At the halfway point of the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series holding onto Top Ten points positions is almost as important as wins. After nine races John Force Racing has six wins and three drivers – John Force, Robert HIght and Mike Neff - locked into the Traxxas Shootout - the $100,000 bonus race scheduled for Labor Day weekend. This early season success cannot be diminished by a tough day at the 43rd Toyota NHRA SuperNationals.
After advancing two Ford Mustang Funny Cars to the semi-finals, No. 2 qualifier Robert Hight and No. 13 qualifier Courtney Force, for the second consecutive race JFR did not advance at least on Funny Car to the final. Force lost a close race to Ron Capps after she dispatched fellow Ford racer Tim Wilkerson and 2011 Funny Car champ Matt Hagan in the first two rounds.
Courtney Force took the most advantage of her day at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. She entered the day only 37 points ahead of the 11th place driver and ended the day with a 77 point differential over Time Wilkerson. That is a two round improvement in the point standing and has her overall four rounds of racing ahead.
“I had Tim Wilkerson today in the first round. I knew it would be tough trying to get around him. He’s a great competitor and friend, and he’s also a Ford car and we’re always rooting for each other, so it’s tough going up against someone that you have such a great relationship with,” said Force. “You don’t want to be the one to take him out of the race, but you have to do your job and do the best you can and hopefully luck will come around and you’ll get the win. We had a little trouble on that run with the reverser. We got it backed up and then it gave me another problem going back into gear. I was thankful that Mike Neff was there to help out. We got back and figured out what the problem was and resolved it going into the second round.”
“In the second round we matched up against [Matt] Hagan, one of the Don Schumacher Racing Funny Cars, which is always a tough race. You have to be on your ‘A’ game. I did the best I could; I tried to work on my tree beforehand because I know he’s great on the line. He’s got a lot of energy and I knew I would have to be good. You have to practice to be able to compete with these guys, especially defending champs like him. We went up and we were able to run a 4.111 for that session and get the win light over him,” said an excited Force.
Force dropped a close race to Ron Capps in the semis but for the Rookie of the Year front-runner getting round wins is the key to success. The rookie continued to make solid passes down the track posting winning times of 4.111 and 4.123 before running 4.11 in a loss to a charging Capps.
After nine races in her young career Courtney’s stats match up favorably to her sister Ashley Force Hood. Both drivers had a round win record of 7-9 and each had advanced to two semi-finals.
HIght’s route to the semi-finals went through rookie Blake Alexander and teammate Mike Neff before he was bested by eventual Toyota NHRA SuperNationals winner Johnny Gray. In the first round HIght laid down the quickest run of the session a 4,094 seconds to get the win of Alexander.
“What is cool about this place is the wall is not out of bounds and it is way out there. There is a dotted line past the finish line and when you get to half-track and the tires are growing on the Auto Club Mustang you can really see where you are on the track and aim for the middle of your lane. It helps make for a really straight run. We knew we had to throw a good run down. Paul Smith and those guys were on a couple good runs this weekend and they had the parachutes fall out. You knew they were going to be tough,” said Hight.
In the second round Hight squared off with teammate Mike Neff in the race of the session. Hight got the win, 4.107 over Neff’s quicker 4.083. Neff was late on the tree but better on the track. At the top end Hight was supportive of his teammate’s dual role as driver and crew chief
“He (Neff) does a great job tuning and then to have the stress of driving is pretty amazing. I think we should have just raced our Ford Expeditions with EcoBoost and see who wins then.”
Neff was disappointed in his personal effort but proud of his crew’s skills all weekend with the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.
“Today was just disappointing. The car ran really good. I just blew it. It revved the throttle up, I pulled my foot back then the tree came down and I was late. I feel terrible,” said Neff.
In the semi-finals versus Johnny Gray Hight again was in tight race, one that was decided by three thousandths of a second, at the finish line. Johnny Gray grabbed a slight advantage on the starting line in reaction time and he made that slim margin hold up to advance to the final round.
“My Auto Club Ford has been marching all weekend. We have made some the quickest runs of the weekend each day. I am disappointed I didn’t get another shot at Capps but we have the points lead and we are going rounds. This is a tough category and we need data to make these Funny Cars better. We got to make seven runs this weekend and only two cars got more information than us. That is pretty good. I have a title to defend in Bristol and I’ll be racing an Elvis themed AAA Insurance Funny Car so we’ll be ready,” said Hight.
Team leader John Force held a brief team meeting with his drivers and crew chiefs after the semi-final rounds. The gist of the meeting was to focus the teams on their collective success.
“What I see in the overall picture is we didn’t win the race here in Castrol country. We have a new boss at Castrol Des Johnson, Castrol’s Global Brand Director, who runs the marketing and we would have liked to have gotten him in the winner’s circle. We know how the game is played. He got to see how big the crowds were and see our operation,” said Force.
“At the end of the day what you have to look at is where you are in the points. Courtney and I both moved up and everyone behind us moved down. Mainly our Funny Cars made lap after lap after lap. When you make six runs in a row like me that is pretty good. I put a push rod out on one run and it still ran good. You are finding consistency when you do that,” added Force. “Courtney made seven runs. The Traxxas Mustang and the Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Mustang are starting to run like the Auto Club and Castrol GTX Funny Cars. Today for me is bigger than a win. It will take all four cars to beat Schumacher and the rest of these teams. That is what we have to have and we are going to get there.”
Force made the most of his day defeating rookie of the year candidate Alexis DeJoria to hold the improving Funny Car driver at bay. In the second round Force lost to eventual winner Johnny Gray even though his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang showed marked improvement all weekend.