2009 NHRA Friday Qualifying Summary
9th of 24 races in the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series
21st annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX
May 29, 2009
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Team Castrol/John Force Racing Qualifying Highlights:
TOPEKA, Kansas – It was all Forces, all the time Friday night at Heartland Park-Topeka as Ashley Force Hood snatched the provisional No. 1 qualifying position away from her father with a jaw-dropping 4.107 second, 295.59 mile per hour effort that put her in position to start her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang from the front for the third time in four races.
The 26-year-old phenom, who entered the 21st annual O’Reilly Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX in fourth place in Full Throttle points, had the best car by a ton in a night session that made up for Friday afternoon performance futility. Only two cars made it to the finish line under power in a Friday afternoon qualifying session run on a 120-plus degree racetrack.
With temperatures expected to climb into the 90s on Saturday, improvement, especially at the front of the pack, is very unlikely.
John Force, the defending race champion and a nine-time winner at Heartland Park, was second Friday night at 4.189 seconds in the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford and Mike Neff seventh at 4.208 in the Drive One Mustang.
Only Robert Hight’s time in the Auto Club Ford won’t transfer to Saturday. Hight in essence will start from scratch after struggling on both runs Friday, an extension of his season-long struggles with a car that has been the performance leader in the category over the last four years.
“Tonight, the track got quite a bit better (than in the afternoon),” Neff said. “We stepped it up. It spun on the asphalt but it didn't run quite as good as we hoped. We made some progress. Everything seems to be working the way it is supposed to (and) now it’s just a matter of us being aggressive when we need to.
“Tomorrow will be the key day. Tonight was just for qualifying position. Tomorrow will be the true test. It will be the most important runs of the weekend. If you are able to make a couple of runs on the hot track, then you'll have a set up that you can use to get down the track on Sunday.”
Although he still finished second, Force lost some time when he misjuddged the finish line.
“I just caught something out of the corner of my eye and I thought it was the big ol’ scoreboards,” Force said, “but (crew chief Austin) Coil told me I shut if off at 860 feet. I was way early. I went back and looked and what I saw was the big TV screen. Rookie mistake.”
As for Ashley, her car continues to flash the consistency that once was a hallmark of her father’s.
“I don’t know if there’s a secret to our recent success,” Ashley said, “but it definitely is an advantage when you can be back a few pairs (in the qualifying order). You see what the track can take and what it can’t. You can watch how the other cars are going down there. I think they were really right on the edge of ‘do we push it or not?
“‘Guido’ and Ron even asked the crew guys what they wanted to do. It was good to get them involved because usually they are so consumed with the mechanics that they aren’t a part of the decision-making. Usually the crew chiefs make those decisions on their own. I was in the staging lanes listening to all this stuff and I told myself, ‘well you better hang on because it’s probably going to be a good run’ – and it was.
“It’s such a great feeling to know your teammates are going down the track ahead of you. That gives you so much confidence. I think that (Neff’s and Force’s performances) brought up everyone’s excitement. We definitely wanted to continue (that trend).
“I didn’t know what I ran,” she said. “It’s hard when it’s only the second session and the first session was so crazy. Nobody was really getting down the track the first session and I haven’t been here enough times in my life to really know what a decent run feels like or a great run.
“I thought the 4.20 was amazing that Mike ran. I was thinking that if someone could break into the teens, that would be really spectacular. Then dad ran 4.18 and I said ‘maybe I’ve underestimated the track.’”
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JOHN FORCE, 60, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Friday Qualifying: 2nd at 4.189 seconds, 271.02 mph.
Notable: Admittedly misjudged the finish line, a mistake that may have cost him .03 oor .04 of a second in performance.
Quotable: “(Crew chief Austin) Coil said our ol’ heap might’ve run 4.14 or 4.15 if the driver hadn’t screwed up, but it wasn’t gonna run no 4.10, that’s for sure. Real proud of Ashley and that team.”
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD, 26, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Friday Qualifying: 1st at 4.107 seconds, 295.59 mph.
Notable: Low elapsed time and top speed of the meet, putting her in position to start from No. 1 for the third time in the last four races.
Quotable: “I was surprised it was as quick as it was because it was a very smooth run. Usually, a good run is a scary run because the car is right on the edge. So when it ran right down the track and they told me on the radio ‘a 4.10,’ I said ‘what did it run again’ and nobody answered me back.”
ROBERT HIGHT, 39, Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Friday Qualifying: 4.754 seconds, 224.92 mph.
Notable: Not good enough for his time to transfer to Saturday. As a result, he will start from scratch with two final Saturday opportunities to get a favorable starting spot.
Quotable: “We know we’re going to race (because there are only 16 cars on the grounds) but it’s going to be a short day if we don’t figure something out. We’ve got two runs tomorrow and we just need to get down the track.”
MIKE NEFF, 42, Ford Drive One Mustang
Friday Qualifying: 7th at 4.208 seconds, 286.44 mph.
Notable: One of three JFR Fords in the top half of the field following Friday’s two qualifying attempts.
Quotable: “Tomorrow will be the key day. Tonight was just for qualifying position. Tomorrow will be the true test. It will be the most important runs of the weekend. If you are able to make a couple of runs on the hot track, then you'll have a set up that you can use to get down the track on Sunday.”
BRITTANY FORCE, 23, BrandSource A/Fuel Dragster
Friday Qualifying: 11th at 5.483, 256.21 mph.
Quotable: “The second run was quick enough to get me to No. 11 and we have one more (qualifying) run tomorrow. When you haven’t been in the car in awhile, I always get butterflies. After you go down the track that first time, it is always better from then on. You just need one pass to get that comfort level back.”
COURTNEY FORCE, 21, Sanyo Supercharged HD A/Fuel Dragster
Friday Qualifying: 4th at 5.386, 263.41 mph;
Quotable: “I was pleasantly surprised that my car went out there and mad a good run and then, in the second session, it made another good run. It is always exciting when you can run close to the same number, back-to-back (5.397 on the second run). It has been really hot here. I was surprised it didn’t smoke (lose traction).”
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Saturday, May 30
Funny Car Qualifying 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., Eastern time
Top Alcohol Dragster qualifying 10 a.m.
Top Alcohol first round 3:30 p.m.
Sunday, May 31
Opening Ceremonies 11 a.m., Eastern time.
Eliminations 12 noon, Eastern time.
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FOLLOW JOHN FORCE RACING at www.twitter.com/jfr_racing.com or at www.johnforceracing.com.