HIGHT WINS ALL JFR FINAL TO CAP EMOTIONAL SEASON -Castrol GTX's Ashley Force Finishes Rookie Season in Top 10- Team Castrol/Auto Club driver Robert Hight ended the season in the same position he started but with better results, winning the 43rd...
HIGHT WINS ALL JFR FINAL TO CAP EMOTIONAL SEASON
-Castrol GTX's Ashley Force Finishes Rookie Season in Top 10-
Team Castrol/Auto Club driver Robert Hight ended the season in the same position he started but with better results, winning the 43rd Auto Club NHRA Finals. In February Hight crossed the centerline in the final round at the Winternationals to hand Gary Scelzi a season opening win, today Hight bested teammate Phil Burkart Jr. in an all John Force Racing final round. This was the 27th time John Force Racing has doubled up in the final round but only the second time John Force has not been a participant.
"A lot of things have happened since February. To win this final race in front of our sponsors was great. We're gonna have a new Ford engine next year. We need to get John (Force) on the mend. We're gonna build some different race cars. Right now I'm gonna take a page out of Eric Medlen's book and go out and eat a little ice cream tonight and enjoy this win," said Hight
Hight was in championship contention until the semi-final round when his 4.877 second pass was not enough to put him in position to set a national record and capture his first POWERade Championship. Hight finished second for the second year in a row leading the stable of John Force Racing Ford Mustangs that placed three cars in the top ten.
Ironically Hight's win today would have secured the championship under the pre-Countdown point structure.
"Had we won the championship, that wouldn't have made it a great year," Hight said. "Winning the race didn't make it a great year (because) earlier this year we lost our teammate (Eric Medlen, who succumbed last March to injuries suffered in a testing accident at Gainesville, Fla.).
"In fact, there's not much that would have made this a good year because we'll never have Eric back. I miss him, miss him like you can't believe. This winter's going to be really tough, 'cause Eric and I worked a lot together in the winter."
Phil Burkart Jr., flying the Castrol GTX banner, fulfilled his role as John Force Racing spoiler by defeating Ron Capps for the second race in a row in the first round and then mowing down Jeff Arend and Tim Wilkerson. The final round appearance capped a magical two weeks for the Funny Car journeyman.
"You have to chalk this up as a total team effort. It is unbelievable how these things come together. John (Force) has a great bunch of guys assembled. I was fortunate enough to be able to get into the seat for a couple of weeks and fill in. I can't thank him enough for this opportunity to do that," said Burkart. "It is really neat to get to know all these guys better. When you are out there and you are butting heads with them and racing against them you want to think that they are the worst bunch of guys in the world because they beat up on everybody, but the truth is they are really about the best bunch of guys out here."
Castrol GTX driver Ashley Force's day ended with a second round loss, but she locked up a Top 10 finish when Arend fell to teammate Burkart. Ms. Force, the former cheerleader and Top Alcohol Dragster pilot, completed her rookie campaign driving the 8,000 horsepower Ford Mustang to one final round appearance and four semi final appearances. "I'm finishing in the Top Ten because of (crew chiefs) Ron Douglas and Dean Antonelli. I helped out here and there. Mainly it was them and my team. We were out for a while in 16th place because we missed a race. The fact that we were able to get back in the top ten this weekend was exciting," said Force.
The rookie of the year candidate is looking forward to taking the positives from this season and moving forward.
"(This season) was so exciting. I really bonded with my team and that was the best part about it. They were a great group of guys that I got to work with. It was everything that you could imagine. It was so intense and with so many ups and downs. It was everything you would expect Funny Car racing to be."
14-time champion John Force missed his third race in a row following his spectacular crash at the Texas Motorplex on September 23rd to end the season but he held onto the 7th position in the POWERade Funny Car points standings.
"We started the season with four drivers and then we had chaos with Eric (Medlen) and then me so to end the season with four drivers is a big deal. We brought in Phil Burkart and he drove like a champion. He did everything I wanted him to do and he got along great with the entire team. He helped get us the No. 2 spot for Robert (Hight) and he got the Top Ten for Ashley. I am just so proud of everyone on this team. It was fantastic how well we came together."
Force was most proud of the accomplishments of his young drivers as they finished out the season.
"Ashley's season has been unbelievable. She is the leader for Rookie of the Year. Getting her in the Top Ten means the most to me. To be able to stand on the stage at the banquet with my son-in-law and my daughter will be awesome. She used to ask me if she could come up on the stage and I'd tell her no I have to go to work. Now no matter what happens we will be able to share the stage at least one time." Rookie to be Castrol GTX driver Mike Neff qualified for this second race of his young career but will have to wait until 2008 for his first round win.
TEAM CASTROL Details:
JOHN FORCE, 58, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: Did not compete
Notable: Finished 7th in the POWERade points standings despite missing last three events of season...His Team Castrol drivers captured three positions in the Top 10.
Quotable: "We started the season with four drivers and then we had chaos with Eric (Medlen) and then me so to end the season with four drivers is a big deal. We brought in Phil Burkart and he drove like a champion. I am just so proud of everyone on this team. It was fantastic how well we came together."
ASHLEY FORCE, 24, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 5th at 4.802 seconds, 317.42 mph.
Race results: Beat Del Worsham. Lost to Tim Wilkerson
Notable: Finished in the Top 10 in her rookie campaign... favorite to win the Auto Club Road to the Future Award recognizing the professional rookie of the year.
Quotable: "At the end of the year we are all still here together and we are actually smiling. I am glad we got through everything and we are still together as a team. We are strong for next year.
ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Team Castrol/Auto Club of Southern California Ford
Qualifying position and performance: 14th at 4.827 seconds, 316.45
Race results: Beat Gary Scelzi, Jerry Toliver, Mike Ashley, Phil Burkart
Notable: Finished 2nd in Funny Car POWERade points standing for the second season in a row... third win of the season... reached the fifth final round of the season.
Quotable: "You look at this Funny Car field and every week anyone could win. We started the season getting to the finals at the Winternationals and I lost to Scelzi. I want to win this race and finish the season on a high note. It will give us something to look forward to for next season."
MIKE NEFF, 40, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 10th at 4.819 seconds, 322.27
Race results: Lost to Mike Ashley.
Notable: Qualified for both races he entered after earning his funny car license in Las Vegas earlier this year.
PHIL BURKART JR., 39, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 9th at 4.813 seconds, 318.77
Race results: Beat Ron Capps, Jeff Arend, Tim Wilkerson. Lost to Robert Hight.
Notable: Filling in for John Force he twice defeated Countdown to One participant Ron Capps in the first round (Vegas2 and Pomona2)...reached the final round for the ninth time in his career.
Quotable: "This is just a dream come true. It is a blessing."