SONOMA, CA --- On Friday at the 24th annual NHRA FRAM/Autolite Nationals John Force picked up right where he left off in Denver sitting in the No. 1 spot as the sun set on Infineon Raceway. Force, the seven-time FRAM/Autolite Nationals winner, was the quickest Funny Car in each session and picked up six qualifying bonus points for his efforts. His final run of the evening, 4.060 seconds, moved the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang around Robert Hight’s Auto Club Ford Mustang’s 4.084 second pass.
“When the two guys ahead of us both stepped up and we were bumped out. Guido said, ‘Force it is just too nice’ and I just don’t have that kind of nerve. I just like to slip into the show. The boys wanted to run for it and they did,” said Force, the 138-time No. 1 qualifier. “They got it. It felt really good. I still love the racing so much. I got my lucky coin. Robert was given a coin by the Woods brothers and then they went out and won Daytona and he won the Winternationals this year. Jack Roush gave me this coin in Oshkosh. He said everybody has to have a lucky coin. I am going to carry this all weekend and see what happens.”
Force entered the final session of the day as the No. 1 driver but by the time he pulled up to the starting line he was on the verge of falling out of the top twelve. He caught a break as Tim Wilkerson forced a pause in the action due to sun glare in his lane. After about a ten minute wait Wilkerson ran and the delay allowed the track to cool off enough for Force co-crew chiefs Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas to press for the No. 1 spot.
“That shows you how the game is played. You are hero to zero. We counted cars right up until we ran. I asked what happens if we get a heart wave tomorrow I want to be in the top twelve. Let’s either put her in or try and go low. I have to be honest Wilkerson helped when he refused to run there but the sun was in his eyes which you can’t blame him,” said Force. “The track cooled and cooled or (Hight crew chief) Jimmy Prock might have been low. His hot rod would have run better if they would have been later like us. Luck is just a big part of this sometimes. We all waited for the sun to drop and I changed my visor to get rid of the dark shield and I went back to the clear. The credit just goes to my guys. This race track is awesome. We are at sea level and we just love it. The weather has been so beautiful here. We got down it and we’ll see what happens.”
While Force was dominating Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang were sneaking up on a consistent tune-up. Hight extended his lead by a few points on Jack Beckman who is right behind Hight in third place in the Full Throttle point standings but he and crew chief Jimmy Prock are still searching.
“I am happy to be in the show and really happy to be 1-2 with John. This was far, far from a perfect run. We have some work to do to fix this Auto Club Ford Mustang,” said Hight, the 2008 NHRA FRAM/Autolite Nationals winner. “Jimmy is looking for a few things and we are working on getting it fixed. We don’t want to screw up everything from the past five months. We are going to try and get it fixed in the two runs tomorrow. We got some more bonus points on Beckman which is good. We’ll get her fixed tomorrow.”
Points leader Mike Neff and his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang did not race to the top of the field and actually they are in the provisional No. 9 spot after his best run of 4.135 seconds was pushed down the field as conditions improved. For the 2011 four-time winner starting from outside the top couple of spots is not an impossible task. This season Neff was tuned and driven his way to the winner’s circle from the No. 3 (Gainesville), No. 7 (Englishtown), and No. 5 (Norwalk) positions.
All three JFR Mustangs will have two more shots to earn qualifying bonus points or in Neff’s case move into the top half of the field tomorrow at Infineon Raceway.
* * * *
JOHN FORCE, 62, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Friday Qualifying: 1st at 4.060 seconds, 311.99 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +6 (Quickest of Q1 and Q2)
MIKE NEFF, 44, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Friday Qualifying: 9th at 4.135 seconds, 305.49 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
ROBERT HIGHT, 41, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Friday Qualifying: 2nd at 4.084 seconds, 311.49 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +2 (2nd quickest of Q2)