ATLANTA, Ga. – John Force knew his team couldn’t win every race this season and, after reeling off six-in-a-row, the streak finally played out in the final round of the 32nd annual Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.
Robert “Top Gun” Hight’s usually flawless Team Castrol/Auto Club Ford stumbled just long enough in that final between the No. 1 and No. 2 qualifiers to allow Ron Capps to sail by for a streak-breaking victory in the NAPA Dodge.
Capps’ Dodge was just a tick better on Sunday and Hight was quick to acknowledge that fact.
“Those guys did a great job,” he said of the NAPA team. “They went down the track all eight runs very respectably. We knew we had our hands full. If it hadn’t dropped a cylinder in the semis, we may have been able to get lane choice and put it in the right lane and it would have been a little better – but it wasn’t meant to be; nothing to hang our heads about here. We’ve had a great season. We’ll just keep going.”
Despite the loss, his first in five final round appearances this year, Hight opened up at 203-point lead on teammate Mike Neff, who failed to qualify, and Capps, who will share the No. 2 spot when the tour moves on to Topeka, Kan., for the Dollar General Summer Nationals, May 18-20.
“It’s pretty cool having number 1 and number 2 in qualifying get to the final,” Hight said of something that is a rarity in the Funny Car division. “(A seventh straight JFR win) just wasn’t meant to be.
“Our Auto Club team did a great job all day; came up a little short in the final, but you know it’s such a fine line out there and it shows you where we’ve gotten some breaks. To be able to go this long and have a streak like this says a lot. So, we’ll get going to Topeka and get right back on the horse.”
For its effort and despite the final round outcome, Hight’s team earned the Full Throttle Hard Working Crew Award in the Funny Car division for
It was Hight’s fifth final in eight appearances in the Southern Nationals, a race he won in 2007 and 2010.
Although Neff failed to make the starting field on his final attempt when a cap on the fuel pump blew off under pressure, starting a chain of events that ended with a supercharger explosion, it still was an okay day for drag racing’s most dominant team.
After qualifying only 13th, Force was beaten in the first round, as expected by No. 4 starter Cruz Pedregon. It was the 85th meeting between the two arch rivals who, between them, have won 17 NHRA championships.
Nevertheless, Hight and rookie Courtney Force salvaged the day. Hight qualified No. 1 for the 43rd time in his career, went to his 42nd final round and kept alive his dubious all-or-nothing record at Atlanta where he’s gone to the finals five times and lost in the first round in his other three starts.
As for Courtney, she upset veteran Jack Beckman in a classic first round and then gave Hight all he could handle in a second round race decided by a mere .013 of a second after she forged a starting line advantage oof .020 of a second over the 2009 champion.
“That was huge for our team,” Courtney said of her first round victory in her first ever meeting with Beckman. “We qualified 8 and 9 (and) he had lane choice over me. Both of our teams have consistent cars. Obviously, he’s one of the Schumacher cars. I always get a little nervous going up against one of those guys, but I have all the faith in the world in my team. (Crew chiefs) Ron Douglas and Dan Hood put a great race car together and had it sailing down the race track.”
Although she lost, Courtney was pleased with her effort against her brother-in-law, who won by just .013 of a second.
“It’s always a bummer when you have to match-up with one of your own teammates, especially someone like Robert Hight,” said the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton. “He’s got Jimmy Prock tuning over there and they’ve been winning all these races this season. They’ve had four-in-a-row, so you know in the back of your mind that they have a great car over there and they can make it run but, you know what? Our car can run good, too. I thought it was anyone’s race.
“Ultimately, Robert got the win, but I’m still proud of my team,” Courtney said. “Everyone’s been so efficient with their work and getting this car set up to do well. They’ve just been doing great this entire season and I know we’re due to go a few more rounds each race. We’re doing good, especially for being a rookie team.”