CHARLOTTE, NC ---- For one afternoon history repeated itself at the 6th annual Carlyle Tools Carolina NHRA Nationals as Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang won and made a dramatic jump up the Mello Yello Funny Car point standings. In 2009 Hight defeated Matt Hagan in the finals and in the process jumped from 10th to 3rd in the point standings. Today in front of a packed crowd at zMax Dragway Hight again bested Hagan and moved from 9th to 3rd heading to the second race of the Countdown to the Championship.

Hight used a superior reaction time .055 to .074 to seal the win when his Auto Club Mustang crossed the finish line with an elapsed time of 4.083 to Hagan’s 4.066.

“Not many people beat Matt Hagan on a hole-shot. I am not going to count on doing it again either. That team has been No. 1 for a reason all year. I am pretty sure there are a lot of Funny Car drivers that are happy that I won,” said Hight, who has now won eight rounds of racing in a row. “To have him come in here No. 1 in points and leave with the win would have been devastating to the whole class trying to catch him. That was a 40 point swing for me. I was 100 back coming into the Countdown and if I would have lost it would have been 120. Now it is 80 points with five races to go. 120 points is a mountain to climb.”

In 2009 it was a Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock combination getting the win and today Hight relied on crew chief Mike Neff to lead him to victory.

“I have said it before but Mike Neff is the smartest Funny Car racer out here. We could have tried to go up there on Friday night and do something we have never done before which is try to make a three second run, but Neff made it go down the track. We ran 4.04 and it got us in the top half. Mission accomplished for Mike Neff,” said Hight, who was the No. 8 qualifier this weekend.

“That is how he races. Yesterday we came out here and in the first session we were the quick car and we were second quickest in the second session in the worse of the two lanes. We picked up five bonus points and we are definitely counting points. I have learned from Mike Neff that even if we are struggling a little in qualifying you ignore it because he gets his act together on race day.”

Hight came out in the first round and outran rookie Chad Head 4.075 to 4.863 seconds. In the second round he had to race No. 1 qualifier Cruz Pedregon and Hight stepped up with a 4.055 seconds to 4.103 seconds win and set up a JFR versus JFR semi-final match-up with teammate Courtney Force.

“The first three round we were the quick car. We don’t have a whole lot of time to celebrate we move right on to the AAA Texas Fall Nationals in Ennis next weekend. It will be a total different set of circumstances. You know it will be hot this time of year,” said Hight.

Coming into this race Hight had some momentum for him win at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. It was Hight’s first win in 35 races and his third win at the biggest race on the NHRA Mello Yello Series schedule.

“The Indy win was huge. When we switched teams I knew I was getting in a really good race car. Suddenly we just went silent and I started doubting myself. I started thinking it was me. When you have self-doubt you are not performing to your best. To pull it all together at the biggest race of the year was huge. I am not looking back because you can’t be over confident. We will have our hands full,” added Hight.

“The standings haven’t shown how good this team is. We had a lot of goofy things happen. I lost on a hole shot in Sonoma when the fire bottles went off. We just had a lot of goofy things going wrong like spark plugs going out. We were better than that and luckily we pulled it all together before Indy. I have a great team. These guys work night and day and they are so meticulous. My guys at the Auto Club team were awesome too. I have been lucky to work with two great teams. I watched my guys between rounds today and my blower guy took the blower apart because he wanted to double check that he put oil in it. It was all correct but he wanted to be sure. These guys aren’t leaving anything to chance. We are clicking. This is only one race.”

Courtney Force moved up a total of 46 points this weekend after dismissing Bob Tasca III and Ron Capps from the show. Force started the 2013 Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship in the No. 7 spot, but picked up enough points to put her in the No. 6 spot going into the next race in Ennis, Texas just outside Dallas.

Force and her Traxxas Ford Mustang team posted a quick 4.094 at 313.95 mph to beat Ford driver Tasca III. This was the eighth time the pair has matched up in eliminations, the fourth time they have met in first round. Force is now 7-1 to Tasca III, 4-0 in first round encounters.

 “All three of our Funny Cars got through first round and we ran a pretty good number for that session. The started coming out and the track started heating up a little bit, but to go out there and still run a 4.09 was great for that session. It was a close race against Tasca, another Ford Mustang out there. He’s a tough competitor. You really get fired up when you’re going up against him. We’re going after that championship and you really have to make every round count,” said Force.

Force and the Traxxas Ford Mustang were able to pick up their second round win against Ron Capps for her fourth career win over the Don Schumacher Racing driver. She posted a 4.107 ET at 311.77 mph to Capps’ 4.112 ET at 309.20 mph.

“We had a really tough second round against Capps and won by just .002 of a second. It’s always tough going up against those Schumacher cars. I was really excited we were able to get that win. I was trying to stay on my game, keep the car shallow. We were aiming to get lane choice in the semis, but Robert outran us,” said Force.

“I’m excited for our Traxxas Ford Mustang team that we were able to score that big round win over Capps. These guys have been working hard and I’m glad I was able to do my job up there on the starting line. I left right with him and we were able to outrun him for the win,” said Force.

The 25-year-old driver suffered a loss in the semi-final round to teammate and brother-in-law, Robert Hight. Her Traxxas Ford Mustang smoked the tires at the beginning of the run as Hight went sailing down the track.

“I ran Robert in the semis. It’s always tough going against a teammate and Robert has a really good car over there. We didn’t have lane choice on that run and we struggled a little early trying to get our car down there. We knew they were going to put a good number on the board so we were prepared to give it our all. The track just wasn’t agreeing with the numbers we put in the car. It struck the tires pretty early and I tried to pedal it, but he was long gone.”

“It was a tough round loss for us, but we’re excited thinking about the fact that we did move up in points. We gained some points in qualifying and going rounds today and I think that’s the most important thing- to focus on the positives. I think we’ve taken a step forward and we’re excited to get to Dallas,” said Force.

John Force and the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang dropped a tough second round race to eventual finalist Matt Hagan. The 15-time champion left the starting line first but at the finish line it was Hagan winning with a 4.063 second run to Force’s 4.098 second pass.

Force, the No. 7 qualifier,  had a strong outing in the first round with his Jimmy Prock tuned Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car taking out veteran and fellow Countdown competitor Johnny Gray. In the opening session Force posted the second quickest elapsed time, 4.076 seconds, to Gray’s 4.144 seconds.

“We’re starting to have race cars that look really good. We’re Funny Car people, but we’ll find our way with the Castrol EDGE dragster and my daughter (Brittany Force) is learning,” said Force.  “But my Castrol GTX Funny Car is running, Courtney’s is running, the sponsors Castrol, Ford, Auto Club, Brandsource, Traxxas, Mac Tools, they ought to be proud. Robert (Hight) to pull it out with a .055 light against Matt Hagan who ain’t no slouch. We got some good race cars. We got a shot at this title.”

In a tough turn of events for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award contender, Brittany Force, she lost a close race to new Top Fuel Mello Yello points leader Spencer Massey. The 27 year-old driver from Yorba Linda, California made a strong run in her Castrol EDGE Top Fuel dragster, 3.834 seconds to Massey’s 3.822 seconds. It was the fourth time these drivers have faced off and each time Force has given Massey a tough race but come up just a few hundredths of a second short. In this race both dragsters had issues at the top end but Massey was able to hold on for the win.

“It was definitely a good run for the Castrol EDGE team. It just wasn’t quick enough though. Spencer Massey is a tough competitor. He keeps whooping me, but we will get him one of these days,” said Force. “We ran a 3.82 to his 3.81, so it was still a very good run for us and I’m very happy about that. I think we would have made it down there, except we had some problems right at 700 feet which really slowed us down.”


FUNNY CAR – 1. Matt Hagan, 2214; 2. Ron Capps, 2132; 3. Robert Hight, Auto Club Ford Mustang, 2128; 4. Jack Beckman, 2122; 5. John Force, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, 2116; 6. Courtney Force, Traxxas Ford Mustang, 2106; 7. Johnny Gray, 2102; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 2101; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 2057; 10. Del Worsham, 2037

TOP FUEL – 1. Spencer Massey, 2174; 2. Shawn Langdon, 2150; 3. Morgan Lucas, 2144; 4. Doug Kalitta, 2131; 5. Tony Schumacher, 2112; 6. Clay Millican, 2104; 7. Khalid alBalooshi, 2087; 8. Bob Vandergriff, 2051; 9. Antron Brown, 2050; 10. Steve Torrence, 2044; 11. David Grubnic, 784; 12. Brandon Bernstein, 688; 13. Brittany Force, 664

PRO STOCK – 1. Mike Edwards, 2194; 2. Jeg Coughlin, 2184; 3. Jason Line, 2147; 4. Allen Johnson, 2134; 5. Shane Gray, 2110; 6. Vincent Nobile, 2095; 7. Erica Enders-Stevens, 2085; 8. Greg Anderson, 2083; 9. V Gaines, 2074; 10. Roger Brogdon, 2031

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE – 1. Hector Arana Jr, 2183; 2. Matt Smith, 2150; 3. Hector Arana, 2147; 4. Michael Ray, 2135; 5. Scotty Pollacheck, 2095; 6. John Hall, 2094; 7. Eddie Krawiec, 2085; 8. LE Tonglet, 2082; 9. Adam Arana, 2054; 10. Shawn Gann, 2031


JOHN FORCE, 64, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang

Final Qualifying: 7th at 4.038 seconds, 317.94 mph

Bonus qualifying points: +3 (Quickest of Q4)

Race results: Beat Johnny Gray, Lost to Matt Hagan

ROBERT HIGHT, 44, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang

Final Qualifying: 8th at 4.042 seconds, 309.84 mph

Bonus qualifying points: +5 (Quickest of Q3 and 2nd quickest of Q4)

Race results: Beat Chad Head, Cruz Pedregon, Courtney Force, Matt Hagan

COURTNEY FORCE, 25, Traxxas Ford Mustang

Final Qualifying: 4th at 4.021 seconds, 319.37 mph.

Bonus qualifying points: +1 (3rd quickest of Q1)

Race results: Beat Bob Tasca III, Ron Capps, Lost to Robert Hight

BRITTANY FORCE, 27, Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster

Final Qualifying: 10th 3.812 seconds, 307.37 mph

Bonus qualifying points: +2 (3rd quickest of Q1 and Q3)

Race results: Lost to Spencer Massey

* * * *

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 12:41 AM, 09.16.2013