Sonoma: John Force Racing final report

HIGHT RACES TO SEMIS IN SONOMA, CLOSES GAP ON TOP TEN SONOMA, CA -- Defending event champion Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team had a goal heading into the NHRA Western Swing: race solidly into the Full Throttle Top Ten so they...


SONOMA, CA -- Defending event champion Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team had a goal heading into the NHRA Western Swing: race solidly into the Full Throttle Top Ten so they would be positioned for a run at their first Full Throttle championship. They raced to two semi-final finishes over the three races in three weekends stretch, including today's effort at the 22nd annual FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway and closed the gap considerably. They are less than one round out of the Top Ten with three races on the horizon.

Hight opened the day with a masterful driving display winning a first round match-up with the higher seeded Jack Beckman, then defeating points leader Ron Capps in the second round. His day ended with a semi-final loss to Tony Pedregon who moved into the points lead around Capps. After his first round victory Hight was enthused about his team's performance.

"That is a big one for us. Seeing Cruz (Pedregon) go out there (and beat Matt Hagan). We are fighting for Hagan too. It is tough. I'll tell you John Force came up to me before (the first) round and told me you have to believe in your team and you have to believe in your car. Trust me, I told him I have never stopped believing in the Auto Club Mustang and my team. They are the best. We can go out and win any round we race in. We can qualify number one. We just haven't been doing it. We are going to get on a roll here," said Hight.

With a weekend off the NHRA national event tour Hight's Auto Club team will spend a day testing at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio while they entertain a capacity crowd at the annual match race event.

"It is nice to go to a match race or testing when there is no pressure. It doesn't matter whether you are the driver or the crew chief you don't have to make a call based on trying to get qualified. You can just go there and try things that you believe need to be done to make this thing better. If it is a successful test then the mindset is coming out of there gives you a little momentum and a little hope. You have that excitement going to the next race. "

"Two of the next three races I have done well and one not so much. Brainerd, the next race, I have not had a lot of success. That doesn't mean anything either. The way I look at it is the races where you haven't had success are the ones you want to do better than ever at and get them under your belt and win. My crew chief, Jimmy Prock, has won at Brainerd before tuning a funny car. The car is definitely coming around. It really is. Looking forward to next weekend we are going to Norwalk for a match race. We'll use that as one of our test days. We'll run the wheels off this Auto Club Mustang. We'll pull into Brainerd with confidence."

In addition to Hight advancing out of the first round teammate Mike Neff and the Ford Drive One Mustang made the quickest pass of the eliminations when they bolted down the 1000 ft. race track in 4.12 seconds. The win allowed him to solidify his position in the Top Ten. He is currently in 9th place only 27 points behind teammate John Force in 8th. At the top end after the round one win Neff gave the lion share of the credit to his crew chief and team members.

"You really can't say enough about (crew chief) John Medlen and my whole Ford Drive One team. They have been doing a really good job. They are the ones that deserve the credit for that. You know conditions are better than they were yesterday in the heat. We took advantage of it and tried to step on it a little bit. It made a really good run. We are really pleased," said Neff.

Team leader John Force was a surprise casualty in the first round when his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang was upended by veteran journeyman racer Gary Densham.

"I can't seem to get that win. I have this monkey on my back and I can't get rid of it. Ashley (Force Hood) has a hot rod that goes every round. I went in there with my crew chiefs and they were like 'What do you want us to say?' I know the drill. It is just that when your car is starting to run (that) shouldn't happen. This is critical in the countdown. We are going to make it. It is just painful," said the 126-time event winner.

"What's amazing is cars jumped up out of nowhere running teens. Cruz (Pedregon) comes out of nowhere. My other car (Mike Neff's Ford Drive One Mustang) in the heat runs 4.12. I said to (crew chief Austin) Coil 'Don't key off that.' I took my radio out though. The ear plugs have been aggravating me. I took my radio out and I couldn't talk to my crew chief. Sometimes you give up something to get something else. The plug was hurting my ear. I've had this earache all morning. I took the plug out of one ear and I couldn't communicate with them. I lost my communication. The other plug is to record data if I crashed. I was yelling, 'Calm, it down.' I am watching these guys ahead of me run these big numbers. I couldn't communicate. I guess I ought to go back and apologize. Me and Coil we fight that is what we do."

"I get a gut feeling. I am not a tuner. I get a gut feeling about what I see because I drive by emotion. I don't drive by what the sun tells me. I don't drive by what the track tells me or the competition. I drive by the heart," concluded Force.

As the highest positioned John Force Racing Mustang, Ashley Force Hood was also out after only one round of racing today. In the first round she matched up with points leader Ron Capps. Force Hood's Mustang finished up qualifying on Saturday with a solid run but on Sunday morning her Mustang went away from her at half track. The third year driver knows that some days you have things clicking and other times you take a minor step back.

"I'm glad we are past the Western Swing. The day didn't go how we planned but we'll work through that. We knew we couldn't go to the semis and finals forever. If we are going to lose races in the first or second round let's get those out of the way now instead of the end of the season. We knew no matter who won that first round race with Capps it was going to be a big round," said the 2007 rookie of the year. "I am glad we have a weekend off coming up. My team has been so awesome and they have been working so hard every day it seems. I know I am ready for a little bit of downtime. We'll get rejuvenated get our energy back up and be ready for the next couple of races before the Countdown."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Densham , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force , Robert Hight , Matt Hagan , John Medlen , Mike Neff