READING, PA – The winningest driver in NHRA history continued his quest of grabbing points and extending his lead in the Countdown standings during final qualifying today at the NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pennsylvania. Not only did John Force score six Mello Yello bonus points, he qualified second with a ground pounding run of 3.997 seconds at 323.97 mph down the scenic Maple Grove Raceway in his Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang during final session.
The 16-time NHRA Mello Yello champ will face fellow Mustang driver Bob Tasca III in the opening round on Sunday’s final eliminations. These two Ford drivers have faced each other 19 times in their racing careers with Force getting the win light nine times.
When these two high competitive drivers raced each other this year, the record was 3-1 in Force claiming victories at Pomona and Phoenix but he fell victim to Tasca III at Topeka earlier this year but Force got even in the semifinals in Charlotte a few weeks ago. With the NHRA Nationals at Reading being the third from last race in 2014 NHRA Mello season, Force knows there’s room for any mistakes during the Countdown, regardless if it’s qualifying or eliminations.
“Tasca’s a good racer but we’ll just go up there and do what we know what to do, we’ll check the conditions, look at the data and Jimmy Prock (crew chief, Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang) will set the car up race day. What we tried to accomplish is to eat up all the points. (Matt) Hagan got them yesterday but we got them back today. We extended our lead on him. Courtney (Force) also moved up and the key is to put all my drivers qualified one through four or even five and then you don’t run into each other in the early rounds of eliminations but you don’t want to take each other out early,” said John Force.
On Force’s first qualifying run today, his Mustang charged out of the gate and was on a great run until it started to mix-up the cylinders at half-track. Crew chief Jimmy Prock thought the track would be tighter but it wasn’t. It was during Friday’s evening session that Prock took the conservative approach and got snake bit. The track surface and traction was far superior than what he estimated and unfortunately the Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang shook the tires due to the lack of wheel speed. On today’s first session, Prock got aggressive with the clutch set-up but the track wasn’t as good as last night and the Force could only run 4.216 seconds at 270.64 mph. However, it was good enough to pick up one NHRA Mello Yello bonus point.
“The car lost traction around 330-feet down track then John (Force) pedaled it and drove it down there. The track was not as good as it should be for that given temperature and everybody misjudged it. Going in the final qualifying session, we just guessed how good the track is and run and fast as we can,” said Jimmy Prock.
During the second session, Jimmy Prock was swinging for the fences and wanted to put a good number on the board. He carefully watched his teammates, and competition, run before the Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang. Both Robert Hight and Courtney Force ran 4.00 seconds and Jimmy, along with John Force, wanted a three second run. At the hint of green, Force’s Mustang stampeded off the starting and bolted right down the track with header flames lighting up the overcast skies.
The tune-up paid off as Force ran a 3.997 second pass at 3.23.97 mph and was the fastest of the session. This meant he picked up three additional NHRA Mello Yello bonus points and that’s exactly what he and the team wanted to do.
Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang made the most out of the two days of qualifying for the 30th annual NHRA Nationals. They stepped up in three of the four sessions culminating in a blistering 4.009 second run in the last session today.
“We were going for it because the conditions were so good but we weren’t going to give a run away. Tomorrow it will be even cooler and we need data. We are No. 5 with a 4.009 right behind our teammate Courtney Force. I am happy with the three 4.0s we ran this weekend. The first run today we just found the edge,” said Hight.
Hight’s four runs on Friday and Saturday were a consistent 4.072 seconds, 4.053 seconds, 6.559 seconds with tire smoke and 4.009 seconds at 320.13 mph. In the first round on Sunday the Auto Club Mustang will race fellow Ford backed driver Tim Wilkerson. This will be an evenly matched race with Hight holding a slight career win edge 16-14.
“You can’t look past anyone in this category. Wilkerson is tuning and driving his Mustang and he will be a tough competitor. We will be ready for anything tomorrow. There are three races left in the Countdown and we need to start making our move,” said Hight.
In 2011 Hight drove his Auto Club Mustang to the winner’s circle defeating Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, Jeff Arend and Johnny Gray on the way to the win.
Seven-time event winner Courtney Force drove her Traxxas Ford Mustang through four rounds of qualifying this weekend to get her team in a good, safe position for race day, but it wasn’t until the final session that the team jumped up into the No. 4 qualifying spot, where they would settle for race day.
Going into the last qualifying session, the young driver was sitting in the No. 13 qualifying position. If she didn’t move up, race day at Maple Grove Raceway would have only been the fifth time this season that the Traxxas Ford Mustang team did not qualify in the top half of the field.
“We went out there the first run today and we didn’t get the car down there. I think we pushed it too hard. We had already run the 4.10 that locked us in the field on Friday night. We came out in Q4, swinging for the fences and were able to go towards the top with a 4.008 so I’m very excited,” said Force.
The 26-year-old driver picked up two bonus points in qualifying for being second-quickest of the fourth session. After victories at the last two events (Dallas and St. Louis), Force is trying to become the first woman since Angelle Sampey in 2002 and the first in a four wheel class since Shirley Muldowney in 1977 to win three races in succession.
“I’m very proud to be a part of this team, to be able to drive this Traxxas Ford Mustang and be around such a great group of guys. I’m thankful to have my crew chiefs, Ron Douglas and Dan Hood. They were able to turn this car around at the right time to put us in the top half of the field going into race day tomorrow,” said Force
The winningest female Funny Car driver will go up against Jeff Arend in round one tomorrow. The pair have only matched up twice in eliminations and both have walked away with a round win. The first was in 2012, Force’s rookie year when Arend beat her to the finish line in her first career final round. The second was this year at Topeka when she took him down in the second round on her way to picked up the 100th pro win for women in the NHRA.
“We’ll have Jeff Arend in round one, but we’re going to do everything we can to get this car down there in the cool weather and in the heat of this championship run,” said Force.
With final qualifying complete, Brittany Force will head into Sunday’s eliminations at the NHRA Nationals qualified in the No. 2 spot and will face off against Terry McMillen in the opening round on Sunday. The 2013 NHRA Auto Club Rookie of the Year has faced McMillen two times before. The last time she ran him was in round one at Chicago earlier this year in which she defeated him. It was also at that race in which Brittany Force ended up going the finals and losing a close one to former NHRA Mello Yello champion Antron Brown. However, the Castrol EDGE Dragster is a fast and consistent machine this weekend as Brittany Force picked up a total of six NHRA Mello Yello bonus points for her qualifying efforts these past two days at Maple Grove Raceway.
In Saturday’s opening session, Brittany’s dragster fired off the starting line like a guided missile and went straight down the track. With header flames shooting eight feet in the air, the Castrol EDGE machine was charging down the track and crossed the finish line in 3.737 seconds at 328.78 MPH. Brittany grabbed the No. 1 spot during that qualifying run and it was her career best ET. She also grabbed three NHRA Mello Yello bonus points.
“The Castrol EDGE Dragster went right down the track and we ran a career best 3.73 and put us straight to No. 1. We’re picking up bonus points and that’s exactly what we want to do coming out here to Reading and keep moving up the points ladder. The whole team is working great together, we have a renewed confidence this weekend and our performance reflects that. That No. 1 and a really great run really pumps up the team. My guys were yelling on the radio when we ran that 3.73 and were high-fiving each other, that’s the spirit this team need in our pits. I didn’t know we were No. 1 until I got out of the car on the top end and the Castrol folks told me. I had a feeling it was a good run, the car really set me back in the seat and I could tell it was going to be fast,” said Brittany Force.
Tuning the 10,000 horsepower Castrol EDGE Dragster is a team effort and is led by Todd Smith and Dean “Guido” Antonelli. They plugged in the data, read the track and weather conditions perfectly and on that qualifying session, Brittany shot to the top of the field.
“The car is really running good this weekend. We just had some really tired parts on this car that needed to get changed out so we came in here with that mindset. We swapped out the parts and that really helped us out and they did and that 3.73 second run in the session is the result of that. It also corrected the problem we had last night when the engine let go through the lights. Our plan for the final qualifying session was to see if we can repeat, and it did,” said Todd Smith.
In the fourth and final session, Brittany Force and the Castrol EDGE team was looking to see how far they push the track conditions. The air temp hadn’t changed much from the first session and the track was still in good shape. Brittany Force was in strapped in her dragster watching the second from last pair of racers to qualify. One of those drivers qualifying was Tony Schumacher and with his run of 3.733 seconds, he bumped Brittany out of the No. 1 spot and into second.
The sophomore Top Fuel driver was focused on making another great run. When her nitro powered machine came to life, Brittany Force just did her routine and at the flash of green, her Castrol EDGE machine sprang off the line. Just like the previous run, Brittany’s dragster went right down the track and turned in a 3.745 second run. Brittany’s final run was also the third quickest of the session but it was the 329.50 mph that had the fans on their feet as it was the top speed of the meet. The important thing was her car basically repeated its performance from its earlier run, so the team had done their job.
“I saw Tony (Schumacher) run the 3.733 right in front of me and it was a good pass for him but I also knew we would have a good run. We’ve had a consistent car all weekend and we went straight down the track and even though we got bumped to number two, we’re just as excited and pumped and it’s still good enough to win the race. Everyone talks about the curse of racing from the number one spot and going in the opening round, but we’re not worried about any curse and we’re going to go out and have fun,” said Brittany Force.
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JOHN FORCE, 65, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 2nd at 3.997 seconds at 323.97 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +6 (2nd quickest of Q1, 3rd quickest of Q3; Quickest of Q4)
First round opponent (W-L): Bob Tasca III (9-10)
ROBERT HIGHT, 45, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 5th at 4.009 seconds at 320.13 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +1 (3rd quickest of Q4)
First round opponent (W-L): Tim Wilkerson (16-14)
COURTNEY FORCE, 26, Traxxas Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 4th at 4.008 seconds at 320.36 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +2 (2nd quickest of Q4)
First round opponent (W-L): Jeff Arend (1-1)
BRITTANY FORCE, 28, Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster
Final Qualifying: 2nd at 3.737 seconds at 328.78 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +6 (2nd quickest of Q2, Quickest of Q3, 3rd quickest of Q4)
First round opponent (W-L): Terry McMillen (1-1)