POMONA, CA --- It was a seesaw battle of Funny Car titans today at the 50th Auto Club NHRA Finals as John Force just came up shy of winning his 142 career victory. The 16-time NHRA Mello Yello World Champion was also racing for Funny Car title number seventeen and despite the fact the mathematical odds favored his rival Matt Hagan, Force never gave up and pushed the gas pedal as far as it would go in his 8000 horsepower Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang. Force understood the 23 points he trailed Hagan by would be tough to make up, but he drove like a machine with a beating heart during Sunday’s eliminations at the iconic Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.
“We were going for it, so was he (Hagan) and my hot rod was trucking in the finals. We tried to run a low 4.00 with it and it was going to but, if it don’t run, it don’t run. Got down there, it started rattling and drove me out of the groove, I tried to pedal it and it blew the blower off and set me on fire. You either need a good win at the end of the season to get ready for next year, or you need a good fire – and I had an awesome one. I’m excited - I congratulated Hagan and all the winners here at Auto Club Raceway. But, at the end of the day, I want to thank Castrol for 29 years of my life and being part of our family. And I want to thank Ford for 17 great years. We’ll be back next year, this isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning,” said John Force.
It was in the final round that Force faced Hagan. Even though the championship title had been determined by the semi-finals as Hagan had defeated teammate Tommy Johnson JR. Thus, it was mathematically impossible for Force to clinch the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello World Championship. However, that did not deter the winningest driver in NHRA history from racing for the win as his Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang was on a great run when just before the finish line, it began to shake and smoke the massive Goodyear slicks. This was just enough to let Hagan slip by and get the win as the struggling Mustang lost its steam before the lights and ran a 4.086 second time at 276 mph to Hagan’s 4.076 second time at 310.77 mph.
Sunday’s final eliminations for John Force began with squaring off with fellow Mustang driver Bob Tasca III in the opening round. These two seasoned drivers have faced each other five times this season with Force claiming three wins in those match ups. At the flash of green, the green and white Mustang left first with Tasca III not too far behind. As Force went straight down the track, Tasca III experienced tire shake and traction problems and had to pedal his machine. When the smoke cleared,Force crossed the finish line first with a 4.083 seconds run at 319.29 mph to Tasca’s slowing 4.337 second run at 245.45 mph.
Going into the quarterfinals, Force was matched up with another Ford driver, Tim Wilkerson. As both Mustangs stampeded out of the gate, Force has a slight lead but Wilkerson was right these just waiting for the Castrol GTX High Mileage machine to get crossed and sideways. As they thundered past half -track, Force started pulling away and stopped the clocks with a 4.031 second pass at 318.62 mph to Wilkerson’s trailing 4.101 second run at 313.00.
“It ran 4.03 but it probably would have run four flat if I hadn’t deep staged. I hopped up and jumped in there. Sometimes you go deep, sometimes you don’t. But, lane choice is critical, but sometimes you want to win that round and Wilkerson is no slouch, he’s trying a new clutch and if that thing hooks up, it’ll run. Right now, I’m excited and I’m at Pomona doing what I love to do. I felt we had a shot today of winning another championship,” said John Force.
In the semi-final, Force would face Alexis DeJoria. These two Funny Car drivers have faced each other in competition eighteen times. Recently, Force lost to DeJoria in the finals at the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals last Labor Day. He knew she had a fast car but Force was able to get around her and advance to the final. It was Force’s strong 4.044 second run at 320.58 mph to DeJoria’s struggling 6.953 second pass at 94.32 mph that moved him into the finals against Hagan.
“I really wanted to take Hagan out in the final. We were out of contention for the title but I’m the 16-time champ and I wanted to win this race for my great sponsors. We were going after it and if we had won the final against Hagan, he would’ve only got me by one point. Regardless, it’s been a great season and next year will be even better for John Force Racing,” said John Force.
Robert Hight will head into the off-season with a fifth place finish and a renewed motivation to chase down his second Mello Yello Funny Car championship.
The 2009 Funny Car champion started from the No. 8 qualifying position and he took out teammate Courtney Force in the first round. In the second round the five-time 2014 Funny Car national event winner was dispatched by Alexis DeJoria ending his bid to race into the top three in the point standings. Hight lost traction at half-track as DeJoria pulled away for the win.
“We came a little short today but this Auto Club team had a tremendous season. We got five wins in the regular season and we just couldn’t keep that momentum in the Countdown. This is a team full of winners from top to bottom. I am proud of my guys and we are going to get started on the 2015 season in a couple weeks but in my head I have put this season behind me. We fought hard and gave it our all for Auto Club and all our sponsors this season. Three Funny Cars in the top five is good but we will be shooting for three in the top three next season,” said a determined Hight.
Courtney Force suffered a tough first round loss today to her teammate Robert Hight. The pair qualified close together going into final eliminations on Sunday. Force took the No. 9 spot while Hight edged the Traxxas team in the No. 8 position and had lane choice. The 26-year-old launched and her hotrod began smoking the tires around the 60-ft mark, handing Hight the win.
“We had a first round loss out here at the Auto Club finals. It’s been a tough past three races for my Traxxas team, but we still ended up forth in the points and we’re excited about it. We’re definitely staying positive and looking forward to next year because I have a great crew chief and team behind me. I’m excited to see what we can bring to the table in the 2015 season,” said Force.
The 26-year-old won two races in the Countdown to the Championship and a total of four races in 2014. She finished fourth in points today which is her best championship finish to date.
“We’ve had great sponsors with Castrol and with Ford in all the years they have been supporting up, but going into next year I’m really excited about the new sponsors that will be joining out John Force Racing family. We’re looking into the future, it’s starting to look up for all of our teams and we’re excited for what we can bring to 2015.
“Now that we’re coming into the holidays and the off season, I just want to say that for all the dads out there, don’t forget that the Traxxas Radio Control Cars aren’t just for boys, but they are for girls too. They even have pink ones! Be sure to check them out and show support for my sponsor since they have supported this team,” said Force.
Second year Top Fuel dragster racer Brittany Force’s season ended yesterday when her Castrol EDGE Top Fuel dragster failed to run quick enough to make the quickest field in NHRA history. The 2013 Auto Club Rookie of the Year finished the season in tenth place.
* * * *
FINAL 2014 MELLO YELLO COUNTDOWN POINT STANDINGS
FUNNY CAR - 1. Matt Hagan, 2628; 2. John Force, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang, 2585; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2442; 4. Courtney Force, Traxxas Ford Mustang, 2421; 5. Robert Hight, Auto Club Ford Mustang, 2414; 6. Del Worsham, 2393; 7. Alexis DeJoria, 2382; 8. Ron Capps, 2375; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 2310; 10. Cruz Pedregon, 2244
TOP FUEL - 1. Tony Schumacher, 2594; 2. JR Todd, 2463; 3. Spencer Massey, 2430; 4. Shawn Langdon, 2419; 5. Doug Kalitta, 2407; 6. Steve Torrence, 2406; 7. Antron Brown, 2405; 8. Khalid alBalooshi, 2326; 9. Richie Crampton, 2299; 10. Brittany Force, Castrol EDGE dragster, 2249
PRO STOCK - 1. Erica Enders Stevens, 2639; 2. Jason Line, 2600; 3. Dave Connolly, 2481; 4. Shane Gray, 2463; 5. Jeg Coughlin, 2445; 6. Allen Johnson, 2403; 7. Jonathan Gray, 2385; 8. Vincent Nobile, 2364; 9. V Gaines, 2269; 10. Chris McGaha, 2168
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE - 1. Andrew Hines, 2689; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 2620; 3. Hector Arana Jr, 2472; 4. Matt Smith, 2416; 5. Steve Johnson, 2369; 6. Scotty Pollacheck, 2350; 7. Hector Arana, 2319; 8. John Hall, 2253; 9. Angie Smith, 2223; 10. Michael Ray, 2144
JOHN FORCE, 65, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 5th at 4.015 seconds at 316.60 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +2 (2nd quickest of Q1)
Race results: Beat Bob Tasca III, Tim Wilkerson, Alexis DeJoria, Lost to Matt Hagan
ROBERT HIGHT, 45, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 8th at 4.036 seconds at 317.49 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +1 (3rd quickest of Q2)
Race results: Beat Courtney Force, Lost to Alexis DeJoria
COURTNEY FORCE, 26, Traxxas Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 9th at 4.055 seconds at 316.60 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
Race results: Lost to Robert Hight
BRITTANY FORCE, 28, Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster
Final Qualifying: 18th quickest at 3.917 seconds at 306.26 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
Race results: DNQ