TOPEKA, KS --- Robert Hight’s bid for a three-peat at the NHRA Dollar General Summer Nationals fell short in the semi-finals when his Auto Club Ford Mustang smoked the tires versus Ron Capps at Heartland Park Topeka. Hight will hold onto his substantial points lead in the Funny Car standings as the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series moves to Englishtown, New Jersey in two weeks.
“I really wanted to get three in a row here in Topeka. The fans here are great and you just want to defend your title every chance you get,” said Hight. “We got some luck in the second round against Cruz and had the same problem in the semis. You usually don’t get wins like that against him. This Auto Club Mustang kind of makes its own luck sometimes. (Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) and (assistant crew chief) Eric (Lane) are already working on a solution and I know they will get it figured out. You look at my round record so far this season, 22-4, and this was only the eighth race. I am really proud of our performance so far.”
Racing in the tough left lane Hight’s Auto Club Ford Mustang left on Capps with a starting line advantage of .054 to .071 but at approximately 200 feet his Mustang hazed the tires and Capps pulled away for the win. It was the third race in a row for Capps to eliminate Hight in either the semi-finals (Houston and today) or finals (Atlanta). This will be the first race of the NHRA season that John Force Racing did not have a Funny Car in the final.
Hight made the best run of the opening session - and the day for Funny Cars - against teammate Courtney Force, 4.050 to her 4.124. He had lane choice over Cruz Pedregon in the second round and in one of the craziest races of the weekend Hight smoked the tires but he watched Cruz cross the center line for an automatic disqualification. In an instant Hight went from being the last JFR Funny Car eliminated to being the last JFR Funny Car standing. The biggest down side of the race was the fact that Hight posted no time and lost lane choice to Ron Capps which proved to be crucial.
“We knew the clouds were coming in for first round. It is too bad we didn’t make that run on Friday night. It was a tough first round racing Courtney but that 4.05 was strong. That is how we need to run all the time and that is what we are going to continue to set as our goal. We want to be the quickest Funny Car in qualifying and every round on Sunday. We have a team that is capable of doing that and the real positive is we have teammates like Courtney and the Traxxas team and Neff with his Castrol Mustang that can do that. We saw John’s car start turning around this weekend so we will be ready in Englishtown.”
In the second round Mike Neff lost a close race to Don Schumacher Racing’s Jack Beckman. Neff’s Castrol GTX Ford Mustang hazed the tires right before Beckman got his hands full on a wild ride of his own. Beckman’s winning time of 4.386 was a far cry from his opening round 4.123 as the conditions warmed up at Heartland Park Topeka.
“We didn’t do well in second round against Jack (Beckman). There was one pair of dragsters in front of us going into second round that oiled the track and they were having a hard time getting the track cleaned up after that. They told us it would be ten minutes and then came back and said it would be another five, and so on. It was taking a while so the dragsters in front of us swapped lanes probably, because of that. We didn’t have lane choice either over Beckman,” said Neff.
“He (Beckman) was originally over in the left lane, but moved over to the right, which put us in the lane that had been oiled down. You don’t ever know for sure what’s going on down there. I mean, NHRA usually does a pretty good job of getting a mess like that cleaned up, but it’s still not going to be the lane you want to have. That’s why lane choice is important; because we would have probably moved out of that lane to if we would have seen that happen in front of us.”
Neff took out Tony Pedregon in the first round with a tire smoking 4.338 to Pedregon’s 4.679. Neff extended his winning record to 11-7 over the two-time NHRA Funny Car world champion and he has bested Pedregon the last eight times the pair have matched up in the first round.
“We qualified really well this weekend, which is a big step up taking into account last weekend when we didn’t make the show. Sometimes just qualifying can be difficult. So, we made the show I the No. 3 spot and took out Tony Pegregon in the opening round,” said Neff.
“We made a good pass this weekend on our night run, and then turned around and made a good pass in the heat as well, so all in all, I feel pretty good about our car. Like I said, we’re working on some different stuff. Today, we just didn’t get it all right. Anyway, it was an alright weekend and we’re always learning from these runs. We’ll be looking forward to going to Englishtown next where we won last year and its Castrol’s hometown.”
The first round loss for Rookie of the Year front-runner Courtney Force was a tough loss but she took some positive performance steps forward this weekend. Her losing time of 4.124 would have won a handful of the other first round races.
“We went up and had my teammate and brother-in-law Robert Hight for first round. He’s definitely one of the toughest competitors out here. He has won four races already this year and they’re team is really on fire. We had pretty even cars in qualifying, we qualified 8 and 9. You always know you have to be on your “A” game when you go up against someone like Robert. He’s a good leaver and he has Jimmy Prock tuning his car,” said Courtney Force.
“They ended up pulling out a 4.05 ET on me, which was hard to beat. My Traxxas Mustang has been consistent all weekend and we’ve been trying to push it to go quicker and quicker on each pass, but it just wasn’t enough against his 4.05. We ran a 4.12, but it dropped a cylinder so it really was going for a pretty good run.”
For nine-time Dollar General Summer Nationals winner John Force Sunday’s first round was improvement but the Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang did not advance past Johnny Gray. In a close race Force, the No. 12 qualifier, was ousted by No. 5 qualifier Gray, 4.102 to 4.142. Force’s time was his second quickest of the weekend and huge improvement over times from the last event in Atlanta.
At the Summit Racing Southern Nationals Force’s Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE averaged 4.247 seconds and his quickest elapsed time was 4.19 which he posted during the Friday night session. This weekend his average elapsed time was 4.174 with a quick ET of 4.136 and his opening round ET of 4.142 was much quicker than his opening round time in Atlanta (4.269 seconds). Force and his team are seeing improvement as they move into the hot summer months and for the 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion he is encouraged by the progress.