HIGHT'S QUALIFYING STREAK IN JEOPARDY AT HEARTLAND PARK TOPEKA, Kansas -- Robert Hight's qualifying dominance at Heartland Park-Topeka may have come to an end Friday, but the 2005 NHRA Rookie of the Year still figures to be a contender for the...
HIGHT'S QUALIFYING STREAK IN JEOPARDY AT HEARTLAND PARK
TOPEKA, Kansas -- Robert Hight's qualifying dominance at Heartland Park-Topeka may have come to an end Friday, but the 2005 NHRA Rookie of the Year still figures to be a contender for the Funny Car championship in Sunday's 20th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals.
Hight, who started his Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang from the No. 1 spot each of the last three seasons, was only seventh after Friday's first two runs and the hotter conditions expected for Saturday's two final opportunities aren't likely to provide much room for improvement.
Nevertheless, Hight was the highest qualified of the four John Force Racing Funny Car drivers and one of only two whose first day times will carry over to Saturday. He was joined in the Top 12 by team owner and eight-time former Topeka champion John Force, who finished the first day in the No. 9 position behind pacesetting Tony Bartone, whose Chevrolet was the only Funny Car to break the 4.90 second barrier (4.881).
Outside the elite grouping were 2007 Rookie-of-the-Year Ashley Force and 2008 Rookie-of-the-Year front-runner Mike Neff. Both will have two more chances on Saturday.
Neff's day began in bizarre fashion in the Old Spice Ford Mustang when the steering wheel came off in his hands at 100 miles an hour.
"John told me the same thing had happened to Eric Medlen," Neff said. "Luckily, it wasn't going any faster than it was. I was like, 'whoa.' I looked up and the thing wasn't going straight. It was going towards the wall. I was like, 'aw, don't tell me I'm going to run into the damn wall.' I knew you couldn't slide (the wheel) back on there, (but) I pushed it on the edge just enough to get a tooth to grab; just enough to turn it away from the wall."
Force, still trying to win for the first time since a spectacular crash last Sept. 23 in Dallas, Texas, was happy to be back in familiar surroundings.
"I've always liked it here because I'm kind of country," Force said. "I wear cowboy boots even though I've never ridden a horse. I just like the people and they're just good to you. I met a whole bunch of people in the hotel this morning and they were all excited. They worked at the hotel and they had all gathered to meet me and my family. They really appreciate us here.
"It was pretty warm, but we still got two cars in and Ashley and Neff were 13th and 14th (and ) just missed (the first day cut)," Force said. "Ashley ran real good in the heat (No. 2 in the first session) so if it's hot tomorrow, her car should run. I'm confident they're going to be OK. So far so good."
Ashley's Castrol GTX Mustang was second quickest in the first session despite a flash fire. However, her second run was even more troubled -- and disappointing.
"Our car doesn't like this air," said the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton. "That's the big issue we're having. In the first round, we blew the blower off and we haven't had that kind of trouble this year. (Today), the two runs we had were crappy runs. Everyone is struggling a little and a lot of people have been blowing up. It's been weird (but) we got two runs and we can learn from those. We'll see what the car doesn't like and what it does like and hopefully we'll go out tomorrow and make some cleaner runs and not be on fire at the end."
"The last run we changed a lot of things in the car. They put a new blower on that had never made a full run before. I don't think the guys were that surprised that we didn't go out and run some killer run. There were a lot of new things on the car and it just wasn't quick enough. It wasn't happy. They said when it left the starting line it dropped a cylinder right away. So I made the whole run only on seven. It's frustrating because you get so used to this car going from A to B all the time. I guess we're a little spoiled."
JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Friday Qualifying: 9th at 4.936 seconds, 302.28 mph
Quotable: "I'm glad to be back here in Topeka. I'm always excited to come back here because the fans are so great. It's just a great place to race. We are going to be fine tomorrow. I'm very positive. The crowds have been great and we're doing a good job representing Castrol, Ford, the Auto Club, Old Spice Sanyo, BrandSource and Mac Tools."
ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Friday Qualifying: 4.991 seconds at 298.80 mph
Quotable: "I've had fires before where they go right out and I didn't hit the fire bottles, but this one was like a big bang. It was pretty loud and there was smoke in (the cockpit). I kind of debated and I thought, 'should hit the fire bottles?' I could feel heat around my legs and that was enough to get me thinking 'better safe than sorry.' If it's on fire, that's not good because it could be burning up all the wires and everything."
ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Friday Qualifying: 7th at 4.917 seconds, 292.17 mph
Quotable: "We crippled ourselves a little bit the first run (by) not going down (the track). Jimmy Prock had to be real cautious this afternoon. I'm just glad it went. It's boiling on the other end and it's the weirdest thing, it was way down there in the shutdown and it kicked the rods out. It was weird. I didn't know what it was. I thought I ran over something."
MIKE NEFF, 41, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Friday Qualifying: 5.010 seconds, 303.91 mph.
Quotable: "I think it had a cylinder out right at the hit if the throttle (on the second run, his best). We ran down there on seven cylinders. We were definitely hoping for better than that but it is a little tricky out there. I think we'll be all right for tomorrow even though it's going to be hotter."
BRITTANY FORCE, 21, BrandSource dragster
Friday qualifying: 15th at 5.844, 237.75 mph.
Quotable: "I'm No. 15 right now and I'll get one more run tomorrow and hopefully I'll be able to stay in. It's getting a lot better. Usually I get butterflies a week in advance, but this time I only got them on my way to the track today. I am getting more used to everything. It just takes time. Dad is all excited that things are going well. I didn't see him all day up until I was getting ready to run and he gave me a lot of information in two minutes right before I got in my car."