Reading: John Force Racing final report

MIKE NEFF, FORD DRIVE ONE MUSTANG REACH FINAL AT READING John Force clinches Countdown Spot, Hight Closes Gap READING, PA -- Mike Neff raced his Ford Drive One to his second final of the 2009 season but once again he was turned away from ...

John Force clinches Countdown Spot, Hight Closes Gap

READING, PA -- Mike Neff raced his Ford Drive One to his second final of the 2009 season but once again he was turned away from the winner's circle. Tonight at the 25th annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals it was fellow Ford racer Bob Tasca III who defeated Neff in the final at Maple Grove Raceway. Neff's success on the race track beating veteran Tim Wilkerson, Jerry Toliver, and two-time funny car champ Tony Pedregon advanced him to within one round of clinching a spot in the Countdown to 1. As it stands he is 102 points ahead of No. 11 Matt Hagan. A racer can pick up a maximum of 118 points per national event.

Unfortunately Neff was upset not by a performance disadvantage but rather a terribly timed sweat droplet. As Neff was staging he wiped away his forehead but in the time it took to lower his visor and stage his Ford Mustang more sweat formed and began running down his forehead into his eyes. The distraction was enough to knock the second year driver off his game and result in a terrible reaction time that doomed the Fishers, Indiana driver.

"John Medlen and this Ford Drive One team game me a great race car and I feel like I blew it. No excuses. You have to fight through things like sweat and distractions on the starting line. I just feel terrible. I don't want to take anything away from Bob Tasca III but I wish I could have given him more of a race especially for all the fans that waited out the weather and the track issues," said a disappointed Neff.

John Force, raced his way to the semi-finals and clinched a spot in the Countdown to 1 for the second consecutive year. The winningest driver in NHRA history will be in position to race for his unprecedented 15th funny car championship. Today he helped teammate Robert Hight be beating rookie Matt Hagan in the first round effectively freezing the No. 11 funny car in points in front of his young driver. After Force dispatched Hagan be took the win light over Jeff Arend before an uncharacteristic red-light in the semis versus Tasca ended his day. It was only the 21st red-light in Force's career and the last time he red-lit was ironically in 2007 here in the final versus former teammateTony Pedregon.

Robert Hight was driving an Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly tuned Auto Club Ford Mustang and scored a big first round win over Jim Head closing the gap on Matt Hagan and Cruz Pedregon for the last spot in the Countdown to 1. Hight was upended in the second round by Bob Tasca III when his Mustang lost traction at half track ending his day.

"I am glad I picked up a round on the number ten position but honestly I wanted to get a lot more than that here. It is disappointing but I am excited to be headed back to Indy. I've been to the past three finals of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and if I can repeat history I feel like I'll be in a good position. John (Force) helped me out today beating (Matt) Hagan. I'll get this Auto Club Mustang running the way it needs to because I have the best team behind me. I've got Jimmy Prock, Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly, and John Medlen all helping. They have a lot of championships and we are going to use their knowledge and make some things happen," said Hight.

In one of the most bizarre turn of events in recent John Force Racing history Ashley Force Hood, the events No. 1 qualifier, outran Jeff Arend in the first round but when her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was weighed it was below the minimum weight and Force Hood was disqualified.

It was an especially devastating turn of events for the Castrol GTX Mustang team considering they had worked well past midnight to put a back-up Mustang together for Force Hood after a dramatic qualifying round explosion. The resulting carnage forced the team to pull out the back-up Mustang and begin making it race-ready. This morning before the first round debris was discovered in the fuel line forcing the team to use valuable time replumbing the fuel system. That delay took the time normally allotted for a trip to the scales. It was a mistake that the team will not make again.

"This was not one of my best weekends. We got the number one qualifier even though we didn't get our four qualifying runs because of the weather. It ran great on that first session. The second session we had a major explosion. At least we gave a little entertainment to everybody. I can't say enough about my team. Today did not turn out the way we wanted it to but they went through a lot last night. We were warming up the car at midnight. I got back to the hotel around 2 a.m. They were still at the track when I left," said Force Hood.

"They all got up early and were back out here to start race day right on time. Everyone stayed really positive no one was frustrated. We had the music cranked up and they turned what could have been at terrible night into bonding experience. Dad's team also stayed and helped us which was really cool for them to stay and do that. We were the only teams in all the pits. It was one of those nights I'll never forget. We got the car back together and it did make an amazing lap in the first round. One detail just kind of got us. We can learn from what happened and we know for next time how we can avoid that. That is the key way to learn. We are also turning that into a positive."

"At least it got us before the Countdown. We are trying to make sure we cover our bases. We don't want anything weird like that to happen to us in the Countdown when each round is so critical. Next up is Indy and everybody wants to do their best there. It's Indy. I don't want to take anything away from Reading, we definitely wanted to win here today but we know we are clinched for the Countdown so it is not as devastating. We are going to keep doing our best and hope that we don't find any new ways to lose," concluded Force Hood."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Jeff Arend , Jerry Toliver , Robert Hight , Matt Hagan , Austin Coil , Bob Tasca III , John Medlen , Mike Neff