HIGHT No. 1 IN SEATTLE; FORCE CLINCHES COUNTDOWN SPOT SEATTLE, WA -- Conditions did not improve enough at Pacific Raceway for anyone in either the Top Fuel or Funny Car class to shake up the qualifying order. 2009 Funny Car champion Robert Hight...
HIGHT No. 1 IN SEATTLE; FORCE CLINCHES COUNTDOWN SPOT
SEATTLE, WA -- Conditions did not improve enough at Pacific Raceway for anyone in either the Top Fuel or Funny Car class to shake up the qualifying order. 2009 Funny Car champion Robert Hight held onto the top spot and captured his 6th No. 1 qualifier for 2010 and 38th of his career. Today under hot conditions Hight drove his Auto Club Ford Mustang to a 4.199 second run in the first session Saturday in spite of the unexpected conditions.
"It was just a little hotter than expected. There was a forecast for some clouds but we didn't get them. We came close to matching our run from last night in the first session. Last night was a 4.194 and today we ran 4.199. We came close and you saw Del Worsham step right up and run 4.20. The top ten cars are so bunched up anyone can win tomorrow. Being No. 1 is a big deal for points for us but it really means nothing," said Hight.
Hight will race Jeff Diehl in the first round on Sunday and he is not looking past the surfer. Hight raced Diehl in the opening round of the Norwalk national event two weeks ago and Diehl made a solid run.
"Tomorrow we have a tough race no matter what position you are in in Funny Car. We have to go out there against Jeff Diehl and a few weeks back he made a killer run in Norwalk in the heat so if he does that tomorrow and we take him lightly he will put us on the trailer. We have to go up there in the morning and race the conditions just like we have been."
Hight's Jimmy Prock tuned Mustang had made three consecutive strong runs at Pacific Raceway before his last tire smoking pass. At the end of the day Hight took a positive from the tire smoke run. Hight is also looking forward to chasing points leader John Force.
"We did smoke the tires tonight. We finally missed but maybe that will give us some parameters. We'll know what we don't need to do tomorrow. All in all a pretty good weekend. We gained some points on John. I think we are within three rounds for the top spot. It is just fun chasing him. It has been back and forth. He jokes around a lot about catching him," said the three-time 2010 winner. "Then I did catch him then he got me right back. It is a lot of fun and I think he would be my second round opponent if we both win."
"I'll get a good night's sleep and get ready for tomorrow. This place always seems to be tricky because I think you make more horsepower here in Seattle than you do at other races. I think all the trees and we have good air up here. That is one reason we have to continually back these cars down. If it is a little cooler tomorrow like first round you will see runs in the first round I guarantee you quicker than my 4.19 because the conditions will be the best we have seen all weekend. Hopefully we are that car with low ET. We have had the luxury of being in the back of the pack every run. That works out because of where we are in the points for the first run and then the other runs because of how well we have run. That luxury is nice. We get to see what the other cars are doing and it gives you a little more time for the track too cool down."
While Hight had one good run and one unsuccessful pass teammate Ashley Force Hood battled track conditions in both sessions. Castrol GTX Ford Mustang co-crew chiefs Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas were a little off in the first session and in the second session the Ford Mustang lost traction at about half track. The 2009 championship runner-up did not let the lack of success get her down going into eliminations tomorrow.
"I am sure they (Antonelli and Douglas) were trying to push it to run. They weren't very happy after that run. In the earlier run they were really pushing it. Last weekend we made four stellar qualifying runs and that didn't help us out at all. This weekend we are saying Sunday is a new day and just because you run great in qualifying doesn't mean your race day will be great. You would like to run well in qualifying because it helps but we made two good runs in the heat. It might be a little cooler tomorrow," said the three time tour winner.
"I don't know anything about the tune ups. I know this Mustang is just having an attitude problem, this year. I look back at last year and when we do get on a roll everything flows. We will get on a roll. We are not going to let this get us down. Look at my dad's and Robert's seasons comparing last year to this year. We'll learn from them. That is the weird thing about the points. You hate to think of it that way but it is really about the Countdown. You don't let some struggles now get you down for the end of the year. Robert proved you can have a great final six races and win a championship."
For team leader John Force the first round of eliminations will look just like the last round of qualifying when he pulls up beside veteran Jack Beckman. For Force he knows he will have to be up for the race but he will also have confidence knowing that he clinched a spot in the Countdown with his performance on Saturday. Force is the first Funny Car driver to guarantee himself a spot in the race for a Full Throttle championship.
"We got Beckman again. We'll race him like we always do. They got a great team owner over there with Don Schumacher. Beckman helped to teach my kids and my wife how to race. At the end of the day he is a great racer and we'll have to get up tomorrow. I am not exactly where I want to be. I barely made the top half of the field. It is going to be tricky," said the 130-time winner
"(On clinching Countdown) I want to thank the program that we have created here at JFR and the people that helped create it. It is the whole brain trust. (Crew chiefs) Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly going together with (crew chief) Mike Neff that was really critical. Mike working with them is also big. They give me a good hot rod and I thank the good Lord and my gym Phanatics in Yorba Linda. I want to thank my sponsors for sticking by me when I was really not that good."
Last year getting all the John Force Racing Mustangs into the Countdown came down to the last race of the regular season. This year Force is locked in and with a strong race day tomorrow Robert Hight will clinch the second Funny Car spot. Ashley Force Hood is not in jeopardy of not making the Countdown.
"For me to come back especially after not winning one race last year and only winning one the year before. I went from being one of the best drivers to being one of the worst. To come in this early and have the confidence and the point lead to me is not a big deal. The Countdown is when the game starts. I could have Robert second round and he could go around me in the points. I made the Countdown and that is my job for Castrol, Ford, Mac Tools, Auto Club and BrandSource. "
In the Top Alcohol Dragster first round of eliminations the 2009 Northwest Nationals TAD winner Courtney Force lined up beside Mike Austin looking for a repeat win. Both dragsters launched and at the finish line the run took a terrible turn for Force as her right rear Goodyear tire exploded tearing a portion of her Ford Racing A Fuel Dragster's rear wing off. Courtney masterfully kept her dragster off the guard wall and out of Austin's lane. For the third year TAD driver it was the culmination of many hours of practice, visualization and conversations with her father and teammates.
"I am trying to come back to Seattle and get another win under my belt. I was hoping this was my lucky track but maybe not. We always have fun coming out here and racing. Once I hit the throttle and went down the track I was so close to the finish line and I was trying to get around Mike Austin," said Force." I thought I was coming close and then I thought, 'Man I am having some really bad tire shake.' I let off (the throttle) and I realized my tire was off. I instantly knew my tire had come off. I could smell it. I was tilted sideways in the cockpit of my car and I was just driving it with one arm, getting my chutes out and shutting everything off. I was pulling on the brake to get it stopped as fast as I could. I didn't want to go over into his lane and I didn't want to hit the wall. I was doing the best I could."
Force's dragster was all over her lane but never crossed the center line or came close to the guard wall. It appeared to be totally under control for Force as she battled to avert disaster.
"It pulled it hard once the tire came off. As soon as I realized what happened I pulled it to the left but I didn't want to pull it so hard that it took me into the wall. I know that is something that can easily happen. You have to know how far to turn it before you are headed for the wall. I had to pull it just enough. I am not that great of a driver. I think my instincts took over and I just did what I could. I am just glad no one got hurt," said Force.
By the time the 22 year old Cal State Fullerton Communications major stopped at the top end and hopped out here 14-time championship father and her mother pulled up beside her thanks to a near record setting run on Force' omnipresent scooter.
"I think my dad clocked out the (scooter). The next thing I know I am getting out of the car and he is already down there. I was telling him I was fine. I am fine. My poor mom this is what I get her for her birthday."
"For the seat time we are getting considering we are still in school it is hard. Dad will tell us about tire shake and what happens in an emergency but you can't do anything until you have been through it. Honestly I was waiting for my time. All my sisters and my dad have all had crashes. I just have to know what to do when something goes wrong. I thought that I did."
When a reporter questioned her self-deprecating description of her driving skills Force was quick to clarify.
"I am not horrible I just think that I am not a professional out here. I haven't been doing it for 30 years. I am still new to it. I am still learning. I think everything that I have learned and everything that my dad and sister have taught. It all set in the second I had a problem. I have been around these cars to know so I can imagine what things feel like but you just have to figure it out when it happens as quickly as possible."
Brittany Force made her first round run immediately after the track was cleared. Her sister Courtney was standing behind her BrandSource A Fuel dragster cheering her on. Force took the win light on a single run when Dale Carlson was unable to start in round one.