HIGHT'S NO.1 EFFORT IN VEGAS RAISES CHAMPIONSHIP ANTE (LAS VEGAS) --- On the day after Halloween Robert Hight gave his boss and father-in-law John Force the ultimate trick and treat. After an agonizingly long delay due to an Antron Brown oil...
HIGHT'S NO.1 EFFORT IN VEGAS RAISES CHAMPIONSHIP ANTE
(LAS VEGAS) --- On the day after Halloween Robert Hight gave his boss and father-in-law John Force the ultimate trick and treat. After an agonizingly long delay due to an Antron Brown oil down at the conclusion of the final Top Fuel qualifying session the entire Funny Car class started their last session nearly an hour and a half after the estimated start time. Hight, in the next to last pair of Funny Cars racing his sister-in-law Ashley Force, was then forced to wait again after their burnouts when a quick rain shower halted the racing action. Both Ford Mustangs shut off and then had to restart forcing both teams to double and triple check their starting line procedures.
"That last run was probably the craziest run I have ever made. Having to do the burn out and then stop because it was raining. I saw the side windows had water on them and I got back past the tree and Rick Stewart was shutting me off. I have seen lots of guys do that before; shut them off and restart them then stage but you never know. There are so many things that are going on. I was on the radio with my crew guys making sure that we do everything right. This kind of scenario just throws everything off," said Hight.
When Hight crossed the finish line he knew he had made a good run but thanks to a radio malfunction he did not know how well until he got out of his Los Angeles Dodgers themed Mustang at the top end. The avid baseball fan was excited to have raced to the top spot considering the team needs every point possible to win their first championship even if it means denying his racing hero John Force the number one spot.
"We have to be perfect. My radio didn't work so I had no idea what it ran. I was pretty sure it ran pretty good. I love baseball and getting to run the Dodgers car the last two races is a dream for me. I am glad I wasn't good enough to play baseball or I wouldn't be able to be out here driving this Ford Mustang for John Force. It would be the most perfect way to end the season with winning a championship running a Dodgers car and we are still in this ball game and we can do it."
"For this Auto Club Ford team we have to make every point count. We could be perfect from here on out and still not win this championship. No. 1 qualifier here that is behind us and we need to win this race, go to Pomona be No.1 and then win. That still might not be enough. We know we have to do everything perfectly," added the two time championship runner-up.
In the first round Hight will square off against No. 16 qualifier and nemesis Tony Bartone. It was two years ago at the ACDelco Nationals when Hight was the No. 1 qualifier and Bartone was No. 16 and Hight's Mustang had a mechanical failure on the burn out effectively ending his bid for his first championship. Hight is hoping there is not a repeat in 2008.
"We have been number one here a lot and lost first round too. In fact two years ago I was in the championship hunt against John (Force) and (Ron) Capps. We had a killer car and my car died on the burn out."
Ashley Force made a solid run beside Hight in the last session even though the 2007 Rookie of the Year made a tactical error while she was shutting down her 8,000 horsepower Castrol GTX Mustang.
"We did the burn out and Danny (fiance Danny Hood) told me it was sprinkling and I could see my windshield getting wet. They told me to shut it off which is never our routine. I shut it off and I had my foot on the clutch from backing up. It wanted to come off so I had the clutch in while it was shutting down but in those few moments I was thinking about my routine and when I make a run and I shut off the fuel my foot is off the clutch and I am not supposed to put it back on. So I took my foot off and the engine shut off," said Force. "I got on the radio and they brought Guido (crew chief Dean Antonelli) in and I explained what I had done. I told him I had my foot on the clutch and he said that was good to keep it on the clutch. Then I told him I had taken it off halfway through the shut down."
"I asked him what that was going to do and he said it would just get the clutch hotter. At least they knew what was going on. I don't know if you can do anything about that but he was joking that everyone needed to blow on the clutch then I got upset with myself because I didn't know any better but still I felt like if it had been Robert who knows the car good enough that he wouldn't have done that. This was just another learning experience for me."
"Luckily we had enough down time we were able to start it up and I didn't know what it was going to do if it was going to go ten feet for the full track. Guido told me it would be fine and it was. It made a great run and I was so relieved. I was happy I didn't cost us a run. We went up there thinking we were really going to push it and see what we could do."
Her No. 4 qualifying effort will pit her against fellow Countdown competitor Ron Capps in the first round. She is 3-2 versus Capps and a win would help out teammate Mike Neff in the standings. A strong run on Sunday would also give her championship aspirations a big boost.
"I think there is less pressure to be on our side where we are trying to catch the other guys. It all just depends. This is the situation and we are all just going to do our best. We have a really good car. We just need to continue to do what we have been doing. We don't want to do anything stupid just because it is the last two races of the year. We are running at the top half of the field every run. We had four good runs so if we can keep that up tomorrow we will have a good shot of getting a race win and that would definitely help us no matter what happened with everyone else."
Rookie of the Year favorite Mike Neff will have his hands full to open eliminations when he pulls up beside points leader Tim Wilkerson. This will be the sixth meeting between the two teams with Neff looking for his first win against the veteran from Missouri. He has dropped two close final round match-ups but this first round tilt has even more importance to the rookie driver.
"It will be the biggest race that we have had definitely. We have raced Wilkerson in two of our finals. We gave him a good race in both runs but he nipped us in both of those. We know he'll be tough tomorrow. I am confident in John Medlen. He has the Old Spice Ford running good. The BOSS 500 motor has been looking real good this weekend. We'll give it our best shot and it sure would be nice to be able to do our job here and take him out. That is what it is all about," said Neff
While Neff might be a rookie behind the wheel he is no newcomer to championship pressure. As crew chief for Gary Scelzi when they win their Funny Car championship in 2005 Neff had to deal with pressure and managing his emotions on drag racing's biggest stage. He knows that real competitors want to be in the position to get the big win.
"A race like tomorrow morning is why most of us are out here. You want that competition. The mere fact that we are competing at that level for something as important as that round win would be for us tomorrow. I remember when I was a crew chief for Scelzi in 2005. It was coming down to the last race for the championship to be decided. I know what that pressure feels like and if you are able to come out victorious when you are put in those types of situations there is nothing greater. Those are the memories that will always be with you."
"I can still remember that feeling I had with that pressure; the car having to go down the track, having to run good, and having to win a round. It is nerve wracking but that is what it really is all about. If you are competitive it doesn't get much better than that," concluded Neff.
It is hard to imagine that being the No.2 qualifier could be viewed as anything but a positive but for 14-time Funny Car champion John Force barely missing the top spot keeps a streak alive that the winningest driver in NHRA history would like to see end. It has been more than two full season since Force was the No. 1 qualifier (2006 Mac Tools US Nationals) and while he has overcome more than most mortals in that time the mood at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was dimmed a bit by him narrowly missing being the quickest Funny Car on the property.
JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 2nd at 4.062 seconds, 307.37
First Round Opponent (W-L): Jeff Arend (7-0)
ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 4th at 4.069 seconds, 310.05 mph
First Round Opponent (W-L): Ron Capps (3-2)
Quotes: "We had four good runs (in qualifying) so if we can keep that up tomorrow we will have a good shot of getting a race win and that would definitely help us no matter what happened with everyone else."
ROBERT HIGHT, 39, Auto Club/Los Angeles Dodgers Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 1st at 4.043 seconds, 309.20 mph.
First Round Opponent (W-L): Tony Bartone (7-3)
Quotes: "For this Auto Club Ford team we have to make every point count. We could be perfect from here on out and still not win this championship. No. 1 qualifier here that is behind us and we need to win this race, go to Pomona be No.1 and then win. That still might not be enough. We know we have to do everything perfectly."
MIKE NEFF, 42, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 9th at 4.092 seconds, 308.07 mph
First Round Opponent (W-L): Tim Wilkerson (0-5)
Quotes: "It (first round race with Tim Wilkerson) will be the biggest race that we have had definitely. We have raced Wilkerson in two of our finals. We gave him a good race in both runs but he nipped us in both of those. We know he'll be tough tomorrow. I am confident in John Medlen. He has the Old Spice Ford running good."