Earlier this week the NHRA made the decision to postpone the culmination of the biggest event of the year due to deteriorating track conditions and an unfavorable weather forecast. The 58th annual Mac Tools US Nationals will resume tomorrow at Lucas Oil Raceway with all four John Force Racing drivers in the mix.
With two qualifying sessions remaining rookie sensation Courtney Force holds the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot. Her teammate and one of her many mentors, Robert Hight, has yet to make a representative pass and will be striving to make the Top 16. Team leader John Force provisionally qualified 7th and Mike Neff currently 10th will both be looking to improve their standings to avoid the dreaded JFR vs. JFR first round match-up.
If Courtney Force holds onto the No.1 spot in Funny Car it will be the first top qualifier of her young career. The recent winner in Seattle has earned qualifying bonus points in all three previous qualifying sessions at the Mac Tools US Nationals. After she posted a career best 4.049 second pass on Saturday night the Cal State-Fullerton graduate was beaming at the top end.
“It’s awesome. I mean, just getting the No. 1 spot let alone with the career-best of a 4.049, it couldn’t have been at a better place. Being that it’s at Indy is the best thing possible. It’s just crazy. I’m so excited for my team. We’ve a great car and we showed that (Saturday) night running the 4.04 and getting the top speed track record with a 317 mph run. It’s huge for us,” said Force.
“Our Traxxas Ford Mustang has been running good all season long. We’ve just been trying to keep it consistent and keep it going and stay focused. But when we had a good run (Friday) and we were in the field we thought why not go out and see what our car is capable of doing and just push it to the limits and we really showed what we could do.”
Courtney would become just the 11th women to qualify in the top spot at an NHRA Full Throttle event. She could join Erica Enders (Provisional No. 1 in Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) as the only No. 1 female qualifiers at the Mac Tools US Nationals in the four professional categories. The first time John Force entered the Mac Tools US Nationals he DNQed in 1979.
While the youngest Force is looking to hold onto to the No. 1 position two-time Mac Tools US Nationals winner Robert Hight is looking for improvement out of his Auto Club Ford Mustang. Three sub-par runs last weekend sent crew chief Jimmy Prock to the drawing board in search of a tune-up to match his early season success. Hight along with a number of pro drivers are glad to have the full allotment of qualifying sessions to try and make the biggest event of the season.
“You don’t get many second chances in drag racing. Usually you lose a round and you are out of here. If you don’t qualify you are out of here. Getting to try and qualify is big but if we don’t get my car fixed we could be having this conversation next Saturday night and if my car is still running the way it is we won’t be in the field,” said Hight, Monday from the Lucas Oil Raceway media center.
“We have to look back at how we ran at the beginning of the year and get my Auto Club Ford Mustang back on track. We have been making a lot of races here and you go down the track one time in qualifying and it gets you qualified. Sooner or later that gets you. Indy is a different race because it has five qualifying sessions. If this would have been a normal race where you only get four I doubt they would have reopened qualifying. I don’t know the reasoning behind that and I don’t make those calls. I am glad they gave us and some more teams another shot.”
Hight knows that he is not the only driver who benefits from the NHRA decision to run qualifying on Saturday. Along with Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car) and Larry Morgan (Pro Stock) having re-newed life to get into the qualified fields there are a number of first round match-ups that are now no longer on the table most notably Don Schumacher Racing teammates Ron Capps and Matt Hagan. Capps wants to hold onto the top spot in the Countdown and the 2011 Funny Car champion is fighting to make the Countdown. Most likely the ladder will be shuffled next Saturday.
“Everyone is getting the same gift that I am. I am locked into the Countdown. There is a shot that I could go to No. 1. If Capps falls early and we can gain more than 60 points I think, I still have a shot at that No. 1 in the Countdown. That is huge because that is a 30 point lead. That somewhat affords you a bad race in the Countdown. It still goes back to if my car is not performing we are not going to get there,” said Hight.
The Funny Car Traxxas Nitro Shootout will be contested tomorrow. For Hight that could mean extra pressure when you consider he is the No. 2 qualified driver in the Shootout but is also racing to qualify for the Mac Tools US Nationals.
“(The pressure) is no different than it would have been (last week). I have seen John (Force) in this same position when Austin Coil was his crew chief back in 2007. He didn’t make the show because he was in the Skoal Showdown in the first round trying to win that thing. Back then they didn’t have the Top 12 provision. It was the Top 16 back then and with two night sessions to get into the field you had to run a low number and it was really hot on Sunday,” said Hight.
“John made the best run on Sunday that year and wasn’t good enough to qualify. Everybody else made their good qualifying runs during the night sessions. It is a little different scenario now with the Top 12 implication. There are 20 cars here I have to do better than four cars and then we are in.”
Hight is the only John Force Racing driver with lane choice in the Traxxas Shootout. His three teammates will be at the mercy of their first round opponents. Luckily they all made solid runs last weekend and have the data and experience to give themselves a great shot. The first round of the Traxxas Shootout will be run in conjunction with the opening qualifying session on Saturday. The semi-finals will be run with the second round and the Traxxas Nitro Shootout final will be run at the conclusion of the day on Saturday.