TOPEKA, KS --- The rains came to Heartland Park – Topeka early this morning and throughout most of the day fans were forced to wander the pits wondering if they would see any racing action on the first day of the NHRA Summer Nationals. Once the skies cleared the fans that stayed were treated to some of the most exciting racing action of the 2011 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series in the Funny Car category.
In the first qualifying session John Force led the way for John Force Racing with a strong 4.102 second run at 307.09 mph. It was the second quickest ET of the session tied with Matt Hagan on performance but Force picked up the second place bonus point because the mph of his Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang was faster than Hagan’s DieHard Charger. Cruz Pedregon led the field with a stellar 4.080 second run after one session.
Mike Neff had his hands full on his first run to close out the session when his Castrol GTX Mustang put a rod out at the finish line. He tripped the lights with a time of 4.119 seconds.
The Auto Club Ford Mustang was looking to get a streak of consistent runs started in Topeka but in the first qualifying session Robert Hight’s Funny Car made it through the tough part of the track and then it got interesting for the 2009 Funny Car champion.
“The first run today bad luck again. We broke an exhaust rocker, number four, and then it went a little further and put number two out. That is two cylinders on one side not running and that Mustang moved to the wall and it was unbelievable,” said Hight the 2010 Summer Nationals winner. “I have never had a car so sideways that far down the track. I was like, ’Man did it have a hole?’ out and my guys weren’t sure. I knew something was wrong. It was going right in the groove and then ‘Wham!’ it was heading over. You have to forget that run. It was going to run alright. It was going to make it. It made it through all the bad stuff before it broke the rocker arm. It was going to go.”
As the sun went down and the temperature dropped many in attendance thought record times were on the horizon. At a track where the four second barrier was broken would it be possibly to see the three second barrier erased? While there were no records set tonight nine different Funny Cars made passes in the 4.0s during the night session.
First up for John Force Racing was Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang. Expectations were not super high but the team was looking forward to posting a solid time that would put them in the top half of the field going into Sunday.
“Tonight (crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) was like, ‘We have to be top half on Sunday. I don’t want to go out there and throw up tonight and be on the bottom of the ladder.’ Tomorrow is going to be hot and it will be tougher to race into the top half. When we ran the 4.06 and we were second pair I honestly thought that would put us sixth or seventh,” said Hight. “Theoretically it could have, If Hagan would have run, you never know about Cruz and I honestly thought John was going to run a 4.03 or 4.04. When it is all said and done we were No. 3 and that is kind of a gift but we’ll take it. My Auto Club Mustang went down the track.”
“Like I said at the press conference yesterday I would rather it go down the track all four runs in qualifying than just make one good run in qualifying. You don’t want to be heading into Sunday with only one run down the track. You don’t have a good enough handle on anything if that happens.”
For Hight making a good run on Friday night was important but the team will really be getting ready for Sunday with two more runs tomorrow.
“The easiest part to me to pick up is the early part and I believe we can do that without messing the rest of the run up. I think there are two hundredths in the first 60 feet. If we can get that and that should not be hard to get and if we can get that, that is usually the easy part, we can pick up the rest of the run and it will run 4.04. I am happy.”
Hight’s time held up and he is in great position as the provisional No. 3 qualifier.
Mike Neff and John Force also stepped up in the second session. John Force was not quite pleased with his run but the thing that had him excited about the rest of the weekend was the fact that the weatherman was wrong today.
“Mine was slow. That 4.09 was a little surprising. It didn’t seem to leave hard. We’ll get back at it tomorrow and see what we can do. It is just good to be here. The weather was good. The weatherman was wrong again and the fans have to know to come on out here. Even if they think it is going to rain we are still here. They have to keep coming out.”
Finally, points leader Mike Neff took to the track and was set up for a strong run. His run was solid and has him in the provisional No. 4 spot but the crew chief and driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was expecting more.
“We were looking for more. We got our motor to look good that run. It was wounded on the first run and it wasn’t looking good last weekend. We changed some stuff and to have it go and make a full pass and look good that is a victory for us right now,” said Neff a three time finalist so far in 2011. “We’re top four and it went down the track. I was expecting it to run a little better but we’ll take it and I am just happy we got to make a couple of runs today.”
“It is a whole different story when the sun is out but we have been running good in the heat. I anticipate it being good tomorrow. All in all we are not complaining. It was a good day for this Castrol GTX Mustang.”
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