CONCORD, NC – Saturday at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals proved to be a highlight of the 2015 Mello Yello season thus far for Courtney Force and the Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car team. The 26-year-old driver and her team led by Ron Douglas and Dan Hood went straight to the top of the Funny Car field with a 4.011 ET at 312 mph in only the second qualifying pass after both of Friday’s sessions were canceled due to inclement weather conditions.
“I was a little surprised that you didn’t see some numbers in the threes, but then again I think a lot of people were trying to be a little bit safe because we only got two passes out of the four. You’re new to each lane and just trying to stay safe, get the car to the other end and get your race car in the field,” said Courtney Force.
All teams were limited to two four-wide attempts to get the car down the track and put a solid number on the board for eliminations on Sunday. On Force’s first pass out, her Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car went up in tire smoke and she was left in the No. 16 spot. The team’s quick turnaround and crew chief set-up made for an easier run in Q2 and the team rocketed to the top of the field.
“We didn’t get the two qualifying sessions yesterday so coming into today you’re already stressed out, worried and trying to do the best you can. When I went down there and pedaled the car, got it sideways, I had so many people’s words up in my head that I’m trying to make the right decision down there, but when you’re going 300 mph, you’re just doing the best you can.
“When I was pulling up for the next pass I was sitting there thinking, ‘Man, we can so easily just get knocked out of this right here,’ and all those thoughts are racing through your head. It’s tough going into the next qualifying pass just knowing how the last one went and just hoping you can get this car down the race track. We haven’t even experienced two of the other lanes,” added Force, a seven-time national event winner.
This is the second No. 1 qualifier of the season so far for the 2012 NHRA Rookie of the Year and her Traxxas team and the ninth of her short four-year career.
“Going from zero to hero, it’s really my crew chiefs and my team. It’s easy to look like a hero when your car is flying down there. It’s a lot easier to drive when it’s flying down there too. I think what makes a real driver is when the car does struggle and that’s something I’m currently still working on and you can’t get better unless you go through those trials. Lucky for us, we went right from 16th to first and I’m just proud of my team; proud of my guys. We still have a lot of work on and I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” said Force.
Courtney was asked about the far right lane of the race track where she made her best run and flew to low ET of the weekend; the lane where many other cars were not able to make good qualifying passes.
“I stayed strapped in the car through both of the oil downs. They fly through these (four-wide) runs so I’m already getting suited and getting in the car as soon as I pull up to the lanes, but you can hear it. I’m sitting in the car and I can hear the runs but you don’t know which lane it is. It’s almost better that way because then you get to think on your feet which is what you need to do as a driver anyway. If you’re thinking the lane isn’t good, you hit the throttle and feel something, all of the sudden you think it’s wrong. You have to drive on instinct. Yes, you are careful to watch the lanes and make adjustments, but from a driver standpoint you can see how the other cars go down.
“Ron watched and made his decision, but I think knowing that we were in the field and we were safe, maybe that’s why he pushed it a little bit harder. The speed was down. I think we were actually dropping a hole right at the lights. I almost got on the radio and said that, but I could tell by my guys’ reactions that we made a good run. We got through the lights just in time, but the speed slowed us down just a little bit so I’m curious to see what it actually would have run if everything was going smooth,” said Force.
Force will have Dale Creasy Jr., Chad Head and Del Worsham in her quadrant for the first round on race day.
John Force had a front row seat to see his provisional No. 1 qualifying spot slip through his grasps but the 2010 Four-Wide champ had one more shot to jump back to the top of the Funny Car field. Unfortunately for the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ his Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car was the quickest race car in his quad with a solid 4.099 second pass but it wasn’t enough to overtake his youngest daughter.
“It is exciting when all your teams qualify. They spent a lot of money here to resurface the race track and we thank Bruton and Marcus Smith for that. Having only two qualifying runs was snake biting some people. You blow the tires off at the hit is tough. To finish the day one and two is great. My daughter bumped me and I would have liked to have gotten the low ET for Chevrolet but she is in a Camaro too. The Peak guys will be happy we got it qualified so well and so will Auto Club and Lucas Oil. I own those companies a lot. I really wanted to see Robert get that Auto Club Camaro in the show and he did,” said Force.
“I had a fun ride on the second run. I was smoking the tires through the lights and I still ran 4.09. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. I need to win some rounds.”
In the opening session today Force powered his Chevrolet branded Camaro to the provisional No. 1 spot with a strong 4.040 second run at 309.98 mph. Force picked up three qualifying bonus points and confidence going into the second round and race day.
With the unique Four-Wide format Force feels that his experience gives him a slight advantage. The 2010 Four-Wide Nationals winner has eight round wins and a runner-up finish last season.
“There are going to be guys up there that don’t know the tree. Courtney and I talked about the lanes and if you smoke the tires when you only get two runs. She was upset over her first run and I told her if she focused on that it would only hurt her. I told her to turn that switch off and she did. She went right down the track and ran low ET, 4.011,” said Force.
Force will be joined by Robert Hight, Tony Pedregon, and Alexis DeJoria in the first round of racing tomorrow.
The Auto Club Camaro Funny Car team had a drama filled day with only two qualifying runs available. In the first session Robert Hight’s Camaro SS Funny Car blew the tires off at the hit of the throttle and coasted across the finish line twenty-three seconds later as the 18th quickest Funny Car.
“We just had a lot of power on that first run. We were in lane one and we just over-powered the track. We weren’t worried at all going into the last session. Mike Neff just looked at the data and put in a solid tune-up that got us in the show,” said Hight.
In the last session Hight was on the outside looking in and staring down lane four. Hight pulled up and coolly blasted to the No. 7 qualified position with a 4.061 second, 308.07 mph run.
“I wasn’t worried at all. (Crew chief Mike) Neff told me it was going to go and it did. We’ll be ready for the race tomorrow. Last year we didn’t have lane choice a single round and we got to the winner’s circle. I’m excited to be racing and I think you will see some more good runs from this Auto Club Camaro,” said Hight, a two-time Four-Wide winner.
Brittany Force got a huge confidence boost with her first run of the day in the John Force Racing Top Fuel dragster. The third year driver powered down lane one with a strong 3.826 second pass. It positioned her No. 5 after the first session and solidly in the show.
“It was really nice to go out there and make one run and I knew it was going to hold. The entire team put together a good fast race car. I think the whole team felt confident after the 3.826 second run. It is difficult because there are four lanes and we only got a chance to qualify on two of them. That is tough on the whole team. It is a challenge for every team. It makes it exciting for the fans which is the whole point of this weekend.”
Brittany will be racing against No. 2 qualifier Pat Dakin, No. 7 Richie Crampton and No. 15 Chris “The Greek” Karamesines in the first round.
“My dad has always told me to use the fans to motivate yourself. They bring you up when you are down. If you are worried about a run go out and the fans will lift your spirits. I have been stuck in a little bit of a funk and I don’t know if it is because we have a race and then two weeks off. It makes it hard to find your routine when you have so much time off. It is a phase and I know we will work through it. I am working on getting back to the groove I was in when I had a lot of success last season. I took my dad’s advice and went out and hung out with the fans and they picked me right up. We qualified pretty well and I’ll be ready for tomorrow,” said Force.
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JOHN FORCE, 65, Chevrolet Camaro SS
Final Qualifying: 2nd at 4.040 seconds, 309.98 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +3 (quickest of Q1)
First Round Opponents: Robert Hight, Tony Pedregon, and Alexis DeJoria
ROBERT HIGHT, 45, Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS
Final Qualifying: 7th at 4.061 seconds, 308.07 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
First Round Opponents: John Force, Tony Pedregon, Alexis DeJoria
COURTNEY FORCE, 26, Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS
Final Qualifying: 1st at 4.011 seconds, 312.35 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +3 (quickest of Q2)
First Round Opponents: Chad Head, Del Worsham, and Dale Creasy Jr.
BRITTANY FORCE, 28, JFR Next Generation Top Fuel Dragster
Final Qualifying: 10th at 3.826 seconds, 318.32 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
First Round Opponents: Pat Dakin, Chris Karamesines, and Richie Crampton
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Sunday, March 29
Final Eliminations 1:00 PM