Robert Hight in particular wants that Raceway Park win on his resume
In every sport there are venues or stadiums that need to superlatives. They are the fields and courts where history oozes out of the walls and rafters. Fenway. The Garden. Lambeau Field. For the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Old Bridge Township Raceway Park is the gold standard. One of the longest-standing NHRA national events and it location on the East Coast make winning the Toyota Summernationals a “Major” win for any professional drag racer.
“I have won Indy a couple times, I have won Gainesville a couple of times, and I even have a Mello Yello Championship but I don’t have that win at Raceway Park. That is something I want to do before I am done. My crew chief Mike Neff has won here as a driver so I feel really good coming into the race this weekend,” said Robert Hight (in photo), who is the current Funny Car points leader.
Hight and the Auto Club Ford team had a six final rounds in a row streak snapped last weekend in Topeka, Kansas, by teammate Courtney Force, who snagged the 100th win for a female pro NHRA racer. During that streak Hight picked up four wins and was looking for his fourth in a row at the Kansas Nationals. It was a tough loss but did not take away from the team’s hot start.
The Auto Club Ford Mustang has been the picture of consistency. He had one of the most consistent race cars in qualifying at the Kansas Nationals running 4.091, 4.040 and 4.055 seconds and in the first round Hight posted another solid 4.073 second run. Going back to the final three rounds of Atlanta where the Auto Club Ford Mustang got its 33rd win running 4.053, 4.074 and 4.049 it has averaged 4.053 seconds on it last seven runs down the track.
The racing surface and conditions at Raceway Park could also lead to historically quick times. While Hight and Neff have been solid in qualifying they have been nearly unstoppable on race day. Since Hight has teamed up with Neff before the Denver race last season they have had the quickest car on race day seven times. They have only been outside of being one of the three quickest cars on race day three times. They have also only dropped three first round race reaching at least the semi-finals over half of the time.
“Consistency and focus are really the keys to our success on the Auto Club team. I have a great group of guys working with Neff to put this Ford Mustang Funny Car together. Neff gives me a really high level of confidence and doesn’t put pressure on me. I think it really helps that he was a driver and won big-time races. I will continue to do my job and even step it up so we can get on another hot streak,” added Hight.
As for team owner John Force, he is looking for his 140th win at the NHRA Toyota Summernationals.
Once again, John Force got bit by mechanical gremlins last Sunday at the NHRA Kansas Nationals and he’s not happy. The 16-Time NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car Champion had looked strong during qualifying but it literally all went up in smoke in round one on race day. The Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang’s 8,000 horsepower B0SS 500 engine boiled the massive Goodyear slicks when John wacked the throttle.
However, that’s in the past and the team led by crew chief Jimmy Prock, have been working hard to eradicate these gremlins which have affected the operation of the clutch. They would like nothing more than to get John Force his 140th career victory and gain some valuable NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car points at this weekend’s NHRA Toyota Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey.
“We are struggling somewhat but I have a great brain trust with Jimmy Prock, Danny DeGennaro and the rest of the guys. We will get the issue fixed because if you’re not consistent on race day, you don’t go rounds. If you don’t go rounds, then you don’t win. Our sponsors like Castrol, Auto Club, Traxxas, Mac Tools, Peak and BrandSource pay us to win, that’s our job,” said John Force.
For John Force, it might tough as he’s been winless at the NHRA Summernationals for 15 long years. That’s the longest the Hall of Fame Funny Car driver has gone without a victory at any track on the NHRA Mello Yello Series. Surprisingly, John Force hasn’t reached the final round at the NHRA Summernationals since 2004.
At last year’s NHRA Summernationals, John Force only managed to qualify 10th with a 4.132 second run at 291.63 mph. In the opening round of eliminations, he defeated fellow teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight but lost to Del Worsham in the quarter-finals.
Like daughter Brittany, coming back Englishtown also holds a special place in John Force’s heart. It was here back in John’s early days as an aspiring Funny Car driver that the track owner, Vinny Napp, booked John in for some match races.
“It’s always special to come back to Englishtown, because that’s where I got my start. I hadn’t even been east of Phoenix when Vinny Napp booked me into one of his Funny Car races for the first time. Once that happened, a couple other promoters gave me a shot and it just grew from there,” said John Force. ”
On Thursday, John Force along daughter Brittany will be the honorary guests of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Wayne, New Jersey. During this event, the medical staff will receive their first WT-960 TRAN-SIT® Car Transfer Simulator that will help patients reclaim their independence by providing them a convenient and safe method of regaining their basic driving skills within a controlled environment.
“I remember my crash and the doctors and nurses that worked in putting this old man back together to race again. Anything we can do to help people who have been in accidents and are trying to learn to drive again is pretty cool,” said John Force.
After winning his 16th NHRA Mello Yello world championship in 2013, John Force kicked off the 2014 NHRA tour with a commanding victory at the season opener NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. Once again, crew chief Jimmy Prock showed the world he’s one of the best tuners when it comes to 8000 horsepower fire breathing nitro fueled V8 engines as the Castrol GTX Mustang broke both ends of the NHRA national record by going 3.966 seconds at 324.12 mph.
Following his NHRA Winternationals win, John Force has made a final-round appearance at the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida and the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte this year. John knows his crew will make sure his trusty steed is tuned-up and ready for whatever conditions he will face during this weekend’s NHRA Summernationals.
Courtney Force is coming off a big weekend and a big win, and he will strive to keep the momentum going with her Traxxas Ford Mustang team in Englishtown, N.J. for the 45th annual Toyota NHRA Summernationals, the ninth stop on the NHRA Mello Yello series tour.
“My focus right now is just to continue pushing forward and taking it round by round. We need to pick up those bonus points throughout qualifying and really make it happen on race day. You have to have a consistent race car. If you don't win every race, at least try to go some rounds every weekend and try to make your way up to the top,” said Force.
Making her way to the top is exactly what Force and her Traxxas Ford Mustang team are doing. They made history last weekend when they picked up the 100th professional win by a female in NHRA. Force put up a fight in the Funny Car category, qualifying No. 1 on Saturday and going on to take down Dale Creasy Jr., Jeff Arend, and Tommy Johnson Jr. before dismissing Cruz Pedregon in her first final round appearance of the year.
“As a kid growing up watching my dad race, his biggest competitor out there was Cruz Pedregon. He and Cruz always had that back and forth, wanting to get that win. They both had good cars. They were both great drivers. To have me in the lane next to him, all my childhood is flashing before my eyes. Anytime I have to go against Cruz, he's one of the toughest guys out there and it's always nerve-wracking running against him,” said Force.
In the last two NHRA events, Force has taken her Traxxas team from No. 10 in points all the way up to No. 5, and not far out of the No. 4 spot. This weekend’s race in Englishtown is the third stop along a three-race swing and Force is hoping to keep a consistent race car.
“I mean, consistency is key. Looking at it right now, I mean, my dad and Robert both have such a huge gap on everybody; they're really making it tough. But luckily come Indy, you know, once top 10 is set, that's when you really have to chase after everyone, the last half of the season. There are some tough competitors out here, my teammate being the toughest one at this point right now. We're just going to work hard and hopefully have a consistent racecar and keep my focus all season long because our ultimate goal is to win a championship,” said force.
And finally, after coming off her first number one Top Fuel qualifying position, Brittany Force is excited to be heading to Englishtown, New Jersey, for the NHRA Toyota Summernationals. The 2013 NHRA Rookie of the Year is ready to keep the momentum going and jump back into the seat of her 10,000 horsepower Castrol EDGE Dragster. By running a career best ET and speed last weekend and going to the semi-finals in Topeka, Brittany Force is primed to bring the Castrol EDGE team and John Force Racing their first Top Fuel victory
While Brittany was just as determined and capable in becoming the 100th NHRA female professional driver to win a national event, she’s just as proud in seeing her younger sister, Courtney Force, achieve that milestone last weekend at the NHRA Kansas Nationals.
“I’m so proud of her (Courtney Force) and she’s worked so hard. The fact her team had been struggling the last few races and then ends up qualified number one and wins the race and the 100th female victory in Topeka is awesome,” said Brittany Force.
With her new Castrol EDGE Dragster getting dialed-in and the crew working as a cohesive unit, now more than ever the 27 year old Brittany Force prefers back-to-back races rather two or even three week breaks between events.
“It’s nice going from last weekend and jumping right into this weekend. I think I perform better when we’re constantly on the move and have back-to-back races as it keeps my focus in the right place,” said Brittany Force.
There’s another reason why Brittany’s confidence is high going into this weekend’s NHRA Toyota Nationals, she’s been down Englishtown’s Old Bridge Township Raceway Park many times before. When Brittany competed in the NHRA Sportsman ranks, she ran both her Super Comp Dragster and A/Fuel Dragster down this historic drag strip that was built in 1965.
“I’m ready to go to Englishtown, I love this place. I’ve been going there for years and I ran there in my A/Fuel Dragster so I’m very familiar with that track and I’m ready to get out there and win this thing,” said Brittany Force
On Thursday, Brittany Force and her father, 16-time NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car Champion John Force, will be attending a special media function at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Wayne, New Jersey. During this event, the medical staff will receive their first WT-960 TRAN-SIT® Car Transfer Simulator that will help patients reclaim their independence by providing them a convenient and safe method of regaining their basic driving skills within a controlled environment.
“I love staying involved and being busy. I remember when my dad (John Force) had his terrible accident and how important the rehabilitation process was. I’m glad Castrol and us can be a part of this and help out,” said Brittany Force.
At last year’s NHRA Toyota Nationals, Brittany Force and the Castrol EDGE Dragster defeated Doug Kalitta in round one and went on to face Spencer Massey in the quarter-finals. As her Castrol EDGE Dragster launched off the line, it began to lose traction early. Despite Brittany’s best efforts to pedal her out-of-shape race car, Massey got the win.
Currently eighth in NHRA Mello Yello points chase, Brittany’s very pleased with how her team has stepped up its game with strong and consistent qualifying performances at the last few races.
For now, the always-optimistic 27 year-old Brittany Force and her team are looking forward to getting their first win at Englishtown. She’s focused on qualifying in the top half of the field and going rounds on race day.
“I’m very proud of my guys and we ran great at Topeka. I was hoping to make it to the finals but I know it’ll happen real soon,” said Brittany Force.
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