I'm still learning myself. I've helped them out with their cars and that, but, basically, John is the coach and John taught them. I feel very fortunate for the position John put me in and I try to go out and help the two young girls - Brittany and Courtney - but not really with their driving, with their cars and helping the teams. But it was a very proud moment to stand on the starting line. I actually have never got to be on the starting line for a final round with team members. I've usually been in the race car, so I stood in the middle because I didn't care who won. Once we knew that both of those Fords got to the final, we couldn't lose. It was a win to round out the year and it didn't matter to me who won, so I kind of stood in the middle and watched the pedal-fest and lots of tire smoke and Neff got the win light. It was pretty cool."
DIDN'T COURTNEY MAKE THE TOP ALCOHOL DRAGSTER FINAL?
JOHN FORCE: "Yeah, we were pretty excited and to watch Brittany and Courtney both in the semi's out there fighting it out, and then they got up to the other end and they were two sisters, but competitive. They were yelling at each other from the seats of their cars when they stood up. The one thought the other one sat on her, you know what I mean? It was so exciting for me to see them competitive and then the one to go onto the final - Courtney, which won the race at Seattle in the A Fuel car. It's pretty exciting, and all the stuff this year. Working with the Ford Fiesta and all the stuff she did. The commercials that the girls put up and you can see on You Tube, and that they played at the Vegas race, those are my girls doing their thing for Ford Motor Company. So much of what we've been though it really makes me excited that my girls are very aware of the loss of Eric Medlen, but without the work the Ford Motor Company's engineers did, we couldn't have done this. I've said it before - wouldn't have done it. And then to come back and win, and I just thank God. Robert, Ashley finishing number two. Robert's logo 'Never give up. Never back down. Never lose faith.' You'll read it in the USA Today this week Friday. You'll read it in the paper with Auto Club and Ford. I've got my motivation and my fire back. I've got the championship back where it belongs. I'm starting to worry about me as a coach. These kids have taught me plenty."
AT THE START OF THE YEAR IF SOMEONE SAID YOU WEREN'T GOING TO WIN A TITLE THIS YEAR, BUT ROBERT IS GOING TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP, ASHLEY IS GOING TO WIN RACES AND BE SECOND, AND MIKE NEFF IS GOING TO GET HIS FIRST WIN, I THINK YOU WOULD HAVE TAKEN THAT DEAL AT THE START OF THE SEASON, RIGHT?
JOHN FORCE: "I have two emotions. Without a doubt, you did it. It's about the next generation. Ford even asked me in a media conference if I'm ready to pass the torch. I'm ready to pass the torch. Robert Hight won, but I'm gonna come right back in 2010 and I'm gonna take it back. I'm gonna make him earn that championship. He did this year, but he's got to earn it again next year because I want it back. Ashley wants it, she's hungry. Mike Neff, that's where we're all going. We're really excited right now, it's just a lot of decisions have to be made in the next few weeks. I'm gonna have meetings with Ford Motor Company. I'm gonna have meetings with Auto Club and Castrol, but we're excited because we got the trophy back in the building. It's just exciting. Yes, I am happy for these kids and it couldn't have played out better. The fact that I did not win a race this season, well, too bad. At the end of the day I wanted it for all my sponsors, I wanted to keep the streak going, but the priority was to win the championship and Robert Hight got it done. And Ashley, a woman, in a Ford Mustang coming in number two, that wasn't too shabby, and she won the big race at Indy - her and Robert in the final there and that was huge."
MIKE NEFF WON WITH A FORD MOTOR. THAT'S GIGANTIC IN DRAG RACING.
JOHN FORCE: "Haven't run the Fords in the fuel ranks in 25 years and when Ford said, 'Let's build a motor,' we unveiled it at SEMA and it was a big hit, and we went out there with it. It ran low e.t. a few times. Mike Neff was in two or three finals with it and had some bad luck, but, at the end of the day, he delivered at Pomona in a tire-smoking final. Ashley hit the wall in the other lane, but, at the end of the day, we're all Fords but we got it. I was so caught up with the championship and Mike Neff winning, that I even forgot it was an all-Ford car and that is what we've worked so hard for. Even if it's called an NHRA-spec motor, it was built by the designs at Ford and the Eric Medlen project in Indy, and we got her done. We got it done and that's it, and now it starts all over. Don't worry about me. I'm in the gym. I was in there last night - every night. I'm back in shape and I'm fixing my race car. It's got some problems, but I've got three good cars around me now that can help me. I'll get back in championship form."
DID YOU FEEL YOU WERE LETTING THE TEAM DOWN EARLY IN THE YEAR AND WAS THERE A LOSS OF CONFIDENCE?
ROBERT HIGHT: "No, there really wasn't. I will say this, my confidence, you start thinking about things. When John and I switched cars in Reading, Pennsylvania - Maple Grove - and he went out and went to the semi's and they could have won that race, they were doing well. And I got over to Coyle's car and it smoked the tires, kind of like what mine had been doing. That's when you start thinking, 'Wow, maybe it is me.' But the truth is that most of the time it's the race car. These crew chiefs don't get enough credit. It's tough to make these things run and there's a lot of parts, and a lot of everything has to be just perfect and that's what makes winning this championship so special because it is so hard. And there are so many other good teams out there, so to come out on top is huge. Through it all, it just took a lot of hard work and believing in everybody around you and not giving up. That's what John has taught us all these years, but I do know that leaving Reading, Pennsylvania I was starting to think, 'Maybe it's me.'"
JOHN FORCE: "I never thought it was Robert and I told him that. The reason I went over there was to evaluate the people. You read the books on big companies, but when a company is failing you look around and you say, 'Is anybody sick? Is anybody going through a divorce? Does somebody's kid have a problem?' You look for reasons. You got there and all of a sudden something changed - something caused it. Is anybody on medication? I asked a lot of questions that needed to be asked and we found some things, but it was never Robert Hight. If I ever had a guy dead- on, it's Robert Hight from the day he walked in this camp over 15 years ago. I'm proud of him and I'm proud because he got my race cars back where they belong - in championship form."
WAS IT HAPPINESS OR RELIEF AT INDIANAPOLIS THIS YEAR?
ROBERT HIGHT: "It was definitely happiness for me because, I'll be honest, I knew we could get in the countdown. We were only a couple rounds back, so that was attainable, but my car still hadn't shown the performance that it needed to to win the championship. If you're not in that countdown, then Ford and Auto Club, they're not getting the media coverage and the press they deserve and they pay for, so it was definitely exciting and made me happy to get in there. Did I think we were gonna go on and win half the races in the countdown? No, I didn't think we'd get it turned around like that."
JOHN FORCE: "Let me tell you something, if you're focused on happiness, you're getting behind. You've got to have that gut ache. When Robert locked up the championship he was very emotional. I never saw that side of Robert. I don't want to embarrass you Robert, but I never saw him cry. I thought, 'What the hell is wrong with him?' I thought somebody said something. I was ready to fight, but it was just the emotion. Then he told me an hour later, he said, 'I've got a gut ache, John. I don't understand it. I should be all happy.' And I said, 'Well, why? What are you thinking about?' He said, 'I just won and I'm already thinking about next year.' I said, 'Well, Robert, you've got it right because if you want to think about now and what you've accomplished, do that. But your brain has to go to next year.' And right now, for our vacation, we're not going on vacation. Robert and I and a handful of the crew chiefs, we're gonna stay and figure out where we're going. The shark always has to swim, and that ain't something you can teach somebody. They either got that gut ache and it's where they came from. They don't want to go back. Robert doesn't want to go back to that little town of Alturas (Calif.), I don't want to go back to that trailer house in Bell Gardens (Calif.). We want to go on and keep winning because that's what makes us tick, and he's got that built in him, and you can't give that to a driver. That's what I'm so excited about. This company will go on when my days are done."
WHAT DID YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT DRIVING A TRUCK AND WHAT WAS THE HARDEST PART?
JOHN FORCE: "My dad was a trucker and my dad called it 'romance with the highway.' In the early days, and truckers still are to me, are like race car drivers. They handle the roads. They haul the big loads and drive big off-highway trucks. Certain men were picked to do a special job, just like in race cars, but I always had a romance with the highway and I love to drive. I fly now because of corporate America and I have to be at appearances and board room meetings to run the company, but when I get down mentally and I can't get right and I feel like I'm being left behind, I get in the truck with Robert, we get in there with the team - put the potato chips and the Coca-Cola and the coffee on the dashboard and we hit that highway because that was our upbringing in this sport. Robert lived in the truck for 15 years. I lived in the truck for 20 years before I got out because that was taking you to the next race. There's another job besides just driving the car and it's just the love you have. I have so many guys on the showcar circuit that will come over and say, 'You always make time for us, and a lot of drivers don't. We're just somebody else that does a job for the company,' and I tell them, 'No, because you're where we came from.' Between Robert and I we drove the truck. We lived out there. We did the displays and carried the Ford brand or Auto Club to the next level. You guys are the ones that took us outside of the race track and helped us build our names and the brand. I'm wound up today because I ain't wound down since we locked up that race and the championship. It's just an exciting time for me. My wife even says I'm smiling again. I've been miserable. But those guys are in the trenches. We can't wait to get down there with you guys at Homestead. We're gonna root for our Ford guys. We're gonna do what we do, and I'm bringing me the new Full Throttle NHRA champion. Now Robert is so modest, he's humble and he's the real deal. I said, 'Robert, you're gonna down there and we can walk in with these NASCAR guys and we can share the day with them,' and we can't wait to get there."
WHAT TRAITS DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE AS A CHAMPION? CAN YOU DEFINE THEM?
ROBERT HIGHT: "Not really, it's hard. When I look around and you see how hard it is to win a championship, you see how many great drivers out there that haven't won championships, and I'm still trying to be as good a driver as those guys. They've been on great teams and haven't got it done. I don't really look at myself. I look at the people that John Force has put himself with and that's Ford and AAA - all of these people and the crew chiefs. We have four teams that work together. They help each other, even when we race each other between rounds. We look at each other's data and, yeah, you definitely want to win but you still help each other and you don't ever get too far ahead, you stay together as a team. That's really what I think it takes to win this thing and I'm just glad we got it done, but, like John said, it all starts again and we've got to get it back. One thing that was really cool is we've been with Ford 13 seasons and this is our 10th championship. That is huge. For a little bit there was started getting a little spoiled and started getting down on ourselves because we hadn't won in a couple of years, but that's the attitude you have to have to get back and get the job done. That's a big percentage -- .770 - 13 years and 10 wins. I don't know that anybody has ever done that."
JOHN FORCE: - "Robert, loving baseball growing up - the Dodgers - he got to meet Tommy Lasorda a couple of years ago. He loves the cheer of the crowd even though he's not a ham like me, but he loves being out there and being competitive. One of the things I never understood when Robert came into the race car is he was so good out of the box and I thought, 'You know, it took me 15 years to figure out the Christmas tree and how to learn focus,' and Robert had an opportunity. He could have gone to the Olympics as a skeet or trap shooter and he gave me a tape one day because I was struggling with the lights and I listened to this tape and it trains you how to focus. I realized Robert is a shooter who learned how to focus on that Christmas tree that most drivers have to learn, and you can tell yourself how to do it, but until you just understand it, it's about focus, and he had that natural ability. That's what put him at the top of his game and, at the end of the day, he's probably one or two in the standings in lead times because he was so dang good because he had that focus. And the other thing, I walk in the shop at midnight, I come back in from a show and he just come back from Bakersfield, and he's sitting in one of the race cars out here. That's what I did 20 years ago, except I was drinking a beer and sitting in the car because I love it. He was down here just keeping his focus. He's got the right stuff to do this again. He will win more championships."
WHAT KIND OF REFINING ARE YOU PLANNING ON THE CARS?
ROBERT HIGHT: "We're gonna have the Ford engine in all the cars next year, and one thing that's really exciting is that new 2010 Ford Mustang body. Basically, the John Force Ford Mustangs have been the fastest speed at every race and with this new car, I think we have the same amount of downforce with less drag, so it honestly should go faster. You might see one of these cars run 315 next year. We're always looking at how to make these things better, but also stay on safety. I think one of the biggest accomplishments we've made here, and it has all to do with Ford, is after John and Eric's accident, we only had about three months to completely redesign the chassis that had never been proven, never been down a race track, and we went out and won the 2008 Winternationals with it, and it was competitive last year. We went down to the last day with a chance to win that championship last year, so I think that was a huge accomplishment for what John Force Racing and Ford, working together, did."
JOHN FORCE: "I just want to say that at the banquet Robert made a statement about Ford Motor Company. He said, 'Our race teams are gonna be OK. We have great support from Ford Motor Company, but Ford Motor Company is gonna be OK. They're gonna make it without a stimulus package from the government.' And I really sat there and thought about that and I thought, 'I'm looking at my own stimulus package because I've got help - all of my sponsors staying alive in this tough economy in the next few years, maybe longer. We're gonna do that together if we work together. In the meetings I've had with Brian Wolfe, safety is critical, but also winning at the end of the day because Ford Motor Company is all about winning. That's their roots. That's where they came from, when Henry Ford built his first car to be competitive. But if you look at the new cars Ford has put out, that Ford Taurus is unbelievable with a great price tag. They're going it right. They made change and they saw the future. They adapted and they're gonna survive, and in this economy John Force has had to make changes. I've got guys that are older, that I don't want to retire them because they're the history of this company, but I'm bringing in new help. I'm gonna freshen them up and I'm gonna keep this thing on a budget, and we will continue to build safety with Ford, and we will continue to deliver championships with Ford. That is our word here at John Force Racing. (Mark) Fields, (Jim) Farley and (Ken) Czubay - when I meet with these guys - all they talk about is where this company is going and they're taking us with them, and we delivered for them at John Force Racing a championship this season and we're gonna deliver more."
-credit: ford racing