CHAMPIONSHIP SECURE, FORCE STILL MOTIVATED
16-Time Champ Aims for Ninth Victory in Season-Ending Auto Club Finals
POMONA, Calif. – He may already have clinched a record 16th NHRA Funny Car championship, but rivals know that John Force isn’t just going to “mail it in” this week when the 2013 Mello Yello tour concludes with the 49th annual Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
In fact, one of the many ways in which Force has kept himself viable for 36 pro seasons is by creating new challenges for himself and his team, not just season-to-season, but race-to-race. .
As a result, when he sends his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang back to work this week, he will focus on what little unfinished business remains in a season in which he has won four races, qualified No. 1 five times, recorded the second quickest run in the 1,000 foot era (3.985 seconds) and set a national speed record (323.50 miles per hour).
With a year like that, one might ask “what else is there?”
Well, while the 64-year-old icon has won the Auto Club Finals a record eight times, he’s never won the finale in an odd-numbered year.
Nevertheless, the most intriguing opportunity for the 2008 inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America is one that would propel him into the company of seven-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher and Pro Stock World Champions Bob Glidden and Greg Anderson.
Schumacher, Glidden and Anderson are the only pro drivers ever to win four consecutive races to close out a season. No one has done so in Funny Car, not even Don “the Snake” Prudhomme, one of Force’s idols in the 1970s and early ‘80s when he was just so much cannon fodder for the frontrunners.
To be in a position to accomplish that feat a year away from his eligibility for Social Security borders on the unimaginable. However, it is much more than just a possibility.
After all, Force has been the No. 1 qualifier at each of the last two events in the Countdown, has been to four straight final rounds and has won three-in-a-row for the 15th time in his career but for the first time since 2005.
He credits crew chief Jimmy Prock and a veteran team that four years ago sent Robert Hight to the podium as a first time champion.
“Most of the guys working on this Funny Car have been here since 2005,” Prock said of his supporting cast. “We have been through the ups and downs, but everybody hung in there and worked together. This is a tough gig working on one of these race cars. Your heart and soul goes into them and when you win, it’s a great feeling.”
“We are learning how to race again,” Force said. “Don Schumacher Racing and Cruz Pedregon have been pounding us, so we needed to get back in the game. Winning is a team effort.”
Despite his success this year, Force admitted that he was a little unnerved by all the “Sweet 16" signs that emerged as he neared his latest title.
“I didn’t like seeing those ‘Sweet 16' signs,’” Force said. “That sounds like I’m quitting. I’m not quitting. I’m going for No. 17 next year. I’m going to be around awhile.”
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ROBERT HIGHT AND AUTO CLUB TEAM LOOKING FOR STRONG FINISH
YORBA LINDA, CA (November 5, 2013) --- Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team are looking forward to coming home. Hight will be racing at his home track in front of family and friends as he targets the No. 2 spot in the Mello Yello Funny Car point standings. Teammate John Force has already locked up the championship but Hight knows that finishing in the No.2 spot and or winning the Auto Club NHRA Finals would give his team momentum going into the off-season.
“You always want to win the last race of the season. That race will hang around with you for months until you can start testing and then come back for the Winternationals. I am excited John locked up the Funny Car championship and equally excited that we are in position to get to that No. 2 spot. We are three rounds out of second place and that is where our focus is,” said Hight.
While the championship may have been decided in Las Vegas there are four tough competitors battling for the two through five spots. Hight and teammate Courtney Force will be trying to drive around Matt Hagan and Jack Beckman during the final race of the season. Hight has won at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona four times in his career. Hagan and Force each have one win at the storied facility with 2012 Funny Car champion only reaching the final but never the winner’s circle.
“There are just some tracks that you feel really comfortable at and that gives you confidence. Auto Club Raceway is one of those tracks for me. We have been competitive in the Countdown so we feel confident coming into the race this weekend,” said Hight, how opened Countdown with win at Charlotte’s zMax Dragway.
The Auto Club Mustang tuned by Mike Neff has been one of the strongest Funny Cars in the category. Hight entered the Countdown in the No. 9 position and jumped to the No. 3 spot after the win in Charlotte. Semi-final finishes in Dallas and St. Louis have kept Hight in the hunt for the championship until Force secured his 16th title in Las Vegas two weeks ago. The competition has never been stronger in the class and a second place finish in the Mello Yello point stands is an attainable goal.
“Your goal when you start the season is to win the Mello Yello Funny Car championship. If we can’t win it then we want one of our teammate to win. If you can’t get the championship then you want to be in the hunt until the last race. Neff and I have really pulled together since winning the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals and then Charlotte. This team is a championship caliber team and we are going for our third win of the season this weekend,” said Hight.
Hight will be trying to lock down his sixth Top 4 finish in nine seasons at the wheel of the Auto Club Ford Mustang. The 2009 series champion enters the season finale in fourth place, only 54 points behind Matt Hagan, who presently occupies the No 2 spot. Hight finished second in 2006 and 2007, third in 2011 and fourth in 2008.
C. FORCE LOOKING TO BOOKEND 2013 WITH POMONA WIN
POMONA, Calif. (November 4, 2013) – Courtney Force kicked off 2013 with a victory in her own backyard at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series season-opener, setting the scene for a great sophomore year in the Funny Car category.
Now, the three-time tour winner is ready to tackle the competition once again at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona for the NHRA Finals.
“It would be huge for our Traxxas Ford Mustang team to pick up another win at Pomona this season,” said Force. “It would be awesome to finish off the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello season on a high note. We are really focused on getting as many points as possible with just this one race left so we can move up and have a strong finish.”
Last time Force raced at Pomona, she qualified in the No. 1 spot and dismissed Phil Burkart Jr., Matt Hagan, Bob Tasca III, and Ron Capps to claim the title.
“Pomona seems to be a lucky track for our team so it's always exciting running here. We've been to the finals and won the last event here so I know my crew chiefs Ron Douglas and Dan Hood have got a pretty good grasp on this race track. As a driver, that makes you feel more confident going into the weekend,” said Force.
Force is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago in Las Vegas for the Toyota NHRA Nationals. The 25-year-old qualified No. 2, beat Tony Pedregon, teammate Robert Hight and Jack Beckman before losing in an emotional final round to her father, and now 16-time champion, John Force. The pair posted a 4.06 to a 4.08 ET.
“Of course I was happy and proud to see my dad win his sixteenth championship, but when I raced him in the final, I was fired up to get the win for my Traxxas team. We went for it 100%. Then, at the finish line when I expected my win light to come on, it didn’t.”
“We had a great car all weekend, we chose the lane that had been working better for us and we made an excellent run, we were just outshined by my dad who ran a little better,” said Force. “The hardest part for me was getting out at the other end and not being able to immediately get over the fact that we didn’t win, while watching my dad celebrate both the win and the Championship a few feet away. It was a bittersweet feeling because I was proud of him, but really wanted that trophy in my own hands. I think that's just my competitive and passionate side for winning that I’ve learned from my dad.”
The Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car driver currently sits No. 5 in the NHRA Mello Yello point standings after moving up two spots in Las Vegas. She also has qualified top five or better at the last five NHRA national events.
“This season was even more challenging than my Rookie season,” said the 2012 Rookie of the Year. Since the Countdown began, it has been tough going rounds past some of these drivers. The hardest part was knowing we had a good, consistent race car and being put on the trailer just after first round. As a driver, of course you make mistakes, but the most important thing is that you learn from them so you can improve the next time and become a better driver. This field is tough and I put a lot of pressure on myself as a driver to not make mistakes.”
For the second race in a row, Force is running a specialty Traxxas Ford Mustang “Rookie of the Year” Funny Car body. The team finished No. 5 overall last year and is hoping to improve on that for 2013.
“We've definitely put it all on the table and as a driver you learn your lesson throughout the season at different tracks so the best thing we can do is use it to our advantage when we return. However, I think our Traxxas team has had an amazing season. We picked up two wins and have been to a few final rounds which is an improvement from last season. We're definitely focused on picking up another win this weekend at my home track,” said Force.
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