ALL-FORCE FIRST ROUND COULD JUMBLE POINTS AT HEARTLAND PARK TOPEKA, Kansas -- For John and Ashley Force, the good news is that their Castrol GTX Ford Mustangs, his green-and-white, hers white-and-green, were the two quickest Funny Cars down the...
ALL-FORCE FIRST ROUND COULD JUMBLE POINTS AT HEARTLAND PARK
TOPEKA, Kansas -- For John and Ashley Force, the good news is that their Castrol GTX Ford Mustangs, his green-and-white, hers white-and-green, were the two quickest Funny Cars down the quarter mile Saturday during final qualifying for the 20th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals at Heartland Park-Topeka.
The bad news is that since neither was able to eclipse the times rung up Friday by No. 1 qualifier Tony Bartone and others in optimum conditions, they will race each other in Sunday's first round -- a match neither relished.
b^0x001cRight now we gotta focus on winning this race," said the elder Force, whose resume includes eight wins at Heartland Park. "Ashley needs to stay up in the points and I need to get up in the points. That's just the way it is."
b^0x001cI've given up worrying about it," Ashley said, "because it's just a part of it and there's nothing you can do about it. So we'll go up there and hopefully both cars will get down the track and we'll have a good close, side-by-side race. I'd hate to get in a pedalfest with him, but hopefully with the cool weather our car will run like it has been and we'll go some rounds."
b^0x001cWell, at least we know there'll be a Mustang in the second round," said a philosophical Dean "Guido" Antonelli, crew chief on Ashley's car. "We just don't know what color it'll be. So, for our sponsors, we can guarantee that someone's going to second round and I guess that's not all bad."
Ashley, who has beaten her dad in two of three career meetings and is one of only 14 drivers with a winning record against him, was clocked in 4.934 seconds on her first Saturday run, tying her with teammate Robert Hight for the quickest quarter mile of the session. Saturday afternoon, she improved to 4.920, the quickest of the entire day although by just the narrowest of margins over her dad (4.921).
b^0x001cWe were hoping actually to run a click better, but it spun a little bit down track and dropped some holes," Antonelli said. "But we'll take that and make some adjustments and see if we can improve tomorrow. Hopefully we can get by John and just go one round at a time."
At least the Forces are racing on Sunday. The same can't be said for rookie Mike Neff, who'll watch from the sidelines after his Old Spice Force Mustang failed to crack into the 16-car field.
b^0x001cI touched the cone (marking the centerline) in the first round today," Neff said. "I had three cylinders out on one side (creating an imbalance that sent the car careening out of the groove). It just put a hole out every run and we never got a handle on it. It's not the heat. There's something goofy going on.
b^0x001cWe're going through everything right now. We don't have an answer yet of why it's putting cylinders out (but) we'll get them in Chicago. We'll have 'er fixed by then. Between me and Medlen, we'll get it figured out. Not qualifying just sucks. I feel worse for Medlen. It's a lot worse being the crew chief and not qualifying than it is a driver, (but) it sucks any way you look at it."
The sleeper among the JFR Fords may be Robert Hight's Auto Club Mustang, which qualified seventh despite fighting dropped cylinder problems like those encountered by Neff.
On his last attempt, his early numbers were comparable to those of Ashley and John, but then the engine misfired and he aborted.
b^0x001cIt dropped a cylinder and I just clicked it off," said the 10-time tour winner. "It wasn't going anywhere. We're right on the verge of being really fast (with the Auto Club Ford), but it's frustrating when you know you're that close (to a breakthrough). We keep dropping cylinders and that's what (crew chief) Jimmy Prock's on. If we can just get it to run on eight cylinders...."
As for 21-year-old Brittany Force, she was pleased with her progress at the wheel of Jerry Darien's BrandSource A/Fuel dragster even though she was beaten in the first round Saturday by veteran Mark Niver.
b^0x001cI have become much more comfortable," she said. "(and) I've become more familiar with it and because of that it has rally made the overall experience much more enjoyable. When I first began, I had to run through a lot of different steps, learning the controls, staging and slowing the car at the top end. Now I've started to get a real hold on all those things and it allows me to just race."
When the tour moves next week to Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., for the TORCO Racing Fuels Nationals, Brittany's younger sister, Courtney, will be behind the wheel as the two continue to divide time in the 270 mile-an-hour dragster.
JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Friday Qualifying: 9th at 4.921 seconds, 304.39 mph.
First round opponent: Ashley Force
Quotable: "We got three cars in, but I feel bad for John Medlen and Mike Neff. They struggled yesterday and today -- but that's part of drag racing. He'd qualified for every race this year and now he's out. We'll see what it does to him in the points but that Old Spice team will come back strong at Chicago."
ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position: 8th at 4.920 seconds at 296.24 mph
First round opponent: John Force
Quotable: "We're going to race a lot, apparently. I'll race dad; I'll race Robert and I'll race Mike Neff. It's just a part of it and there's nothing you can do about it. You just have to do your job."
ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying position: 7th at 4.917 seconds, 292.17 mph
First round opponent: Gary Scelzi.
Quotable: "Dropping cylinders. That's the problem we're all dealing with right now and it's going to be an issue as long as it stays hot. We have to learn to deal with it, but I feel good about our car and about our team. We've got a good chance (to win on Sunday)."
MIKE NEFF, 41, Old Spice Ford Mustang
2Qualifying position: DNQ at 5.010 seconds, 303.91 mph.
Quotable: "We're going through everything right now. We don't have an answer yet of why it's putting cylinders out (but) we'll get them in Chicago. We'll have 'er fixed by then. Between me and Medlen, we'll get it figured out."
BRITTANY FORCE, 21, BrandSource dragster
Qualifying position: 13th at 5.535, 244.78 mph.
Race results: lost to Mark Niver in round one.
Quotable: "I think everything went really good. One of the things I need to just focus on is continuing to do my job and the car will come around. I was really excited to see that I improved on my reaction times in the first round and ultimately my ability to drive the car has improved despite the small absence between races."