CHARLOTTE, NC – The 2014 Countdown began at zMax Dragway today and the John Force Racing contingent made positive steps to defend their Funny Car Mello Yello championship. All three Funny Cars are in the top half of a very competitive field and the Castrol EDGE dragster is in the top sixteen with weather looming for tomorrow.
The Auto Club team came out aggressively on Friday at the 7th annual Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals but tricky track conditions tripped up the No. 2 team in the Funny Car points in the opening qualifying session. Robert Hight’s Funny Car hazed the tire just past half-track and crossed the finish line with a pedestrian elapsed time of 7.000 seconds.
“We were in the last pair with John and Courtney had run 4.15 a few pairs in front of us. We wanted to get a good number and we just hazed the tires. We got it together for the second run we were just up a little too early,” said Hight.
In the second qualifying session Hight was again beside Force and both Mustangs charged down the zMax Dragway racing surface and moved to the top of the Funny Car field. Unfortunately as often happens they gave the crew chiefs behind them the confidence to push their Funny Cars to better performance numbers. Hight will go into Saturday at the provisional No. 5 qualified driver.
“That second run was great. It was smooth and I think if we would have been a little later we would be in the top three. We wanted to be smart and get a solid number posted since we don’t know what the weather is going to do. All three of our Funny Cars are top half so we are in good shape. One day is not going to make or break the Countdown but I know we will keep racing smart,” said Hight, the defending Pep Boy NHRA Carolinas Nationals champion.
John Force, 16-time NHRA Mello Yello champion, was focused on getting his Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang Funny Car dialed-in and qualified for Sunday’s eliminations. With the Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals being the start of a grueling four straight Countdown races, John Force knows all too well the importance of being focused as a driver, and making sure he and his team begin the NHRA “play-offs” hitting on all cylinders.
With two qualifying sessions completed today, John Force ended up in the No. 6 spot with a strong 4.141 second run at 287.66 mph. In both sessions, Force was lined up next to teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight, and after stumbling during the first round, both drivers came back and laid down some impressive times in the second session.
“I should’ve been low for that round, or at least close, better than sixth. It lost a blower belt and the speed was terrible. Heck, we lost a blower on both runs and my guys are checking the pulley alignment right now because something’s wrong. But I’m excited, it’s the start of the Countdown,” said John Force.
In the first qualifying run, both nitro-fueled Mustangs blasted off the starting line, with John motoring on down the right lane of zMAX Dragway when his Castrol GTX Funny Car began to haze the tires at the 600-foot marker. John did try pedaling his 8000 horsepower steed, in hopes of getting traction and salvaging the run, but it was to no avail, as he ran a 4.494 second run at 209.52 mph.
“It smoked the tires in that first session but today, all our cars went down the race track. We’re watching for rain tomorrow but I don’t think it will. We all want to be in show and we are,” said John Force, who was the No. 9 qualifier after the first session.
During the second session, both the weather and track conditions had the crews working overtime to make sure they could make a clean pass down zMAX Dragway. For Force’s Castrol GTX High Mileage Funny Car, crew chief Jimmy Prock stepped up his game and it showed when Force crossed the finish line with a stout 4.141 second pass at 287.66 mph. This was good enough to move the veteran driver from 9th to the top half off the field in 6th place.
Courtney Force started the first day of the 2014 Countdown to the Championship in the top half of the Funny Car field. During the first qualifying pass, Force posted a 4.155 elapsed time at 288.21 mph and picked up three qualifying bonus points for being quickest of the session.
“We had a good start to the weekend here in Charlotte and a good start to the countdown. We picked up three bonus points right off the bat in Q1 being the quickest car out here,” said Force.
On the second qualifying attempt, Force’s Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car was bumped down to the No. 7 spot. The car smoked the tires and lost out on recovering the No. 1 spot for the day. Force is solidly in the field with her 4.155 ET from Q1 and will go into Saturday’s sessions in the top half.
“We pushed it harder in Q2 and couldn’t get it to perform how we wanted it to and it smoked the tires. The good news is we are qualified so far here at zMAX Dragway. It’s great to be back here at the track that Bruton Smith built. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a good start for us to kick off the Countdown to the Championship. We’re looking forward to tomorrow and seeing what more we can bring to the table,” said Force.
After two qualifying sessions, Brittany Force drove her Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster to the No. 15 spot today. The 2013 NHRA Auto Club Rookie of the Year is competing in the Countdown for the first time as a Top Fuel contender, and after being shut out in her freshman season, is looking to claim her first Top Fuel championship for Castrol EDGE and John Force Racing. Brittany, along with sister Courtney Force, are sharing their racing experience and Countdown chase as guest columnists in USA Today Sports and are giving fans an insider’s perspective on what it’s like being a part of the first family of drag racing and members of the winningest team in NHRA history.
“It was very cool being in the photo shoot today with the other top ten competitors. It’ a very proud moment to know we made the top ten. During my rookie season when I was 13 looking in, it definitely made me realize how bad I wanted it, but know being in, I’m very proud, and I’m excited. It’s definitely a goal of mine to make it this far and locked in so I’m ready for the Countdown to begin,” said Brittany Force.
In the opening session, Brittany Force was on a strong run until she experienced traction problems just past half track. Knowing that she’d have three other qualifying opportunities this weekend, she wisely shut down her 10,000 horsepower Castrol EDGE Dragster to avoid hurting the engine. She still managed to turn in a 4.070 second run at 232.63 mph and grabbed the 12th spot in the first qualifying round.
“We want to get a consistent race car together. We get two more qualifying runs tomorrow but we really need to step it up, everything matters right now as the Countdown has begun. We can’t be making mistakes so with two more runs and as long as the car goes straight down the track tomorrow, we should be fine,” said Brittany Force.
When it came time for the second session, Brittany’s crew made the right call on the set-up and her Castrol EDGE Dragster went right down the track with a 3.908 second run at 306.67. Unfortunately, she was unable to move up in the qualifying order and got bumped down to the No. 15 spot.
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JOHN FORCE, 65, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 6th at 4.141 seconds at 287.66 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
ROBERT HIGHT, 44, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 5th at 4.140 seconds at 305.91 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
COURTNEY FORCE, 26, Traxxas Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 7th quickest at 4.155 seconds at 288.21 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +3 (Quickest of Q1)
BRITTANY FORCE, 28, Ca