Heartland Park Topeka
HIGHT WINS AT TOPEKA; 200th FC WIN FOR JFR
TOPEKA, KS --- Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang took full advantage of a get well weekend winning for the third time in 2011 at the 23rd annual NHRA Summer Nationals at Heartland Park – Topeka. This was the first time Hight has won back to back at NHRA national events in his career and came at the expense of teammate Mike Neff. The win was also the 200th Funny Car win for John Force Racing.
“We really don’t look at anything personally over here at John Force Racing. It is all about team,” said Hight the former JFR clutch specialist. “I came into this race sixteen years ago. I flew to this race to be a part of John Force Racing. This I the race I was hired at. I met with (co-crew chiefs) Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly. I honestly thought then that my dreams had come true. I thought, ‘I am on John Force’s Funny Car championship team.’ I didn’t know what my job duties were going to be and I didn’t care. I was just glad to be here and to now be a small part of history like this 200 wins is great.”
“This is now my dream come true. This is unbelievable. It is really about the team and the people. John has put together a team that is unbelievable from the previous people like (Austin) Coil and Bernie Fedderly,” said Hight. “John has won over half of those races himself with Coil, Bernie, (driver) Eric Medlen, (crew chief) John Medlen, (drivers) Gary Densham, Ashley Force and all these people that have come before us. I honestly believe John has set this team up to go for 300 wins. We have sponsorship that is long term. I can’t even believe it is me.”
In the all Force final, the 35th all-time but first for Hight to face Neff, Hight knew that without Neff’s help throughout the weekend his Auto Club Mustang might not be making its fourth burnout of the day.
“Neff and Jimmy Prock have been working so close together and that is really how my car got turned around this weekend. Mike Neff has really helped us out. It has been feast or famine for us. Either we do well or we lose first round. It is good to get this win.”
“It has been a crazy day. One of my crew members went down second round. We backed up from the burn-out and they lifted the body. He was trying to fix something on the engine. I am not sure what it was and he got his finger caught in the blower belt. Right now he is in surgery and he is going to lose some of his thumb. It is tough when you lose a team member. Luckily, we have other teammates than can chip in and help but it is still not the same. I want to dedicate this win to him. His name is David Karcanes but we all call him Shafty. We can’t get to 201 without him. We want him to get well and get back with us quickly.”
Hight had won twice in 2011, Pomona at the season opener and in Las Vegas but in the last two races he had qualified in the bottom half of the field and been a first round loser in Houston and Atlanta. At the Topeka event press conference on Thursday Hight talked with the media about the importance of consistency.
“We took a different approach this weekend. We have been smoking the tires a lot. We backed it off and tried to sneak up on it the other way. As you can see we had low ET the first round, 4.09 seconds. I honestly believe my car would have made it second round but when Shafty went down he sets the wheelie bar also. It didn’t get set and we smoked the tires. The wheelie bar wasn’t set correctly, nobody’s fault just things happen, and we got lucky and we got the win. I had to pedal it.”
John has set a lot of records here.
This was John Force Racings 14th win at Heartland Park – Topeka and when asked what was special about this race or facility Hight was quick to give his educated opinion.
“I think it is just about confidence. We love coming here. It is a great facility. Back in 1996 we ran all eight runs in the four second range and no one had ever done that in Funny Car. John has set a lot of records here.”
“This is pretty cool. They just told me that this is Jimmy’s 50th win as a nitro crew chief and it is kind of ironic that he got it when we got our 200th win. As a driver I think I have more wins with him than any of his other drivers. That really makes me proud.”
Neff reached the final, his third in a row and fourth of the season, by defeating Tony Pedregon, Cruz Pedregon and Jack Beckman. Neff’s first round run against Tony Pedregon was a wild ride as his Castrol GTX Mustang shot towards the center line, touching the line but not crossing it saving himself from an automatic DQ.
“I probably got a little lucky there. I am kind of surprised it smoked the tires. It got out there and I knew it close to the centerline. Man that adrenaline is pumping and I couldn’t see Tony and I just wanted to get back on it and blip it and I just hope he didn’t come screaming by at the finish line,” said Neff, the 2011 Gatornationals winner
In his second round match-up with two–time champion Cruz Pedregon Neff had his hands full again with a tricky track. Throughout the day the nitro cars and dragster crew chiefs were having to make educated guesses about what kind of tune-up the track would hold.
“It got tricky and our car has smoked the tires the last two runs. It doesn’t do that a whole lot. I had to back off it a little bit. The air is better today. The engine kind of caught us the first run, it had more power. We just backed it off. I was happy to go down the track. I think that was an OK run for right now,” added Neff who extended his points lead on jack Beckman.
Going into the final Neff was thrilled to be facing a teammate especially one that was turning some early season struggles around.
“Robert’s car, when they are on, they are on. It is good to see them running well. We have an all JFR final. He has been taking out the competition so yeah this is exciting. It is a win-win. I don’t believe lane choice is an issue. He was in the left and we were in the right. That is how we’ll probably end up. The elements are what the issue is. It is hot out here. This Castrol GTX Ford has been running good. It feels good to be lining up against my teammate in the final.”
Team leader and owner John Force was all smiles before and after the JFR vs. JFR final. For a driver who has won 132 times he was looking forward to watching a couple of his young guns battle it out for the 200th team Funny Car win.
“Neff has been pulling double duty. I am excited because I like a good drag race. They are going to go after it. I just wish Robert Hight and Mike Neff lots of luck. They are going to get me my 200th win as a team owner. I am really proud of that. A lot of people contributed to that number, legends like Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly, John Medlen, and Jimmy Prock. You also have all the crew guys and drivers especially Eric Medlen, Robert Hight, (Gary) Densham, Tony Pedregon, Neff and my daughter Ashley Force Hood. I am proud of this whole operation. They love to race. This is exciting times. Want to thank all the fans for coming out.”
Upon hearing the news of the 200th Funny Car win by John Force Racing Jamie Allison, director, Ford North America Motorsports, sent out the following statement.
“John Force Racing reaching 200 wins (in Funny Car) is such an incredible accomplishment and a milestone that will stand in NHRA history for many, many years,” said Jamie Allison, director, Ford North America Motorsports. “John Force himself is such an icon of the sport, and someone whose success has stood the test of time. This 200-win mark is really a testament to his leadership, and it shows what a team can do when each person involved pulls in the same direction. Every driver in the John Force Racing stable contributed to that number and they should be proud. I know all of us at Ford Racing are proud of them for reaching that incredible number of wins.”