POMONA, CA --- Heading into the weekend at the 52nd annual O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals John Force Racing is half in and half out but totally focused. Led by John Force and Courtney Force in the provisional No. 6 and No. 8 positions respectively, John Force Racing will have two more qualifying opportunities on Saturday.
John Force once again led the quartet of Blue Oval Funny Cars with the quickest time of the group, a solid 4.185 second pass at 300.40 mph. At the top end Force was excited to be back in the game on back to back days and he was also confident his teammates would turn it around.
“Mike Neff and that Castrol Mustang were flying. I don’t know what happened. It looked fast. He knows where he is at with his tune-up. I am excited to have Traxxas out here, our new sponsor with Castrol, Auto Club, Ford, Mac Tools and BrandSource. Thank you Mr. Jenkins (Mike Jenkins president of Traxxas) for the job,” said Force.
At the end of the day Force was looking at how his team had pulled together to start the season with some new personnel and a new tune-up.
“We have struggled for a year now and with Courtney being new she just needs to make laps. I am not worried about (crew chiefs) Jimmy (Prock) or (Mike) Neff. Neff had some deal with the tree or with the way that he staged. He made a good run it just didn’t show it in the ET. These numbers today don’t matter when you get into tomorrow with the cool air because everybody will be running 4.0s and low teens,” said the 133-time national event winner. “For my team led by Dean Antonelli and Danny DeGennaro getting two good runs was critical. We have struggled for a long time and now we have a new combination. We are walking into it and we didn’t try and step on it and run a 4.10. We were trying to run 4.16 and it dropped a cylinder and ran 4.18.”
Force’s attention has been on his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang Funny Car and the development of his youngest daughter’s driving skills.
“I kind of pulled back today and I let (sister) Ashley (Force Hood) have her (Courtney). Sometimes I give her too much information. I am a worried parent just like a regular person. She is keeping her nose clean and she was working the media all day. I did tell her now is the fun part when you get in the car. She’ll be OK it is just going to take some time.”
With great weather the fans have been turning out in droves at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. All the JFR drivers have been in high demand but for the 15-time Funny Car champion the request for autographs can be overwhelming.
“The fans are just great and it is amazing what they do for me. They just motivate me and I love it. I tell all my drivers you have to love the fans, love the media and love your sponsors. We have had Castrol, Auto Club, Ford, Mac Tools and BrandSource for years and now we added Traxxas. Traxxas is giving money to everybody in the Nitro ranks with the Shootout at Indy. Everyone has a chance to win $100,000 in Top Fuel or Funny Car. That is big. We all have a chance and it starts this weekend.”
Nipping at Force’s heels in the qualifying order are the two women vying for the rookie of the year award, Alexis DeJoria and Courtney Force. Their ETs are separated by one thousandth of a second. For the youngest racing Force getting another quick time was a big step in the right direction.
“We only had one shot today and I think we made a good run. We ran a (4).19 which I think is a good number. That put me in the number 8 spot going into Saturday. I think the most important thing is we’ve been consistent and we’ve been building from one run to the next. I hope to keep doing that tomorrow with our two qualifying passes so we can make it into the show,” said Force.
“It’s going to be tough; we’re going up against some big hitters and just doing the best we can with a new team and a new driver, but I think we’re ready for it. I’m learning new things each time I get in the car and that’s very important. I think we’re doing great as a team, the only thing we can do now is keep our heads up and do even better tomorrow.”
For the second day in a row championship contenders Robert Hight and Mike Neff struggled. The Auto Club Ford Mustang driven by Hight posted a time of 6.371 seconds which was the 18th quickest time of the event but will not carry over into Saturday leaving the three time Winternationals winner with two shots to get into the program.
“We twisted a blower shaft yesterday and that put us behind the eight ball. It shook today but we’ll get the Auto Club Ford Mustang in there tomorrow definitely,” said Hight.
For Neff, the five time winner in 2011, the issues his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang have succumbed to have been equal parts frustrating and surprising.
“That was definitely not what we were looking for. Something happened with the lights. It was on a good run and you can see it had a lot of power at the top end. The ET just wasn’t there on the scoreboard. Hopefully we’ll get a couple more tries tomorrow and see how it goes,” said Neff.
Qualifying will continue tomorrow 11:30 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.
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