Bristol, Tenn. – John Force and the Peak Antifreeze and Coolant Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car team waited out multiple rain delays and with a flair for the dramatic ran to the No. 1 qualifying spot from the No. 13 position on the strength of 3.978 second run at 323.43 mph, both track record numbers at the 15th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. This was Force’s first No. 1 of the season and first at Bristol Dragway. For his career the winningest driver in NHRA history is also the most prolific No. 1 qualifier with 153 to his credit. Tonight it wasn’t about records but rather the enthusiasm and pride Force had for his young team.
“I have set a lot of records but what makes this special is one it is Father’s Day tomorrow and secondly it is special to see a team led by (rookie crew chief) Jon Schaffer who was groomed to be a crew chief by Mike Neff. We rallied a bunch of kids to work on the car and we even got a kid from our hospitality program. We watched it struggle to start the year but a couple of weeks ago I told them we didn’t win the race but we looked good out there. I was really proud,” beamed Force in the Bristol Dragway pressroom. “When you have a young group and I am talking about kids here that love you, sometime guys that are older on crews look at a driver differently, to get this young group to rally around me. They made this happen. A group of ten kids put this race car together and they gave me the feeling that I could race again.”
Persistent rain showers postponed the start time of the final qualifying session from the middle of the afternoon to nearly 8 p.m. as cloud cover and cooler temperatures gave the nitro crew chiefs optimal conditions. The Peak Camaro team watched the Top Fuel teams make strong runs and Force was eager for his team to bring an aggressive tune-up to the starting line. His crew chief Jon Schaffer was one step ahead of the wily veteran.
“I knew it was going to make a good run back in the staging lanes. Crew chiefs will usually come back after they see some cars run decent numbers and we were watching the dragsters. There were big numbers going up on the board like my daughter Brittany in the Monster Energy dragster moved up to No. 8. I got on the radio and asked for somebody to get Schaffer because these numbers are so good I want to make sure he has enough pop in this thing to make it run,” said Force.
“(Schaffer) said to tell me everything is good and that only meant one thing. He already had it loaded up before we went up there. He was going to step this thing up and then everything went right. It went right down the alley and didn’t move. On the run in the first 300 or 400 feet if it gets through that transition, I was like ‘Hold on! Hold on!’ and I can tell when she sets you back in the seat. If she can get past the 330 foot timer we might have a shot. This Chevy muscled right through there and I thought we were trucking. It was a great feeling. It is like hitting a home run. I didn’t know if it was going to stay low but I knew it was going to be really quick. This was a cool day for me.”
Schaffer has already guided Force to his 142nd and 143rd career Funny Car wins this season including a big win last weekend at the NHRA New England Nationals. The rookie crew chief is quickly becoming comfortable making tuning decisions but also knows that nothing comes easy at this level.
“We needed that run. We have been struggling a little in qualifying and testing some things. That was a good run for this Peak Chevrolet Camaro and we will take it,” said Schaffer on the starting line after the Q4 run.
After two long days of qualifying and celebrating her birthday with a 4.04 second elapsed time, Courtney Force locked solidly into the No. 7 position going into race day at Bristol Dragway. Her Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car team will line up beside Cruz Pedregon in the first round of eliminations on Father’s Day and Force would like nothing else, but to win a Wally for her father and boss on Sunday.
“We had two great passes today for Traxxas. We’re finishing off qualifying here in Bristol in the No. 7 spot so we managed to make it into the top half running in the heat of the day and then coming back out when the track cooled off after the rain.
“The fans stuck around for some good qualifying passes. Dad went to the top half of the field running in the 3’s. We pushed hard to be able to run in the 3’s and my guys worked hard to make a good run for my birthday. It tried to spin the tires at the other end, but we still managed to run a 4.04 in qualifying so we’ll take it,” said Force.
The now 27-year-old has matched up with Pedregon in eliminations eight times in the past, but this is their first meeting this season. The last time the two met in eliminations was 2014 at the Kansas Nationals in Topeka when they went head-to-head in the final round. Force turned on the win light and claimed the 100th professional victory for women in the NHRA
“We’re excited that we have a consistent race car going into race day this weekend. We’ll be facing Cruz Pedregon who is always a tough competitor but we’re going to give it all we have and try to have some fun, especially since I get to race with my dad on Father’s Day,” said Force.
Saturday started with a bang for the Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car team as they posted the quickest run of the first qualifying session in conditions that should be consistent with race day. Robert Hight kept his Camaro in the middle of the groove and lit up the scoreboard with an elapsed time of 4.049 seconds at 316.60. His time was three hundredths of second quicker than the second quickest time.
In the final session a number of good elapsed times had been recorded and the Auto Club Chevrolet team took a measured aggressive approach. Unfortunately Hight overpowered the Bristol Dragway track surface at about 500 feet and cruised across the finish line with a pedestrian time of 4.931 seconds.
“We were just a little aggressive on that last run. We had to wait out a number of rain delays. The weather really came back to the teams so there were conditions to make great runs. John went to No. 1 with a 3.97 and there were a lot of 4.0s so we just tried to run the track hard. We weren’t trying to set any records,” said Hight.
“That is not how Mike Neff tunes. We will go into tomorrow with our hot weather tune up that we have had some success with. Bristol Dragway is a great facility and I would love to get a win on Father’s Day with my daughter Autumn here. We are going to start the day with the track walk and see how many round wins we can pick up.”
Hight will go into race day as the No. 9 qualifier and will face Ron Capps in the first round. This will be 45th time these two drivers have squared off with Hight holding a 26-18 advantage in those meetings. They faced each other in the first round of the 2011 Thunder Valley Nationals with Hight getting the round win and eventual event win.
Brittany Force and the Monster Energy Top Fuel dragster were consistent this weekend in preparation for tomorrow’s race. The third year pro will go into race day as the No. 8 qualifier and will face J.R. Todd in the first round. Brittany has a 2-1 record over the veteran driver and picked up a first round win over Todd in her rookie year at this event.
Force’s final run of qualifying was an improved 3.787 seconds at 312.06 mph which moved her up to No. 8 and lane choice to start the day tomorrow.
“I ended up No. 8 and we will run J.R. Todd in the first round. Lane choice is very important at this track so it works to our advantage tomorrow since we can pick our lane. We have been struggling with where we qualify but we have been able to go rounds on Sunday. The last three races we have been to two semi-finals and a final round. We will give it our best tomorrow in this Monster Energy Top Fuel dragster,” said Brittany Force, who sits No. 8 in the Mello Yello Top Fuel standings.
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JOHN FORCE, 66, Peak Anti-Freeze and Coolant Chevrolet Camaro SS
Final Qualifying: 1st at 3.978 seconds, 323.43 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +3 (Quickest of Q4)
First round opponent (W-L): Terry Haddock
ROBERT HIGHT, 45, Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS
Final Qualifying: 9th at 4.049 seconds, 318.02 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +3 (Quickest of Q3)
First round opponent (W-L): Ron Capps (26-18)
COURTNEY FORCE, 27, Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS
Final Qualifying: 7th at 4.046 seconds, 316.82 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
First round opponent (W-L): Cruz Pedregon (4-4)
BRITTANY FORCE, 28, Monster Energy Top Fuel Dragster
Final Qualifying: 8th at 3.787 seconds, 312.06 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +1 (3rd quickest of Q1)
First round opponent (W-L): J.R. Todd (2-1)