TOPEKA, KS --- Courtney Force advanced to the semifinals today at the 28th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals in Topeka, but lost a tough match-up against eventual winner Matt Hagan when her car spun the tires off the starting line. She managed to dismiss both her first round opponent Bob Tasca III and her second round opponent Alexis DeJoria, lengthening her points lead. Force was seeking her second win at Heartland Park Topeka. The semifinal finish extended the JFR streak to seven races with at least a semifinal finish in Funny Car.
Force qualified in the No. 4 position and picked up a total of four additional bonus points for making the second-quickest pass of Q1, third-quickest of Q3 and third-quickest pass of Q4. She squared off against Bob Tasca III in the opening round for the first time since St. Louis in 2014. Her Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS launched hard and she raced to a 3.943 ET at 324.44 mph.
“Bob Tasca III is definitely a tough driver. I am real proud of Dan Hood, Ronnie Thompson and my Traxxas guys. They gave me a great race car in the first round. It has been really consistent and it feels great to drive it. It is going straight down the race track and I’ll be ready for the second round. We are going to have to fight hard out here because these other teams are fast. We are going to have to give it everything we have,” said Force from the top end after the first round victory.
In the second round, Force squared off with the only other female Funny Car pilot, Alexis DeJoria. Force left the starting line first and posted a 3.961 ET to DeJoria’s 3.981 ET.
“That is going to be a tough one against Hagan (semifinal race). This Traxxas Chevy has been running strong. It is going to be a fun race for sure against Hagan. We are going to give it all we got and have some fun with it,” said Force.
In the semifinals, Force left on Matt Hagan, but went into tire smoke and Hagan got the round win. Their semifinal race was delayed nearly 45 minutes after Tim Wilkerson spun his Funny Car out and dispensed oil into both lanes. After a lengthy clean up Hagan’s team elected to switch lanes, moving Force’s Traxxas Funny Car into the left lane at the last minute.
“We had a great weekend out here at Heartland Park Topeka. My Traxxas team really had to hustle to get this car ready for the semifinal round. It was chaos in the pits. All of our teams came together to help us get there. We pulled up and Wilkerson had crashed right ahead of us; kind of oiled the left lane a little bit which was the lane Hagan had picked,” said Force. “They got both the lanes cleaned up and ready to go and we had a last minute lane swap so we had to move back over to the left lane. Unfortunately our car went straight up into tire smoke, but I’m proud of my team. They worked their butts off this weekend and I had a good light in the semis so I’m excited to get to Epping in two weeks.”
Force will leave Topeka with the Mello Yello Funny Car points lead for the third consecutive event. She moved into a tie for the lead after her Houston victory and took sole possession of the top spot after her semifinal finish last week in Atlanta.
Brittany Force and the Monster Energy dragster team will leave the Kansas Nationals with the Top Fuel national elapsed time record but not a third Wally. The No. 1 qualifier earned a competition bye in the first round and she pulled up beside two-time world champion Antron Brown in the second round. Three races ago Force defeated Brown three times on race day during the Four-Wide Nationals but today the fourth year pro was amped up for her seventh head to head race.
“We made some good runs and I have a great team behind me. You feel a lot better when you pull up there. We got a bye in the first round and I am excited to be going to the second round. I have to thank my crew chief Brian Husen and this Monster Energy team,” said Force from the top end after her bye run.
The 2013 NHRA Rookie of the Year was eager to give her Monster Energy team the best starting line advantage against Brown. The emotion of the moment got the best of Force as she hit the throttle .001 of a second before the Christmas Tree was activated disqualifying the two-time Kansas Nationals semifinalist.
“Setting that national record is pretty outstanding. We’re the first one to put a number on the board like that, and I don’t think a female has done that in about 23 years. So it’s pretty cool to hold a record like that and something that my team will always hang onto. We obviously would have liked to perform better,” said Force. “I struggled in the first round; had a terrible reaction time and should have just let it go. To go into the second round when you’re already beating yourself up and know you have to overcome and cut a killer light is definitely difficult. I wish I wouldn’t have done that (red light) and I think it would have played out a little differently. I was really pumped up and going after him (Antron Brown). Now we have a weekend off and I’ll just have to put it behind me and we’ll get back on it in Englishtown.”
Robert Hight and the Auto Club Chevrolet had a strong performance Sunday at the Kansas Nationals even if they did not win the event for the third time. As the No. 9 qualifier Hight gave up lane choice to Ron Capps but the 2009 Funny Car champion made the quickest run of the Funny Car first round getting the win light 3.926 seconds against a 4.242 second run.
“That was a big win in the first round. We gave up lane choice but it is a tough ball game out here. You look at how fast this track is at Heartland Park Topeka. This is a really, really good track. I am so glad it is back on the schedule,” said Hight from the top end after his first round win.
In the second round with lane choice over the No. 1 qualifier and national elapsed time record holder Matt Hagan, Hight took a starting line advantage off the stripe but could not hold off Hagan to advance to the semifinals. It was another close race for the 2016 Gatornationals winner as Hight crossed the finish line with an elapsed time of 3.963 seconds beside Hagan’s quicker 3.942 second run.
“That was a close race and it just shows you how tough this class is. We fell off a little bit but I am encouraged by how this Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro is running. We got down the track every run except one and we are getting good data. We will head back to the shop and get ready for four in a row in a couple weeks,” said Hight.
Hight wrapped up the Kansas Nationals with six quality runs including three runs quicker than 3.932. His first round pass was quickest of race day 3.926 seconds.
John Force and the PEAK Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car lost one of the closest races of the first round. After two tough days of qualifying Force’s Camaro bounced back with a weekend best 3.951 second run against reigning Funny Car world champion Del Worsham. Unfortunately Force fell victim to a near psychic reaction time by Worsham and the six-time Kansas Nationals winner did not advance out of the first round. Force had a solid .067 reaction time but Worsham moved first at .047 seconds.
“It has been a tough last couple of weeks. We got the new Chevrolet and then had the incident on Friday. We brought out a new chassis yesterday and had to start all over. I am really proud of my team and how well (crew chief) Jon Schaffer, Nick (Casertano) and all these PEAK guys have pulled together,” said a proud Force. “They led the charge and put this car back together after a tough Saturday of qualifying. To come out here and run 3.96 last night and then come out this morning and run 3.95. I was in a little on the starting line so it probably ran a little quicker than that. I am excited about how well they worked together. We have a lot of work ahead of us now.”
The damaged 2016 Camaro SS body has already been transported to the team’s Brownsburg, Indiana shop and will immediately head into the body shop.
“The new Camaro body is already headed back to Indy. I am going to be in the shop tomorrow and our guys will have already started working on it today. We should have it back in paint in time to get it to Epping unless there is a major problem. Robert’s will be ready next and then Courtney’s,” said Force. “That is a company car that I crashed and I owe to fix it as soon as possible. I have been on the road for three weeks and now I’ll be in Indy for a week then on the road for four more races. I am loving being with these kids. They give me a lot of heart and support. We are going to be OK.”
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MELLO YELLO POINT STANDINGS
FUNNY CAR – 1. Courtney Force, Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS, 601; 2. Jack Beckman, 589; 3. Tim Wilkerson, 554; 4. Matt Hagan, 511; 5. Robert Hight, Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS, 510; 6. Ron Capps, 504; 7. Del Worsham, 485; 8. Alexis DeJoria, 451; 9. John Force, PEAK Chevrolet Camaro SS, 448; 10. Tommy Johnson Jr, 404
TOP FUEL – 1. Doug Kalitta, 710; 2. Antron Brown, 615; 3. Brittany Force, Monster Energy dragster, 580; 4. Steve Torrence, 557; 5. JR Todd, 440; 5. Clay Millican, 440; 7. Richie Crampton, 418; 8. Tony Schumacher, 403; 9. Shawn Langdon, 346; 10. Terry McMillen, 325
PRO STOCK – 1. Jason Line, 942; 2. Greg Anderson, 816; 3. Bo Butner, 614; 4. Drew Skillman, 465; 4. Allen Johnson, 465; 6. Chris McGaha, 427; 7. Vincent Nobile, 346; 8. Erica Enders Stevens, 341; 9. Jeg Coughlin Jr, 339; 10. Alex Laughlin, 327
JOHN FORCE, 67, PEAK Antifreeze Chevrolet Camaro SS
Qualifying: 11th at 3.962, 318.84 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
Race results: Lost to Del Worsham.
ROBERT HIGHT, 46, Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS
Qualifying: 9th at 3.907, 332.84 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
Race results: Beat Ron Capps; Lost to Matt Hagan.
COURTNEY FORCE, 27, Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS
Qualifying: 4th at 3.871, 331.45 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +4 (2nd quickest of Q1; 3rd quickest of Q3 and Q4)
Race results: Beat Bob Tasca III, Alexis DeJoria; Lost to Matt Hagan.
BRITTANY FORCE, 29, Monster Energy Top Fuel Dragster
Qualifying: 1st at 3.676, 325.45 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +4 (Quickest of Q2 and 3rd quickest of Q4)
Race results: Bye; Lost to Antron Brown.