GAINESVILLE, FL --- Mike Neff and Robert Hight put on a performance show for the big crowd at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville today on the first day of qualifying at the 43rd annual Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals. Neff, the defending event winner and current points leader, had the quickest hot rod on the property in both sessions, 4.107 and 4.080 seconds, and has the provisional No. 1 spot.
“It feels great. The biggest thing is first of all when you come the race is you want to get qualified. It always feels good when it runs good on Friday. When you get in the show on Friday that is one less thing you have to think about. You know tomorrow you will be racing in conditions that will be similar. We can start working on Sunday,” said Neff.
Neff picked up six qualifying bonus points and is in a great position to get a strong set-up to defend his 2011 NHRA Gatornationals title.
“I think the key (to winning) is you have to make four great runs. The driver has to do his job and the car has to do its job. The first two races I messed up. I messed up driving in the first race and then messed up on the tune up in Phoenix. For me I have to drive well and the car has to run better than anybody else. Everything has to be right,” said Neff, a two-time finalist so far this season.
“I do feel pretty good about our Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, my team and the way the car responds. When things are going good you feel good about it and when things aren’t going your way you really appreciate the good times. My confidence is pretty good right now,” added Neff.
Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang briefly had the top spot as he powered to the finish line with a 4.082 second run, one one-thousandth of a second quicker than fellow Ford racer Bob Tasca III in the second session.
“(Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) told me when we left the trailer a 4.10 was what he was trying to run for our second session. Then Tasca ran a 4.08 and we realized we couldn’t be bumped out of the top twelve so I think he got a little more aggressive. It was a perfectly straight run. We’ve done some work on my steering and I feel like I can just control this thing like a sports car,” said Hight, the Phoenix winner.
“It’s really nice. It was a great run, it ran 312 and I knew it was fast because you could hear the motor singin’ down at the other end, but honestly, I told the ESPN people that I didn’t think it would hold with Mike Neff behind me. His car has been running really well and he got me by .002. Anyway, it’s not a bad thing. Three Fords are at the top. Hopefully it can be us in the finals again just like it was in Phoenix and we’ll duke it out!”
Hight won for the 24th time in his career at Phoenix two weeks ago extending to seven his streak of seasons with at least one win. He also won for the first time in Phoenix after reaching the finals twice before. He has never won at the Gatornationals and has never even reached the finals.
Team leader and 15-time Funny Car champion John Force came out strong in his Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang running the second quickest lap of the first session, 4.121 seconds at 299.80 mph. In the second session his Dean Antonelli and Danny DeGennaro tuned Ford Mustang Funny Car smoked the tires before half-track and his first session time has him in the provisional No. 6 position going into Saturday.
Courtney Force kept her Traxxas Mustang Funny Car under control today as it wiggled down the race track at 4.188 seconds with a speed of over 290 mph for the first qualifying shot.
In the second session, Force lifted after her car lost traction shortly after leaving the line and ran a 9.060 ET at 56.10 mph. This is the first time that the 23-year old rookie hasn’t made it down the track under power since her professional debut in Funny Car. Before today, Force’s worst ET was a 4.397. She hung onto the No. 12 bump spot going into Saturday, which allows her to keep her best time today for tomorrow’s efforts.
Nitro qualifying will resume at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville beginning at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow.