POMONA --- On a day that started with a fifteen minute hail storm and ended with a Funny Car getting a leg up on the national record, John Force Racing was consistent and quick throughout the day’s two qualifying sessions. Two-time Full Throttle Funny Car champion Cruz Pedregon grabbed the No. 1 qualifying position with a 4.015 second run but Mike Neff, Robert Hight and John Force hung with him on the performance front ending the day in the No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 positions, respectively.
The dicey weather had Robert Hight and his Auto Club Mustang team wishing for Mother Nature to just make up her mind.
“At one point I was wishing it would either just rain out or clear up. You want to start the season with a lot of runs,” said Hight, a two-time Winternationals winner. “You want to get four qualifying runs or at least three like this weekend. You don’t want to go into race day with just one qualifying run. Looking at the forecast for tomorrow, we should be good. I am ready to get going. It has been way too long of a winter. It has been a long time since I have won a round. The last round win I had was Brainerd last year and that is too long. We have a tough one first round but we are up for it.”
Hight made two solid runs today tripping the timing beams with runs of 4.107 and 4.071 seconds. He earned bonus points in each session for recording one of the three quickest runs of the session.
Hight is also hoping to grab some Ford momentum from Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne and his team owners the famed Woods Brothers. The past two years at zMax Dragway in Charlotte, the legendary Ford NASCAR team owners have spent time with Hight and the rest of the John Force Racing team. Hight will carry a piece of history in his fire suit tomorrow.
“I am going to carry a Wood Brothers commemorative coin with me tomorrow. They gave it to me last year when they were celebrating their 60th year of racing. With the success they had at Daytona last weekend I am looking for some luck to kick off the 60th anniversary of the NHRA tomorrow. The coin will be in my fire suit and hopefully I’ll go four rounds tomorrow and be hoisting one of those pewter Wallys. I am ready to get going. I know (crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) is looking at our data and seeing where he can tweak it here or there. If we make four runs that are 4.07s tomorrow we’ll hold that 60th anniversary trophy.”
“I am pleased with qualifying. We are in the top four. We aren’t running the 01s and 02s but we are one of the few cars that went down the track every run. It was us and Neff I think. We made three decent runs and we were not doing that at the end of last year. You have to go down the track to win. We race Bob Tasca III in the first round so that will be a tough race.”
On Saturday Mike Neff powered the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to a great 4.060 second pass and that time eventually wound up in the No. 3 position going into eliminations. For Neff having a consistent car has eased him mind as he transitions from crew chief to driver mode.
“All you can hope for is to run what you are trying to run and have it respond to what you are trying to do. That is a big key,” said Neff. “It has been pretty easy to switch from crew chief mode to driver mode. One thing has been my Mustang has been really consistent. Things went well for us in testing and my guys have been great. The runs here have been good and I was trying to run better than it did the last session. It has been responding so I am pretty confident. The conditions have been the same so it hasn’t been that big of an issue.”
Team leader and 15-time Funny Car champion John Force qualified No. 5, 4.093 seconds, but was No. 1 when it came to heart stopping moments on Saturday. In his final run of the day beside Bob Bode Force’s Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang started drifting left and eventually made a dramatic move across the centerline just past the finish line. The two Funny Cars narrowly missed colliding at the top end. At the end of the day Force likened the run to a NASCAR two car bump draft.
“Stuff happens. I had just cleared the cones and it made a hard left. I could feel it moving over before I got to the cones and I knew I could keep it in my lane and get past them. As soon as it got past the cones it made a hard move,” said the 2010 Winternationals winner.”
“The traction gets a little loose past the finish line and I got over in Bode’s lane but he is a veteran. He was on the brakes and my chutes were on his windshield. He shoved me right through there. We looked like Carl Edwards shoving Trevor Bayne at the Daytona 500.”
With three Mustangs in the top five Force was excited about his team’s prospects starting the 60th anniversary NHRA season.
“I am glad to get this race out of the way. Winter was way too long. To have these three Fords out there doing what they are doing for Castrol, Auto Club, Mac Tools, and BrandSource. We are doing our job. The fans showed up today and we gave them a good show. It will be a long season but I am ready to get it started tomorrow morning,” added Force.
“Any time you can put three Fords in the top five that is good. That is where you need to be. You want lane choice and you want those qualifying points. The Fords are hot right now. At the end of the day we want to come out of here with a win like we did last year.”
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JOHN FORCE, 61, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 5th at 4.093 seconds, 305.84 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +1 (3rd quickest of Q1)
First Round Opponent (W-L): Paul Lee (3-1)
Quotable: “Any time you can put three Fords in the top five that is good. That is where you need to be. You want lane choice and you want those qualifying points. The Fords are hot right now. At the end of the day we want to come out of here with a win like we did last year.” – JOHN FORCE
Mike Neff, 42, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 3rd at 4.060 seconds, 312.42 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +2 (2nd quickest of Q2)
First Round Opponent (W-L): Tim Wilkerson (5-9)
Quotable: “Things went well for us in testing and my guys have been great. The runs here have been good and I was trying to run better than it did the last session. It has been responding so I am pretty confident. The conditions have been the same so it hasn’t been that big of an issue.” – MIKE NEFF
ROBERT HIGHT, 41, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 4th at 4.071 seconds, 313.00 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +3 (3rd quickest of Q2 and 2nd quickest of Q3)
First Round Opponent (W-L): Bob Tasca III (2-3)
Quotable: “Looking at the forecast for tomorrow, we should be good. I am ready to get going. It has been way too long of a winter. It has been a long time since I have won a round. The last round win I had was Brainerd last year and that is too long. We have a tough one first round but we are up for it.” – ROBERT HIGHT
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Sunday, February 27
Final Eliminations 11:00 AM
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42nd annual NHRA Gatornationals, March 10-13, Gainesville, Fla.
12th annual SummitRacing.com Nationals, April 1-3, Las Vegas, Nev.
2nd annual NHRA 4-Wide Nationals, April 15-17, Charlotte, N.C.
24th annual O’Reilly Spring Nationals, April 29-May 1, Houston, Texas
31st annual Summit Southern Nationals, May 13-15, Atlanta, Ga.
23rd annual O’Reilly Summer Nationals, May 20-22, Topeka, Kan.