Joliet: John Force Racing final report

ASHLEY FORCE REACHES SEMIS IN CHICAGO; CLOSES IN ON FIRST PLACE AGAIN JOLIET, IL -- Ashley Force had the baddest hot rod at Route 66 Raceway for most of the day and she used all her driving skills to reach her fifth semi-final in...

ASHLEY FORCE REACHES SEMIS IN CHICAGO; CLOSES IN ON FIRST PLACE AGAIN

JOLIET, IL -- Ashley Force had the baddest hot rod at Route 66 Raceway for most of the day and she used all her driving skills to reach her fifth semi-final in ten races so far this season. In the end she was dispatched not by a superior opponent but rather a broken blower belt. This was the second time at TORCO Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals this frequent drag racing problem reared its head and tripped up the 2007 NHRA Rookie of the Year.

Her Castrol GTX team led by crew chiefs Dean "Guido" Antonelli and Ron Douglas was once again forced to set-up her Ford Mustang to race in a variety of conditions as rain blew through the facility forcing a nearly four hour delay today between the first and second rounds. In the first round she had to defeat her brother-in-law Robert Hight and had her confidence sky-high.

"This weekend I definitely felt like we were going to go a lot of rounds because my car was so good. The conditions were so difficult but we still ran well. Getting our car down both lanes really gave us some confidence," said Force. "We had a really good feeling going into this race. It is tough on the team when you have to sit around in the rain. You have to focus that much more every round. We were ready every round and I am so proud of my guys. There were no mistakes. Bad luck just bit us.

After the skies cleared Force ran up against former Funny Car Champion Gary Scelzi. Force was able to get the win and head to a semi-final match with reigning Funny Car Champion Tony Pedregon. In the semi-finals Pedregon switched lanes moving Force into the right lane which was the preferred lane for Force according to co-crew chief Ron Douglas.

Force left on Pedregon and was in front for nearly the entire race before her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang lost power just a few hundred feet from the finish line. Force's heart sank as she felt the all too familiar reduction in power of her 8,000 hp fuel coupe.

"I had a good feeling that I was winning. It happened so quickly and it was at the very end of the run," said the first female to win an NHRA Funny Car race. "It just died and I knew exactly what it was because it did it in qualifying. This time around I knew it was the blower belt. I looked over and he went right by me. It was the matter of an instant I died and it was over. I got on the radio and told them that I lost the blower belt."

Force is now less than three rounds of racing out of first place in the Funny Car standing. She trails points leader Tim Wilkerson 638 to 695.

Championship contender Robert Hight fell to a female racer for the first time in his career when he dropped his opening round race against teammate and sister-in-law Ashley Force. Hight the "favorite" to win the Funny Car Championship according to team owner John Force lost traction just past mid-track when his tune-up overpowered the track conditions.

"It was just too fast. We had an issue with the clutch and it had clutch levers out early. It was probably making more power than normal. Coupled with the clutch coming too fast the track just wouldn't take it. I thought it was going to make it," said the former JFR clutch man.

Hight was able to take a positive from his run considering his Auto Club of Southern California team spent most of the night rebuilding his hot rod from the ground up.

"The motor to that point was nice. It was on eight cylinders it didn't have any pan pressure so the motor wasn't hurt. We took a step backwards and changed the nitro mix," said the only driver to lead the Funny Car points at least once the last four seasons. "Honestly I am pretty impressed with (crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) that he made it all work. It was kind of a shot in the dark. He got it in one run. I am impressed Jimmy hit it with the first shot"

Even with the positives of getting his motor happy Hight knows that the clock it ticking on his chances to get towards the top of the point standings. He knows that he and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team need to go rounds.

"We got bit by something today (clutch malfunction). That kind of stuff has to end with the racing that is out here. Luck is a lot of it. There are a lot of guys getting some lucky rounds out here and we aren't getting any. We are hurting ourselves and we have to quit that," said a motivated Hight.

Rookie of the Year front-runner Mike Neff and his Old Spice team matched-up with former teammate and driver Gary Scelzi in the first round. As Neff release the brake on his Ford Mustang to pull into the staging beams his car lurched forward and deep staged much to the surprise of the rookie driver.

"The car just lurched forward on me when I was staging. That hasn't ever happened to me," said Neff. "Every other time I let off the brake the car just crept forward. That time when I let off the brake it really jumped forward."

As the car came to a stop Neff committed the cardinal sin of drag racing as he lost concentration and focused on the pre-stage lights instead of looking for the green light. He was caught off guard as the tree flashed and he knew his race was over as he pulled past the Christmas Tree.

"I looked up and saw the top light go out and then it was a quick tree. I was still looking at the top light when the tree activated. That was just stupid and I am mad at myself," said a disgusted Neff.

Right after Neff was dispatched team leader and 14-time champion John Force lost one of the closest races in is illustrious career to points leader and contemporary Tim Wilkerson. Wilkerson left just a hair quicker than Force but Force's Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang was charging at the top en coming up less than a foot short of moving him to the second round.

At the end of the day Force was not thrilled with his team's performance but he saw a number of positives.

"We just need to keep doing what we are doing and stay together as a family. We will support everybody. At the end of the day she (daughter Ashley Force) is really doing an exceptional job not because she is a woman but because she has no experience. To go out here against guys like Tony (Pedregon), (Gary) Scelzi and Robert Hight, guys who have been racing for years. She is staying calm and cool. I've got no complaints."

* * * * ***

JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 8th at 4.783 seconds, 319.22 mph Race Results: Lost to Tim Wilkerson

Notable: Margin of victory for Wilkerson was .002 of a second.

Quotable: "At the end of the day she (daughter Ashley Force) is really doing an exceptional job not because she is a woman but because she has no experience. To go out here against guys like Tony and Gary Scelzi and Robert Hight who have been racing for years. She is staying calm and cool. I've got no complaints."

ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 3rd at 4.759 seconds, 329.10 mph

Race Results: Beat Robert Hight, Gary Scelzi. Lost to Tony Pedregon.

Notable: Ran fastest speed of career on Friday night, 329.10 mph.... First win over brother-in-law and teammate Hight.

Quotable: "You can do everything you can with these cars but they are machines and they will not always do what you think they should do. Everybody has been in that situation. It is the worst feeling especially when you know you are out ahead of him."

ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 14th at 4.847 seconds, 290.51 mph

Race Results: Lost to Ashley Force.

Notable: First loss to a female competitor.

Quotable: "We had the second quickest 330 besides Ashley who I was racing and if the thing would have run anything we would have run."

MIKE NEFF, 41, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 11th at 4.815 seconds, 322.11 mph

Race results: Lost to Gary Scelzi

Quotable: "I'm just mad at myself. I can't believe I put the top light out. I would never do that to somebody. That was just stupid."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Robert Hight , Mike Neff