HIGHT'S SECOND ROUND CRASH PULLS TEAM CASTROL TOGETHER Robert Hight qualified his Team Castrol/Auto Club Ford Mustang in the No.1 position for the third time this year and for the third time in as many appearances at Heartland Park-Topeka, but...
HIGHT'S SECOND ROUND CRASH PULLS TEAM CASTROL TOGETHER
Robert Hight qualified his Team Castrol/Auto Club Ford Mustang in the No.1 position for the third time this year and for the third time in as many appearances at Heartland Park-Topeka, but his bid for victory in the 19th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals ended in the semifinals when crew chiefs determined his damaged Funny Car was not raceworthy.
Although the 2005 Rookie of the Year was stopped short of a seventh career victory, Team Castrol's superhuman effort in repairing the visible damage to the Mustang earned across the board praise. Hight's bid actually ended soon after he crossed the finish line after beating Scott Kalitta in the second round when the supercharger and engine exploded, encompassing the driver in a cloud of smoke and flame. Unable to see, Hight hit the rightside guardwall first, then the left guardwall before bringing the car to a stop in the sand pit at the end of the racing surface.
"The rev limiter was holding it and it blew up," Hight said. "It dropped a cylinder and it lifted that (cylinder) head and then it re-lit in that cylinder and it blew the head off of it. I couldn't see a thing. It was the biggest fire inferno I had ever seen.
"You do the stuff that you have been trained to do. You just want to get the car stopped. I honestly thought the thing was stopped but what happened was the brakes weren't working. It had burned a brake line. I was very surprised when I got on the roof and it was still trucking down there," Hight said.
The crews from all three Team Castrol Funny Cars worked furiously to put the Mustang back together for a semifinal match-up with Jim Head. Even though Hight had a compete back-up Mustang in the trailer, NHRA rules barring replacement of the chassis during eliminations, forced the team to complete re-assemble his car using a possibly damaged chassis in only 75 minutes. Ultimately, the crew chiefs and team owner owner John Force decided that, in the interest of safety, it would not be prudent to make a run with a car that had possible unknown chassis damage.
The current rule's intent was questioned by both Force and Jimmy Prock, Hight's crew chief.
"We are not sending a driver down the racetrack in a car we know is not right," Force said. "We think that they (NHRA) ought to address this situation. What upset Jimmy Prock so much is we had a brand new car sitting complete in our trailer."
The team did pull the car up to the starting line in the hope that Head would experience a problem but the veteran was able to make a solo pass to advance to the final against eventual winner Mike Ashley.
"It is a lot about entertainment out here and I let my crew chiefs make the calls," Force said. "They run the motors they make the decisions. Jimmy Prock and John Medlen said (the car) wasn't going. We were hoping (Head) would fail somehow and we could get to the pad. We had no intentions of even doing a burnout or a run."
Earlier in the second round, Ashley Force and the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang were dispatched by Mike Ashley. Although she put up the quickest time of the round at 4.926 seconds, Ms. Force lost to a slower time (4.947) because of a starting line disadvantage.
"If I can just be more consistent on my lights I think we have a good package going into the summer races when the weather is not going to allow for high speeds and low ETs," Ashley said. "We had a really good car today (but) I wasn't tremendous on the light. I talked to Guido (crew chief Dean Antonelli) and I apologized to him. The team is giving me a great car and I am just screwing up. He said that is all part of (the learning experience). We know different ways to fix some of this stuff (and) I'm going to practice my reaction times."
Team leader and 14-time champion John Force continued to struggle. His day ended early versus nemesis, close friend and fellow POWERade champion Gary Scelzi when his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang lost traction shortly after leaving the starting line.
TEAM CASTROL Details:
JOHN FORCE, 58, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 3rd at 4.796 seconds, 302.26 mph.
Race results: Lost to Gary Scelzi.
Notable: Moved from 18th to 17th in the point standings and closed the gap on the crucial final Countdown to Eight spot to 120 points
Quotable: "Our car still just isn't consistent. We had a chance to make up some ground (today) and didn't get it done. Robert had the best car, but it just wasn't our day. (After Hight's collision with the guardwall in the second round) we looked at the situation (and) it wasn't good. You don't know what happens when a car makes contact with the wall. I'm really impressed with this team. (They got this) car back together so it would start, but we never were going to run it."
ASHLEY FORCE, 24, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 7th at 4.857 seconds, 293.73 mph.
Race results: Beat Kenny Bernstein. Lost to Mike Ashley.
Notable: Remained in seventh place in the Countdown to Eight by advancing beyond the first round for the fifth straight race.
Quotable: "We had a really good car today (but) I wasn't tremendous on the light. I am going to practice my reaction time. I'm going to do some things differently with how I stage. I'm still getting used to the car (but) now I am to the point where I can focus on the little things. My team and crew chief have been great about not pushing me (but) you have to be comfortable with the runs before you can work on the smaller details. I am definitely going to start honing in more (now) on my reaction times."
ROBERT HIGHT, 37, Team Castrol/Auto Club of Southern California Ford
Qualifying position and performance: 1st at 4.754 seconds, 320.66 mph.
Race results: Beat Cruz Pedregon, Scott Kalitta. Lost to Jim Head.
Notable: Was the No. 1 qualifier at Heartland Park-Topeka for the third time in as many appearances but lost his chance at a first victory in the Summer Nationals when an engine explosion and fire in the second round damaged the chassis.
Quotable: "I believe we had (the car to win). When you looked at our side of the ladder, if we had just made another good run down the track, we would have been in the final. Whether that would have been good enough or not, who knows? Once we saw the extent of the damage we did not plan on leaving the starting line in the semis."