NO. 1 SPOTS SLIPS AWAY FROM ASHLEY FORCE; NEFF RACES INTO FIELD (JOLIET, IL) --- A severe rain delay brought equal measures of positive and negative outcomes for John Force Racing at the 11th annual TORCO Racing Fuels Rt. 66 Nationals. As Top...
NO. 1 SPOTS SLIPS AWAY FROM ASHLEY FORCE; NEFF RACES INTO FIELD
(JOLIET, IL) --- A severe rain delay brought equal measures of positive and negative outcomes for John Force Racing at the 11th annual TORCO Racing Fuels Rt. 66 Nationals. As Top Fuel dragsters began the final round of qualifying the track was deluged by rain storms and tornado warnings. The storms threatened to washout the final session along with Old Spice Ford Mustang Funny Car driver Mike Neff's chances to qualifying. Neff was sitting on the 17th quickest time on the property as the rain began to fall.
Fortunately for Neff the weather relented and the NHRA Safety Safari performed track prep magic and after an over two and a half hour delay Top Fuel racing wrapped up and Neff was able to race into the field on Sunday with a solid 4.815 second run. The relief was obvious for the rookie driver and former crew chief at the end of the day.
"Getting in was a huge relief. When it started raining and just down pouring I was thinking 'Aw man, don't do this to us.' I am very thankful that we got to run," said the front runner for the Auto Club Road to the Future Award. "I felt confident that (crew chief) John Medlen and the boys would get this Old Spice Ford Mustang down there if they gave us enough tries at it. I feel a huge relief."
Neff will face former teammate and driver Gary Scelzi. Neff and Scelzi teamed up to win the 2005 Funny Car championship.
"I like Gary. They are running good," said Neff. "We ran have run each other a lot in qualifying this season so tomorrow who knows. It could be anybody's day. He is no different than anybody else."
The downside of the weather delay was the cooler temperatures which allowed Melanie Troxel to race past previous No. 1 qualifier Castrol GTX driver Ashley Force. In the last pair of fuel coupes Force and Mark Oswald had a shot at unseating Troxel but it was Oswald who came closest with a 4.757 second run pushing Force into the No. 3 slot with her 4.759 run from Friday night.
"The waiting was not good but thank goodness Mike Neff qualified during that last round or I wish it would have rained. We lost the No. 1 spot and we match up now with Robert (Hight) but that is just how it goes," said the first woman to win an NHRA Funny Car event. "Tomorrow is a whole new day. We are just going to go out there and run the best we can. The good thing is our car is running great in all the different conditions."
On her final run Force felt she was heading back to the top of the field when she lost power in her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. The right lane at Route 66 Raceway has a few bumps that caused Force's Mustang to overpower itself and snap the blower belt.
"I shredded my belt right before the finish line. The car just died. I was on the throttle and my Mustang was just dead. I got out at the end and saw that the blower belt was just shredded," said Force. "It was like driving a stick shift and just stalling it. I was on the throttle and there was just no power. There was no in between it was either going or it was just done. It was like I completely lifted off the throttle but I was to the floor."
The final session did not see any improvement from the other two John Force Racing Ford Mustangs. Team leader John Force ran 4.794 second in the last session just a tick off his best run of the weekend and he will match-up with points leader Tim Wilkerson in the first round.
Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang driver Robert Hight suffered a top end explosion that slowed his Funny Car and relegated him to the 14th qualifying position and a first round head to head race with teammate Ashley Force. The run was one of the most eventful of Hight's career.
"That was the biggest fire I had instantly all at once since I started driving. It was all on me and you just do things like get on the bottles and get the chutes out," said the reserved Hight. "When you are driving it like I was you are just trying to keep it where it is supposed to be. Usually you can get it back and it will stay in the groove. This thing tonight was all over the place. I never quit having to drive it."
Hight is also disappointed he'll have to race sister-in-law and teammate Ashley Force in the first round.
"It sucks we have to race Ashley. I didn't even know that she wasn't No. 1 until later. We did it to ourselves," said the 2005 Rookie of the Year. "I sound like a broken record but if we ever get this running right there is nobody that can even come close to it. It was dead at half track on that last run and it was still the second quickest by thousandths. It was quick to the 330 ft."
Upstart Top Alcohol Dragster driver Courtney Force was unable to improve on her time from Friday and missed qualifying for eliminations with her BrandSource sponsored A Fuel Dragster.
JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 8th at 4.783 seconds, 319.22 mph
First Round Opponent: Tim Wilkerson
ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 3rd at 4.759 seconds, 329.10 mph
First Round Opponent: Robert Hight
Quotable: "I shredded my belt right before the finish line. The car just died. I was on the throttle and my Mustang was just dead. I got out at the end and saw that the blower belt was just shredded. That makes it even more frustrating because I knew it was on a really good run."
ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 14th at 4.847 seconds, 293.54 mph
First Round Opponent: Ashley Force
Quotable: "I knew the NHRA would stick it out and let guys run because lots of guys weren't qualified including Mike Neff and the Old Spice guys. I also knew that we would basically get another night time session. I knew if we didn't step up there was a very good chance we wouldn't qualify."
MIKE NEFF, 41, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 11th at 4.815 seconds, 322.11 mph
First Round Opponent: Gary Scelzi
Quotable: "There was no problem with that last run. It was a good run. That is what we were targeting. We didn't want to take a chance of smoking the tires. We knew we were going to have to run good. All in all it ran what we wanted it to."
COURTNEY FORCE, 19, BrandSource A Fuel Dragster
Qualifying: DNQ, 27th at 5.724 seconds, 248.43 mph.