BRISTOL, TN –- For the second year in a row a John Force Racing Mustang dominated qualifying at Bristol Dragway. Last year then rookie Mike Neff had the most consistent Mustang on the Bruton Smith owned property and today his teammate Ashley Force Hood made the quickest laps of each session to stand atop the Funny Car class after the first day of qualifying at the 9th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
Force Hood covered the 1000 ft. race track in 4.186 seconds and 4.105 seconds besting fellow Ford Mustang driver Tim Wilkerson by four thousandths of a second on her second run. Wilkerson made his lap and then from the top end proclaimed that Ashley would most likely out run him a few pairs later. His prediction came to pass as the Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas tuned Castrol GTX Ford Mustang shot to the top of the field.
“That was really funny. I didn’t know that (about Wilkerson’s prediction). (Top end announcer) Alan Reinhardt told me that at the top end. We always like to joke around about what we want to run. It worked for us in Atlanta but I haven’t tried it since,” said Force Hood. “I didn’t want to jinx myself. Before the run (my crew) was making their final adjustments before I actually got into the car. Wilkerson ran and one of my guys leaned over and said we might as well run an oh. We were all laughing and acting like it was so over the top. That is not at all how we do things but it was kind of a joke that we will just do this or that and sometimes it works out your way and sometimes it doesn’t. My team has done really great. It is great that we are able relax and maybe the pressure is lifted off us a little.”
Getting two solid runs in today gives the Castrol GTX team a lot of confidence heading into tomorrow’s second day of qualifying. They will be able to fine tune the race car and prepare for the elimination rounds on Sunday.
“I think tomorrow is all about getting a good grip on the track for Sunday. You never know how the conditions will change from one day to the next but as far as the times that we run, that will be key. We aren’t going to be running at 8:30 p.m. at night on Sunday unless we go how we have been going every race this season it seems,” said Force Hood in reference to the persistent rain issues the NHRA has suffered at the majority of the races in 2009.
“The runs that we make tomorrow are the same times our runs will be on Sunday so that just gives the tuners something they can really work with. If we can get two runs in whatever conditions there are they have a good chance of taking that over into Sunday for race day. Of course we want to keep number one. We are so excited to be number one but I’d be just as excited to make two nice decent runs tomorrow as keeping the number one spot because I’ll have more confidence come Sunday.”
Team leader John Force also has more confidence heading into tomorrow as his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang is beginning to show flashes of success at a track where he has won twice. It was not without any problems as a steering wheel adjustment had Force make his second run under less than stellar conditions.
“I got my race car back. This Ford Mustang, she is a good old piece, but it doesn’t drive like the one on the street. You ought to drive one of those. This thing here they worked on the steering and I don’t know what took place. I got too much Full Throttle in me so I am wound up and I am screaming that I can’t steer this thing,” said Force. “I was all over the race track on that run but for Castrol, Ford, MacTools, Auto Club and everybody involved in this old heap. It went down there and I am excited about that but don’t mess with my steering wheel. That really makes me mad.”
Last year’s finalist Mike Neff made two passes down Bristol Dragway but he second pass was underwhelming for the 2008 Rookie of the Year. He did take some positives from the day when he looked at the big picture.
“It wasn’t a bad day. It went down the track two times. We’ll take that. We were hoping to run a little better but we are still sorting out a couple of things,” said Neff. “Every time it goes we get a little bit closer. So yeah today was a good day for us. We’ll start being more aggressive from here on out. We’ll start trying to work our way up towards the front of the pack.”
The one JFR team that was not hitting on all cylinders was the Auto Club team that continues to be right around the corner from break-out success. In the first round of qualifying Robert Hight was on a solid pass when his tires started spinning at the top end – not an unusual situation – but then his Ford Mustang erupted into a sustained fireball at the top end.
“We’ve got to keep after it. This Auto Club team has been working around the clock. I really feel sorry for (crew chief) Jimmy Prock he just lives this race car. All he thinks about is this Ford Mustang. I keep saying it every week but I honestly believe we are getting close. I think we are on to something. This was just a little bit of a stumble,” said Hight. “We have a lot of parts here at John Force Racing and a lot of good Mac Tools. We’ll get this thing back together for tonight. It was running real good. It had just started to spin and usually when it is that far down and it starts to spin you can drive it a little bit. It never revved up. It just started to spin and the next thing I know boom it is on fire. It was sliding around in the oil a little bit. These guys are good. We’ll get this thing back up here no problem.”
In the second session under ideal conditions Hight’s team had to shut-off once they realized they had a problem with how the cylinders were firing. A missed opportunity that cost Hight one of the most valuable commodities in the NHRA this year – track time – as rain has wreaked havoc on qualifying combined with the reduced testing schedule puts a premium on gathering much needed engine data.
The Auto Club will hopefully get two shots at Bristol Dragway tomorrow if the weather holds up. Funny Car qualifying will commence at 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. tomorrow.
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Saturday, May 16
Qualifying 12:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.
Sunday, May 17
Opening Ceremonies 10 a.m.
Eliminations 11 a.m.
BRISTOL, Tenn. – First day qualifiers for the ninth annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway:
FUNNY CAR – 1. Ashley Force Hood, Anaheim Hills, Calif., Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, 4.105, 298.67 mph; 2. Tim Wilkerson, Springfield, Ill., Levi, Ray and Shoup Ford Mustang, 4.109, 295.08 mph; 3. Del Worsham, Chino Hills, Calif., Toyota Solara, 4.128, 293.93 mph; 4. Matt Hagan, Christiansburg, Va., Dodge Charger, 4.139, 295.66 mph; 5. Ron Capps, Carlsbad, Calif., Dodge Charger, 4.151 291.95 mph; 6 . Cruz Pedregon, Brownsburg, Ind., Toyota Solara, 4.153, 295.43 mph; 7 . John Force, Yorba Linda, Calif., Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang, 4.154, 297.94 mph; 8 . Bob Tasca III, Cranston, R.I., Quick Lane Ford Mustang GT, 4.163, 277.49 mph; 9. Jim Head, Columbus, Ohio, Toyota Solara, 4.166, 293.41 mph; 10 Jack Beckman, North Hills, Calif., Dodge Charger, 4.184, 298.07 mph; 11. Mike Neff, Fishers, Ind., Ford Drive One Ford Mustang, 4.186, 291.01 mph; 12. Bob Bode, Barrington, Ill., Chevrolet Impala, 4.210, 292.01 mph.
TOP FUEL – 1. Cory McClenathan, Brownsburg, Ind., 3.874, 312.21 mph; 2. Brandon Bernstein, Lake Forest, Calif., 3.875, 312.64 mph; 3. Tony Schumacher, Long Grove, Ill., 3.883, 306.63 mph; 4. Larry Dixon, Indianapolis, Ind., 3.886, 312.93 mph; 5. Shawn Langdon, Brownsburg, Ind., 3.892, 309.70 mph; 6. Clay Millican, Drummonds, Tenn., 3.897, 310.20 mph; 7. Antron Brown, Pittsboro, Ind., 3.898, 313.07 mph; 8. Doug Herbert, Lincolnton, N.C., 3.906, 307.23 mph; 9. Doug Kalitta, Ann Arbor, Mich., 3.916, 307.37 mph; 10. Troy Buff, Spring, Texas, 3.950, 298.14 mph; 11. Morga