The two Full Throttle Funny Car champions that race under the John Force Racing banner, 15-time champ John Force and 2009 Funny Car champ Robert Hight brought their respective “A” games to the second qualifying session today at the O’Reilly Rt. 66 NHRA Nationals. Force raced to the provisional No. 1 spot and Hight wound up No. 3 after two sessions in Joliet.
Hight posted a solid 4.060 as one of the first Funny Cars out in the second session and then two pairs later Force stepped up the ET performance lowering the boom with a 4.050 second pass at 310.77 mph. The JFR Funny Cars were up early the second session by virtue of some less than stellar runs in the heat of the day.
The 4.050 second run by Force was his quickest run since October of last season at Reading when he ran 4.011 at 319.22 mph. He was the No. 2 qualifier at that race behind Johnny Gray’s 4.010 second run. The last time Force was the No. 1 qualifier was Sonoma last season. If it holds it will be Force’s 140th No. 1 qualifier of his career.
“Since the win at Pomona we have a whole new combination. (Crew chiefs) Dean Antonelli and Danny DeGennaro have been working on this tune up. It is just simple, I am a 15-time champion and I owe my fans and my sponsors better than I have shown both last year and this year. I came back from being hurt and won a championship and now I am not in the game,” said Force
“We have been showing the last couple of weeks some consistency. It hasn’t been anything to be excited about. We were able to get ten runs in a row but couldn’t win rounds. That 4.05 was OK but let’s see what we can do tomorrow. I am sure (Ron) Capps or (Mike) Neff or Hight, one of them will be able to break that. I thought Capps would tonight. He has that kind of magic right now.
All I want to do is be in the game. I love it that much. I feel like I am failing but failure is where I came from. I understand it and I’ll work my way out of the hole I have been in.”
In the pressroom Force talked about his expectations in the mid-90s when he was winning ten world championships in a row. Since that decade of dominance he has picked up two more personal championships.
“It used to be if I wasn’t low ET at least every other week I was upset. If I didn’t win every third or fourth race it was a bad season. Now I am just not there. I have a new team even though it was there for Ashley (Force Hood). My crew chiefs will get this car right and I am learning how to drive the way they want me to. There are just some things that are different. Nobody knows this game better than me.”
Some of the changes in the Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang have necessitated some driving changes by the 134-time winner.
“I have been riding the clutch which makes it smoke the tires. They have changed some things around. I am jacking up in the car for roll cage height and seat height. I am higher in the car so they can make certain things fit underneath me. I wish I had Courtney’s body weight or Capps’. You take 70 pounds off of me and I’d be a bad son of a gun.”
“(2011 Funny Car champion Matt) Hagan said what is wrong with us over the course of this year. I said there ain’t nothing wrong with you; you’re the champ. Once you are the champ like him or Robert Hight or Shirley (Muldowney) or (Kenny) Bernstein. We know how to fight back. We’ll see what happens.”
Dean Antonelli, one half of the crew chief tandem on the Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Funny Car explained how the day shook out for Force.
“On the first run today, it was actually running really well, but we were a little aggressive. It’s been kinda showing the last couple of weeks that it’s been wanting to run good, so tonight we just kinda set it up similar to how we did in Englishtown where it ran an .06 and conditions were similar and gave us the same ET. There’s been a lot of hard work from the guys.
Danny DeGennaro and I are starting to gel better together and of course with Jimmy Prock and (John) Medlen and Zippy (Mike Neff) and Ron (Douglas) all working [at John Force Racing] it makes for a knowledgeable team so we all work together and it’s starting to show.”
For Hight the second round run was some quick redemption for the Full Throttle Funny Car points leader. Since he won four races in a row the Auto Club Ford Mustang team has been in test mode on some days at the track. His success today was something the 2009 Funny Car champion enjoyed but he also enjoyed the success tonight of his boss and mentor John Force.
“I’m happy that I’m in the top half and I’m super excited for John Force to get the pole. Tomorrow night is going to be the night that you see the lower .0’s, without a doubt. My .06 will probably be 7th or 8th tomorrow night. Everyone’s going to step it up with the second session, and Funny Cars are after dragsters so the track will be better,” said Hight, the two-time Chicago finalist.
“Tomorrow night is the night, but we had to set ourselves up for tomorrow night with tonight and we did that, so I’m excited. Neff and Courtney, they need to get in on the first session tomorrow and set themselves up to where they can get after it tomorrow night. We learned from Bristol; gotta be in the top half, gotta have lane choice. We didn’t give it away by smoking the tired and I’m proud of my guys.”
Rookie of the Year contender Courtney Force made the best JFR run of the first session a 4.526 second run at 208.14 mph but in the second session her Traxxas Ford Mustang smoked the tires and slowed to a 6.266 second run. She will not carry a time over to Saturday’s second day of qualifying.
The defending O’Reilly Rt. 66 NHRA Nationals champion Mike Neff made two runs today but both resulted in uncharacteristic tire smoke. For the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang tuner Neff will go back to the drawing board for tomorrow’s two session. Neff will catch a break when the Saturday sessions are contested at the same time, 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Funny Car will be behind Top Fuel.
Finally, if Force’s No. 1 holds or if another JFR driver grabs the top spot a lucky fan will win a washer and dryer set from BrandSource and the Win with Force promotion. It would be the fifth time this season for a JFR driver to be the No. 1 qualifier.