CHARLOTTE, NC – Robert Hight saved his best for last on Saturday at the 7th annual Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals jumping from the middle of the Funny Car pack to the No. 2 qualified position. Hight knew he would have to race Mello Yello points leader John Force if he did not dramatically improve the position of his Auto Club Ford Mustang Funny Car. The winningest driver in zMax Dragway history moved away from Force and into a first round race with Chad Head. He defeated Head in the first round of last year's Charlotte race and he went on to win the race. Hight's four wins at zMax Dragway, including the last two races contested here are the most by any driver in any pro category.
“That last run was big for us. I didn’t want to race John in the first round like we did in Indy. Now we are on opposite sides of the ladder. It is tough he has to race our other teammate but there are a lot of intra-team first round match-ups tomorrow. I just want to make sure I give this Auto Club the best chance to win,” said Hight.
Hight’s Auto Club Mustang slipped the tires in the first session on Saturday on another strong run. In the second session with slightly better conditions the Mike Neff tuned Funny Car went right down the lane and posted the second quickest run of the session for the second time on Saturday. Those four valuable qualifying bonus points combined with Hight’s qualifying position points have him 19 points behind Force which is less than one round.
Courtney Force will match up alongside her father and 16-time champion on Sunday morning. She qualified in the top half of the field in the No. 8 spot and will have lane choice in the opening round. She picked up three bonus points so far this weekend for being quickest of the first session and is looking to move up the Countdown to the Championship ladder tomorrow.
“We got qualified in the top half of the field. We made improvements run by run. We made an improvement in Q4 which moved us back up into the top half. We picked up three bonus points at the start of the weekend with qualifying and we’ve made some pretty consistent runs so our Traxxas Ford Mustang team is excited, but of course there’s a down side. We made an improvement and still have to end up running the No. 1 guy in points; my father and my teammate,” said Courtney.
This will be the twelfth time the pair have matched up on race day and the sixth time they have faced each other in the opening round. Courtney is 6-5 to her dad in previous meetings. The last time they raced each other was Sonoma of this year, when Courtney qualified No. 1 and won the race.
“We still have to end up running my dad, which is unfortunate. We have a pretty good race car. I think we’ve seen some consistency this weekend. Ron Douglas and Dan Hood have given me a great car to drive so we’re looking forward to tomorrow. We have got to keep ourselves in the game and in order to do that we have to take out my dad in round one,” said Courtney.
With the fields being set for Sunday’s eliminations at the Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals, the 16-time NHRA Mello Yello champion is ready to pursue his 142nd win with the ultimate goal of an unprecedented 17th NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car title by the end of the season. However, before that can happen, John Force, the winningest driver in NHRA history, will have to get past some tough competitors on race day. That includes the opening round match up with the 2012 NHRA Auto Club Rookie if the Year and the winningest female driver in Funny Car history. Those accolades belong to Courtney Force, the youngest of John’s four daughters and one of the toughest Funny Car competitors.
With two final qualifying sessions today, the Castrol GTX High Mileage Funny Car struggled to make a solid run and failed to improve from the 4.141 second from Friday. Crew chief Jimmy Prock was trying to find the right balance of power and trying to get John moved up in the field. John ended up qualified 9th and with daughter Courtney securing the 8th spot with her 4.126 second run there was no way to avoid this epic father-daughter matchup in round one.
“It’s a tough way to start the Countdown. The whole idea with multi-car teams is that if one doesn’t win, the other ones will. One of our cars will go out - it’ll either be me in the Castrol Ford or Courtney in Traxxas. I had Robert in the first round and you’re going to get your drivers every now and then. When I raced Robert, Auto Club went home and I went on to the final. For all your work, it comes down to luck and timing, we all ran good, it’s just we ran the same,” said John Force.
John and Courtney Force have faced each other three times this season, with Courtney getting the better of her father twice. During the Countdown, John has raced Courtney three times and has won each of these matchups.
“Robert really stepped up at the end and ran well and we didn’t make a good pass but hey, it’s all part of the sport. I have no complaints but it still aggregates the heck out of me that somebodies going go home, I don’t want to go home, I’m a driver, I need to win and Courtney, she sure the heck doesn’t want to go home. Regardless, we’ll give the fans a heck of a show tomorrow,” said John Force.
In the first qualifying run today, John’s 8000 horsepower Mustang rattled the massive Goodyear slicks as they fought for traction just before half-track. John tried to drive through the violent tire shake, but had to lift of the throttle. The result was a less-than-stellar 4.923 second run at 158.28 mph. During the final session, the Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang once again experienced traction problems and could only muster a 4.784 second run at 287.66 mph.
Brittany Force and her Castrol EDGE Dragster stepped up their game and made a move in the right direction today. Her 10,000 horsepower machine was hitting on all eight, and her crew, led by Todd Smith and Dean “Guido” Antonelli found their groove and are ready to come out swinging on race day.
Brittany Force will be racing on Sunday from the No. 7 spot, and her first round opponent will be Leah Pritchett. This all-female matchup is a gleaming example of the diversity within the NHRA professional driver categories. These two racers have never faced each other in competition before, and Pritchett is the 22nd different opponent for Brittany.
“I’m happy with the number seven spot, we made two good runs today, and I’m ready to go into eliminations tomorrow. I have to treat this like any other day; I don’t want to screw myself up. I don’t want to worry too much or think about something too much or change this or change that. It has to stay the same on race day. So, I’m going to keep my same routine, but there’s definitely that pressure because it’s the first race going to the Countdown. A little mistake can cost you and every point matters,” said Brittany Force.
Brittany’s Castrol EDGE Dragster will be ready for eliminations, and with this being the kick off to the Countdown, Brittany knows she’ll need to go rounds to move up in the points and stay in contention during NHRA’s “playoffs”.
“I’m excited going into my first Countdown race. We made a big move and moved up today to the seventh spot, and we have Leah Pritchett first round tomorrow. I have my expectations, but you have to be realistic out here, with all the competitors I’m going against but we have a great team and a great race car, great crew chiefs with Todd Smith and Dean Antonelli,” said Brittany Force.
With two runs yesterday, Brittany opened the third qualifying session with a shot and blasted off zMax Dragway’s starting line with a stout 3.841 second pass at 312.42 mph. Her dragster went straight down the track, and it was her quickest run of the weekend. It also moved her to the top half of the field in the 7th position and gave her some breathing room from her prior and somewhat precarious 15th qualified spot. With a good run under their belt, the Castrol EDGE team had the valuable data need to tune for the track and weather conditions.
“The competition is always tough, if you look at the drivers I’m going up against competing in Top Fuel, anyone can beat you, they’re all tough competitors, there’s no easy win when you get lined up next to another driver. I hope they say the same thing back about me and the Castrol EDGE team, but it doesn’t matter, we come out here to race,” said Brittany Force.
On the fourth and final session, Brittany’s Castrol EDGE Dragster showed its consistent performance was starting to come around, as she ran a strong 3.868 second pass at 310.63 mph. Todd Smith and Dean “Guido” Antonelli had read the track and weather conditions just right, as they knew they would be similar to what the team will face on race day.
“There are a lot of things that can greatly affect our tune up. Luckily we can make adjustments right up to the last second, even after Brittany fires up her car and drives into the water box. So, we’re constantly monitoring the sun, clouds and the track,” said Todd Smith.
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JOHN FORCE, 65, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 9th at 4.141 seconds at 287.66 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
First Round Opponent (W-L): Courtney Force (5-6)
ROBERT HIGHT, 44, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 2nd at 4.108 seconds at 308.14 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +4 (2nd quickest of Q3 and Q4)
First Round Opponent (W-L): Chad Head (3-1)
COURTNEY FORCE, 26, Traxxas Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 8th quickest at 4.126 seconds at 298.67 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +3 (Quickest of Q1)
First Round Opponent (W-L): John Force (6-5)
BRITTANY FORCE, 28, Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster
Final Qualifying: 7th at 3.841 seconds at 312.42 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
First Round Opponent (W-L): Leah Pritchett (0-0)
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Sunday, September 14
Final Eliminations Noon
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