CHARLOTTE, NC (Sept. 14, 2013) – On the eve of the Countdown to the Championship’s first race John Force and Robert Hight served notice that they will be ready for race day. The tandem posted the quickest or second quickest runs in both sessions today at the Carlyle Tools Carolina NHRA Nationals.

Robert Hight and his Auto Club Ford Mustang earned five qualifying bonus points today and wound up as the No. 8 qualifier. In the first session Hight was the quickest Funny Car tripping the lights in 4.091 seconds; the only Funny Car to run in the 4.0 range. In the second session, still in the heat, Hight’s Mike Neff tuned Funny Car crossed the finish line in 4.081 seconds, .001 seconds quicker than Don Schumacher Racing rival Matt Hagan.

“We gained five points today, so that’s big. It would have been nice to qualify a little higher Saturday night, but seeing that we didn’t make it down the track the first run we did what we had to do. Basically we’re going to be racing in conditions like this tomorrow and I think I had the two best runs today,” said the 2009 Carlyle Tools Carolina NHRA Nationals winner.

“The left lane is not as good as the right lane and we were quick when we were in the right and we were second when we were in the left. Mike Neff has a really good handle on this thing. If we need to step up a little bit like he said tomorrow, it’s plenty safe. If we have to step up, we’re racing somebody tough I think we can. I’m excited and I’m ready to get this Countdown started.”

Hight is excited about the prospects of racing tomorrow especially since they made two good runs in race day conditions.

“It’ll be fine. It’s going to be similar tomorrow. The conditions, if you look at the weather forecast, it’s going to be very similar to today. Today really was what counted. When we got out of here first and second in our two runs, can’t do much better than that,” said Hight.

John Force ended the day with the quickest run of any Funny Car on the property. His Jimmy Prock tuned Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car blasted down the track in 4.064 seconds and was far and away the quickest Funny Car under the Carolina sun.

At the top end Force was excited about how well the Castrol GTX race car performed and the prospect of racing under similar conditions on Sunday.

 “We absolutely love this track here in Charlotte. Jimmy Prock got after that thing,” said Force. “I can’t wait to see what Courtney and Robert are going to do. I felt like I was shot out of a cannon. I thought it ain’t gonna hold but it was holding at 100 feet, 200 feet and then at the finish line. It kept on trucking right to the lights. I have a race car that is like a rocket ship so now I have to win a race.”

For the 25th time in her two year Funny Car career, Courtney Force will start in the top half of the field on race day, this time occupying the No. 4 spot. She will face Ford competitor Bob Tasca III in the opening round. This will be the 8th time the pair has met in eliminations and she is currently 6-1 against him. Three of those meetings were in the first round and Force is 3-0 to Tasca in those match-ups.

Force’s Traxxas Ford Mustang smoked the tires and therefore posted a 5.138 ET at 145.25 mph in the third qualifying session, the first to begin Saturday’s events.

 “For me, this is one of the more challenging tracks on the NHRA circuit, just because the first part of the run is going uphill a little and then for the rest of the run it kind of evens out. In my case, this last run I let it move a little to the left on me and when I went to correct it, it was too big of a correction and it spun the tires. Unfortunately we lost out on that run. I’m obviously really hard on myself as a driver. You want to have every run perfectly straight going down the race track and sometimes things happen. Lucky for us, I’ve got a great, supportive team behind me and we’re looking ahead to race day tomorrow,” said Force.

In the fourth and final qualifying session, Force posted a 4.142 ET at 310.98 mph in the heat. The 25-year-old did not improve during Saturday’s qualifying efforts, but the Traxxas Ford Mustang team held tight to their 4.021 ET at 319.37 mph from Friday’s night session

“We were looking to run a little better and a little closer to our teammates running in the 4.0’s, but, you know what, we got our car down there and I think that’s all that matters is having a consistent race car going into race day. We’ll have a tough first round match-up with Bob Tasca III in his Ford, so it will be two Fords, but hopefully our Traxxas team can move on to the next round. It’s pretty crucial now because it’s the start of the Countdown, this is where it all begins and it starts tomorrow,” said Force.

Auto Club Road to the Future candidate Brittany Force remained strong in the final two qualifying sessions at zMax Dragway as she was tenth on the qualifying ladder at the end of the day.

In round three of qualifying, Force was third quickest of the session with a 3.816 elapsed time. With rising track temperatures, it was going to be tough for any team to improve in the fourth session. Midway down the track, Force had to lift off the throttle and coasted down the track. Despite not improving, she was able to qualify her Castrol EDGE dragster inside the top ten.

“We ended up tenth at the end of the day,” Force said. “We actually moved down two spots from the previous runs. Our first run of the day was a good one. We ran a 3.816 elapsed time. On the last run we wanted to improve, but unfortunately we didn’t. I had to lift early and we didn’t get the car all the way down the track like we wanted to. You know, we ended up tenth and we get to race in the show tomorrow, so I’m excited about that.”

Force posted her career best elapsed time this weekend and earned two qualifying bonus points.

“That’s exactly what we want,” said Force. “We got the best ET we’ve had all year and got to gain bonus points from that. It’s not like we’re in the Countdown and can move up, but this Castrol EDGE team is going to go after that No. 11 spot in the points. That’s the highest spot we can possibly get, so we’re going to go for that.”

Going into Sunday’s elimination rounds, the 27-year-old Southern California native will once again square off against Don Schumacher Racing’s Spencer Massey. They have faced each other three different occasions throughout the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. Force remains optimistic that anything can happen going into eliminations.

“He’s an awesome guy,” Force said. “I talk to him on and off the track and he loves being out here just as much as I do. He’s excited to be out here and he’s such a great competitor. He has beaten me three times this year, so I’m thinking it’s the Castrol EDGE teams turn to get the win. Anything can happen on Sunday.”

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Dusty Brandel

President of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association, Inc. Worked with Mike Hollander since Tapsis, Compuserve, etc. and has posted to the website since the beginning. First Female photo-journalist to be given a garage and pit pass for the NASCAR garage, 1972 at Ontario Motor Speedway. One of first seven female writers, photographers given access to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage and pits in 1971. Past President of Greater Los Angeles Press Club, 1992-96, and first female editor of the 8-Ball publication for the Press Club

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Volume 2013, Issue 9, Posted 8:11 PM, 09.14.2013