Hight on cusp of 300th round win
John Force Racing drivers Robert Hight, Brittany Force, Courtney Force and John Force (above) are all looking for the win at this weekend's NHRA Southern Nationals. Specifically:
ROBERT HIGHT: With five final rounds in a row and back to back wins Mello Yello points leader Robert Hight is not losing his focus as his Auto Club team heads to the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals this weekend at Atlanta Dragway. Hight and the Auto Club team have reached the finals in the Peach State five times in his career driving away with two wins most recently in 2010.
“Atlanta Dragway is a track where I have had a lot of success. The first three years of my career I was in the final there. We are starting to get to some of the tracks where it can be hot and tricky. Those are great Mike Neff conditions. He does a tremendous job of tuning a Funny Car to get the most out of the available track conditions,” said Hight a three-time winner already in 2014.
Hight currently has 299 career round wins. His next round win will vault him into an exclusive club of active Funny Car drivers and continue his potential Hall of Fame career. Currently only six active drivers have won 300 rounds with Tim Wilkerson as the latest edition with is opening round win at the Four-Wide Nationals this season. If Hight grabs a round win this weekend he will have taken just 215 races to achieve this goal. Funny Car legend John Force won his 300th round in his 186th race and two-time Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon won his 300th in this 192nd race. Other members of the 300 round win club include Cruz Pedregon, Ron Capps, and Del Worsham.
At the last race in Houston Hight and the Auto Club team struggled on Friday before ticking off six consecutive 4.0 runs on the way to his second win in a row of the season. It was an impressive display of consistency and Hight’s level of confidence never waned throughout the day on Sunday.
“I have so much confidence in Neff and my crew guys. They never panic and there are no fire drills over here. If something isn’t right we get it fixed and we don’t lose our focus. Every race is important but we are all thinking about getting another championship,” said Hight.
The 34th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals starts a seven race in eight weekend stretch for the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. That kind of intense schedule might be daunting to some teams and drivers but Hight relished the up tempo pace.
“I would race every weekend if I could. We have had a couple weekends off and I am ready to get back into this Auto Club Ford Mustang Funny Car. When you are going rounds and getting to finals you don’t ever want to stop. The best way to stay focused is to race and I am excited to get to the track and start qualifying on Friday,” said Hight.
So far this season John Force Racing has been the class of the Funny Car category sending a driver to every final round and picking up four wins in the first six races. Joining JFR in the Funny Car winner’s circle has been Alexis DeJoria with two wins. JFR has put a Mustang Funny Car in every final round going back to the Chevrolet Performance Parts US Nationals last Labor Day weekend. That kind of streak and consistency is not lost on Hight.
“We don’t talk about keeping streaks alive. We just want to keep getting better. John Force has everyone on the same page. His Funny Car has been running well and I know Courtney and the Traxxas Funny Car are just about to turn the corner. We are all working together to keep all the JFR Funny Cars in the top ten and get them all into the Traxxas Shootout with wins. This part of the season is where it will get intense because of the schedule and also the track conditions. I think we will be alright,” added Hight.
JOHN FORCE: After driving his Castrol GTX Mustang seven times into the winner’s circle at Atlanta Dragway, John Force has had the honor of having the most wins at the NHRA Southern Nationals. However, the last time he was victorious at this race came in 2005. The 16-time NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car champ is looking to change that and break his eight-year dry spell this weekend, as he and crew chief Jimmy Prock are on a mission to add another win to an already stellar season for John Force Racing.
“We have been on a tear, and our other cars (Courtney Force in Funny Car and Brittany Force in Top Fuel) are coming around,” Force said. “I feel as a whole team we have come together, and the brain trust will keep us alive and winning. We have been to every final going back to Indy last year, which is 13 finals in a row. Winning is where the focus is, and we won’t forget safety,” said John Force.
John Force has been to the final round in eight of the past 11 races going back to the 2013 NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last October. The legendary John Force fought his way to his 16th NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car championship by winning three straight races, a phenomenal feat even by John Force standards.
Never one to rest and be satisfied, John Force kicked off the 2014 NHRA tour with a commanding victory at the season opener NHRA Winternationals in Pomona. Once again, crew chief Jimmy Prock showed the world he’s one of the best tuners when it comes to 8000 horsepower fire breathing nitro fuel V8 engines, as the Castrol GTX Mustang broke both ends of the NHRA national record by going 3.966 at 324.12 mph.
After his Winternationals win, John Force has made a final-round appearance at the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida and the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte this year but he knows his crew must make sure his trusty steed is tuned-up and ready for whatever conditions it will face during the NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.
“Atlanta can be tricky because of the heat, we have adapted and with Jimmy Prock that seems like one of the places where he does well. But Jimmy and I have never run this track together, and I am excited about that. I also love the people because they are really into their racing,” said John Force.
John Force also knows there’s a target on his back at all times from the highly competitive Funny Car drivers that include former world champs, event winners and serious contenders like Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, Del Worsham and Alexis DeJoria. They would like to knock the 16-time champ out in round one and begin their play for the Countdown to the Championship.
“I need to do well, and it is not just because we are up there in the points it is the matter of you have to learn how to run by the time you get to the Countdown to the Championship. We say it every race at the team meetings, ‘This is the race you have to start winning,’ ” said John Force.
Being the proud father of four daughters, two of which who are currently racing in the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series, John has seen Brittany and Courtney grow and mature as drivers this season. He’s also reflective about the time daughter Ashley defeated him at the NHRA Southern Nationals back in 2008.
“I was thinking about Ashley and how no woman had ever won a Funny Car race until she beat me in 2008 in Atlanta. “That will go down in history, but to also be the 100th female winner would be huge and it could happen this weekend. What is really cool is Brittany and Courtney are overdue. To win that 100th race is a landmark, and I hope one of them gets it,” said John Force.
BRITTANY FORCE: Brittany Force could very well be on her way to making history during this weekend’s NHRA Southern Nationals. The 2013 Rookie of Year has learned a great deal during her sophomore season driving the 10,000 horsepower Castrol EDGE Dragster. She knows perseverance, hard work and consistency will eventually get her to the winner’s circle and she’s shown these attributes throughout this season. However, this weekend not only could she get her first Top Fuel win, but also be the 100th female pro driver to win a NHRA National Event.
“Just to a part of the 100th win would be such a big deal. There’s so many women my sisters and I looked up to and watch over the years in drag racing. To be a part of this and grouped in with them would be a really big moment in my career as a driver,” said Brittany Force.
Ironically, it was at this race in 2008 that Brittany’s older sister, Ashley, became the first female Funny Car driver to win a NHRA national event. For Brittany to achieve the 100th female NHRA winner landmark, she’ll have some stiff competition in the other classes, such Alexis DeJoria and sister Courtney Force in Funny Car, Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders-Stevens and Katie Sullivan and Angie Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
For now, the always-optimistic 27 year-old Brittany Force and her team are looking forward to getting back on the track in Atlanta. She’s focused on qualifying in the top half of the field and going rounds on race day.
“I am anxious to get to Atlanta after having two weeks off. We’ll be rolling into the pits with a brand new car and I can’t wait to get in it, but it will take some adjustment on my part to get used to it. It’s the first Top Fuel Dragster to be built in-house at John Force Racing, and we’re still using the canopy design. It should be better and I’m hoping that once I get comfortable in and get back into my routine, it should be definitely be better in the long run for me as driver,” said Brittany Force.
Currently eighth in NHRA Mello Yello points, Brittany’s very pleased with how her team has stepped up its game with a strong and consistent performance during the last few races.
“I’m very proud of my guys and we’re really starting to gel as a team. We’re all pumped about this weekend and feeling good about getting back to the track,” said Brittany Force.
Brittany had her first final round Top Fuel appearance at the second race of the season and is hoping for another final round appearance at this weekend’s NHRA Southern Nationals. With any luck, her first Top Fuel win will also mark NHRA’s 100th female victory.
COURTNEY FORCE: For only the third time ever Courtney Force, driver of the Traxxas Ford Mustang in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, will compete in Atlanta this week. Force currently holds the No. 10 spot in the NHRA Funny Car point standings and the 34th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals will give the young driver a chance to improve on her position.
“This race will be extremely important for my team to move up from the No. 10 spot. It's time to be more consistent. Most importantly, we need to go rounds on race day to close in on the gap between us and the No. 1 spot. It's time to turn things around before we start slipping back,” said Force.
The 2012 Auto Club Road to the Future award winner for NHRA’s top Rookie of the Year is sitting a mere two points behind Tim Wilkerson for the No. 9 spot and about four rounds out of the No. 5 spot.
“Being that I never raced here in the sportsman category in the past, this track is a little less familiar to me on the circuit. However, my Traxxas Ford Mustang has run good here the past two years and we have improved in qualifying each time. Although we only had two chances in qualifying last year, due to rain, we were in the top half with two consistent runs. This weekend I'm hoping to improve from last year and continue to be consistent during qualifying,” said Force.
At the last NHRA event in Houston for the 27th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals, Force qualified No. 16 for the first time in her professional career. In fact, this was the first time in three years the 25-year-old Funny Car driver has qualified lower than the No. 14 spot. Ironically enough, the youngest daughter of legendary driver John Force has only qualified No. 14 twice, with the first time taking her to her first professional Funny Car win in Seattle in 2012. Force qualified No. 14 and subsequently drove her Traxxas Ford Mustang to round wins over Cruz Pedregon, Bob Tasca III, John Force and Matt Hagan for the title.
“Although we qualified 16th last weekend, which is the lowest our team has ever qualified, I was just happy to be in the show at that point. We have struggled a little this season and had a hard time getting our Traxxas Ford Mustang on some consistent passes. I had one run where I got down the track and it spun right before the finish, but it was still good enough to make the show. Every weekend and every track is different so we will put that unlucky qualifying behind us and look forward to improving in Atlanta,” said Force.
This weekend is also a chance for Force to make some history of her own at a track where her sister Ashley Force Hood became the first female Funny Car winner in 2008. Either Courtney Force or her sister Brittany Force could become the 100th female winner of an NHRA national event. Erica Enders Stevens won the 99th event a few weeks ago in Houston and a chance to make history is on Force’s mind heading to Atlanta.
“As a female in a male-dominated sport, it's funny that people can actually come up to you and be, ‘Oh, there are females that race in the sport?’ You're competing against mainly guys. It seems surreal to them. Then they look at you, ‘Oh, man, I can't believe this girl won.’ You want to show them the sheet of paper and go, ‘We've been winning for a very long time starting with Shirley Muldowney, a bunch of other females.’ It's not just one, and it wasn't just in one class. It's pretty cool to see my sister Ashley's name on that list, to see my name on that list. But, man, to get the 100th win for women, it would be amazing. I mean, definitely going to be my goal at this point. To get the 100th, it goes down in the history books. Your name is not going to be coming off that list. It would really be a proud moment if you can have your name next to 100,” said Force.
John Force Racing