TEAM JFR RACE REPORT
1st race of Countdown to 1
19th of 24 races in the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series
2nd annual NHRA Carolinas Nationals
Sept. 18-20, 2009
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ROBERT HIGHT TAKES CHARLOTTE WIN; MAKES BIG JUMP IN POINTS
-Mike Neff wins four wide funny car exhibition; Ashley Force Hoods moves to No. 2 in points-
CHARLOTTE –- Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang are peaking at the right time. Today at the luxurious zMax Dragway Hight defeated rookie of the front runner Matt Hagan to take his first win of the 2009 season and jump from 10th in the Full Throttle point standing to 3rd. The perennial championship contender made the Countdown to 1 in the No. 10 position by racing to the final round of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and today he defeated veteran Jerry Toliver, fellow Mustang driver Bob Tasca III, and teammate Ashley Force Hood to reach the finals with Hagan. Hight’s journey to the winner’s circle was definitely not a straight path.
“It’s been a crazy month. With all the switching we did with me going to John’s – team owner John Force - car and vice versa. It has been crazy. But for whatever reason, it has worked out. John Force, he’s not a tuner, but he definitely knows how to shake things up and whatever he did, it’s worked. Jimmy Prock, since John drove his car in Maple Grove, it’s been almost the best car out there. John could have gone to the final there in Maple Grove,” said Hight. “At Indy, racing Ashley, it’s unbelievable the timing we’ve got right now. The first part of the year, we stunk this place up. It was terrible. You begin to wonder, you know, if you can win because winning these races out here, it’s not that easy to win. Every round, I had somebody in the other lane clear to the finish line and you know, if you’re a little late, if something happens, any little thing, you’re gonna lose.”
“The last two rounds I had today were just unbelievably close races. My teammate, Ashley Force Hood, and then Matt Hagan, who hopefully he gets the Rookie-of-the-Year because he does a great job and it’s not easy to drive these Funny Cars.”
It was an emotional win for Hight and one that was truly a team effort going back four races when Castrol GTX co-crew chiefs Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas began working with Jimmy Prock on converting Hight’s Mustang to a set-up more consistent with Ashley Force Hood’s Mustang that had been consistently going rounds all season.
“Definitely, (a lot of our success) is due to Guido and Ron Douglas. Right before Brainerd, we switched everything around, like their car. They’ve helped us tremendously. They’ve given Jimmy something to go with and before our engine would burn up. It would drop cylinders. We were totally inconsistent. So now we have a car like Ashley’s had all year long. Luckily Ashley’s been running good all year because she’s taken care of the sponsors for us and all the people that pay us because we couldn’t do it without their help,” added Hight.
By reaching the semi-finals in the first Countdown to 1 event Force Hood moved around Ron Capps and all but erased the cushion points leader Tony Pedregon started the day with. At the end of the day Force Hood was a mere one point out of the Full Throttle points lead in her bid to become the first woman to win a Funny Car world championship.
“The race was definitely not a bad weekend. A lot of the top contenders struggled a little and we were able to do a little better and move from third to second. It will all change around. If we can start out strong then we give ourselves a little advantage. Our Mustang is running really well. We didn’t have any lucky runs,” said the seven-time finalist in 2009. “Out of seven runs this weekend six of them were really good. If we can run like that through the Countdown I think that could be pretty unstoppable. It is not that easy to get these cars to go A to B. Ron and Guido (co crew chiefs Ron Douglas and Dean Antonelli) make it look easy. It was a really good weekend. You always want to win but I cannot complain about anything. That semi-final round with Robert that was how we wanted to tune it and run it.”
The last time John Force Racing won back-to-back national events was 2007 when John Force won Sonoma and then Brainerd. The last time Hight won back-to-back national events was also 2007 when he started the first part of the season with wins in Las Vegas and then Atlanta. Hight will now head to Dallas where he won in 2006 at the all-concrete Texas Motorplex hoping to duplicate that effort.
Two of the John Force Racing Mustangs were upended in the first round. John Force bounced back from a surprising DNQ at the inaugural event but is still winless at zMax Dragway. His Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang lost traction and was beaten by veteran Jim Head. This was the second race in a row for Force to match up with Head in the opening round. At the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Force got the win over Head.
Force was not terribly upset to be out of the race. As a first round loser he was invited to participate in the four-wide funny car exhibition race prior to the final round today. Force made the most of the race as he finished second to teammate Mike Neff, out running veteran’s Del Worsham and Tim Wilkerson in the show stopping race.
“To be a part of something so exciting almost made losing in the first round OK. When I was doing my burn out I thought this is really cool. I made one of the longest burnouts of my career before that race. I wanted to give the fans a show. Bruton and Marcus Smith have built us this palace to race in and I wanted to thank them for the opportunity to race here. We are in the heart of NASCAR country but we showed a packed house how exciting and unbelievable Full Throttle Drag Racing can be,” said the winningest driver in NHRA history.
Mike Neff and the Ford Drive One Mustang made the most of their exhibition run actually winning the race on a hole-shot over Force. Neff covered the 1000 foot race course in 4.136 seconds while Force’s Mustang tripped the clocks at 4.118 seconds. A three hundredths reaction time advantage spelled doom for Force and victory for Neff. Worsham crossed the finish line in 4.205 seconds followed by Wilkerson’s 4.509 second pass.
“I was actually glad to be a part of the four wide race. That was a lot of fun. That was a little piece of history. That hasn’t been done in a long time. I think that will get a lot of mileage and a lot of ink for Ford. It was awesome having Force there. You had Del (Worsham) and (Tim) Wilkerson; a couple of veterans. For me it was just a lot of fun to be a part of. To be able to technically win it was definitely exciting. Part of me was kind of bummed I lost in the first round because I really wanted to watch it,” said the 2008 rookie of the year. “I know they got some good footage. It will be fun to see. Bruton Smith’s track here and everything that they have done is awesome. To be able to repay them and showcase what they have done here is really cool.”
Neff also had strong feelings about the upside of the Countdown to 1 and his teammates Robert Hight’s performance.
“Robert’s car has been running great and my personal opinion is Robert Hight is the favorite to win the whole thing. It is all about hitting your stride at the right time. They hit their stride in Indy. They ran a good race, got in the Countdown, and then they came here and won. They are up to third in the points and a couple of rounds out of the top spot. They could be the points leader after the next race. The Countdown can benefit you and hurt you. For Robert and guys like myself who are down towards the bottom of the points the Countdown is a great thing,” concluded Neff.
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Race Winners At-A-Glance:
FUNNY CAR – Robert Hight, Yorba Linda, Calif., Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, 4.097, 307.02 mph def. Matt Hagan,