FORCE HOLDS ONTO NO. 1 IN ATLANTA, TIES ALL-TIME RECORD
COMMERCE, GA --- John Force had to wait through multiple rain delays at Atlanta Dragway but at the end of Saturday’s qualifying session he held onto the No. 1 qualifying position and added one more record to the ever growing list of career achievements. Force tied Pro Stock legend Warren Johnson with 138 career No.1 qualifiers. The Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals top spot was the fourth in a row for the 15-time Funny Car champion and his eighth at Atlanta Dragway.
“I never thought I would live this long. I used to be on fire every weekend. I have never driven a Pro Stock car but Warren Johnson is the Babe Ruth of Pro Stock and I have tied him,” said Force. “I wasn’t excited yesterday because I didn’t want to get too into it. I have never raced him but I can honestly say I did it without steroids. I told you I embellish (Force was waving can of Full Throttle). I am just glad to see my Mustang running consistently.”
Force credited his crew chief tandem of Ron Douglas and Dean “Guido” Antonelli for getting his Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang on a consistent roll in qualifying. This is the eight time that Force has had at least four No. 1 qualifying efforts in a row. It is the first time since 1996, the year Force was named Driver of the Year, for the Yorba Linda resident to get on a long No. 1 qualifying streak.
“I am just real excited. Dean Antonelli was taught by the great Austin Coil and to watch how he and Ron Douglas think is like watching Coil and Bernie Fedderly. Fedderly is still here with me and still giving input. Me and Bernie are the two oldest in this camp still hanging on. I am just excited for the future. I just really love racing. I come into town all bummed with stupid stuff, nothing major. At the end of the day some things just went good. Things just went right. That is amazing and maybe my luck will turn around.”
Tying the record at Atlanta Dragway had additional significance for Force when he considered Johnson is a Sugar Hill, Georgia resident and Force cut his racing teeth here match racing for many years.
“I match raced at Atlanta for years. The fans came here and fed me. I know how they feel about Warren Johnson. I am not going to make these fans mad. He is their guy and I always respected that. He is a great racer. The whole family is. I never expected records like that. We race two different worlds but it is fun. Like I said last night to put my name with his and if the tie stays forever that is good enough for me. He is just really a good guy. I am almost as old as him he just looks a whole lot better. I am loving what I am doing.”
During the end of the day media session Force was asked about his qualifying success but his lack of winner’s circle appearances on Sunday.
“Isn’t that something? I have a great hot rod I just can’t seem to get a win. I’ll get there. I am learning more about this blue tree. The amber is the same but the blue is something I have to get used to. I have done this for so long I am programmed. Now there is blue and I am having to get used to that. I have a great race car and four low qualifiers in the heat or in the cold shows we can run.”
Mike Neff and the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang are hot on Force’s heels. Neff tuned and drove his way to the second quickest run of the final qualifying session. For the crew chief tuned driver it was not enough and he felt that he had missed a little. Neff will enter race day as the No. 6 qualifier.
We’ll try it again tomorrow and it should be an exciting day.
“It has been running better. I am looking for more than it is doing. The biggest thing is it is going down the track and that is the important part,” said the two-time 2011 finalist. “We are learning stuff. We had some good runs this weekend but that last one wasn’t what we were looking for. It was second quickest but I think there was more out there. We’ll try it again tomorrow and it should be an exciting day.”
JFR track specialist Lanny Miglizzi have been working overtime keeping up with changing track conditions. Miglizzi has been constantly feeding information to the crew chiefs after every rain shower, oil down or change in temperature. For a crew chief like Neff who cannot get out on the track as much as he would like the information is invaluable.
“Lanny has been keeping us updated every day. Honestly the lanes haven’t been a factor. The best runs have been made in the left lane but I don’t think lane choice will be that big of a deal.”
The Auto Club Mustang driven by Robert Hight has been nearly unstoppable the past six years at Atlanta Dragway. Hight has reached four final rounds and picked up two Wally’s for his effort including a win last year. If Hight is going to race to a fifth final round and pick up a third Wally he has his job cut out for himself on Sunday.
His Mustang has been “moody” and crew chief Jimmy Prock has spent some late night looking at options to make the 8,000 hp Mustang more reactive at a number of points on Atlanta Dragway’s tricky track.
Hight is undeterred in his confidence in Prock. As the No. 13 qualifier Hight will face off with two-time Full Throttle Funny Car champion Cruz Pedregon.
“We dropped a cylinder on that last run. We had a part break in the first run today. I would rather get that stuff out of the way on Saturday,” said Hight a 20-time Funny Car winner. “We’ll be ready for race day. You have to get ready for a racer like Cruz Pedregon. It will be a good race. I am excited and ready. Jimmy is looking at all our data and talking with Guido, Ron, Neff and Bernie. I am not worried about my Auto Club Mustang.”
The other first round match-ups for JFR include a Ford vs. Ford battle Force against Tim Wilkerson. Mike Neff will race Jon Capps, brother of Ron Capps, in the first round. All three JFR Ford Mustangs could advance to the semi-finals tomorrow.