BAYTOWN, TX – Mello Yello Funny Car points leader Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team did not let two sub-par runs on Friday distract them on Saturday at the 27th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals. All three John Force Racing Funny Cars qualified for the race and Hight was the highest positioned driver in the No. 4 spot with a solid 4.073 second pass at 312.42 mph. Brittany Force and the Castrol EDGE Top Fuel dragster will go into race day as the No. 8 qualified Top Fuel dragster.

Hight made the quickest runs of both sessions today grabbing six qualifying bonus points and serving notice that his Auto Club Ford Mustang will be one of the cars to beat during eliminations on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

“Today was a really good day for this Auto Club Ford Mustang. We didn’t make good runs yesterday but today’s conditions are race day conditions and we were quickest of both sessions. I have a lot of confidence in Mike Neff and this team,” said Hight. “There was no panic over here last night. We are just focused on the task at hand. Right now that is getting a first round win tomorrow morning. You don’t know what the weather will do but I am excited to be No. 4 and have lane choice.”

After the first session Hight and crew chief Mike Neff looked at the data and made another strong run of 4.085 seconds at 313.22 mph. Two strong runs in both lanes gives the Auto Club team a lot of confidence going into race day. Hight has advanced ot the last four finals in a row with two wins so far in 2014.

Sixteen time Funny Car champion John Force had his legions of loyal fans on the edge of their seats today going into the fourth and final qualifying session. His Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang was not in the field and had not shown its usual level of dominance. The reigning Funny Car champ had been struggling all weekend to make a good run, and the finicky track surface at Royal Purple Raceway kept throwing him curve balls.

“There is always, pressure but when you get in the car you turn it off. Sure you sweat it, but if you go up there not ready Jimmy can give you a good car, and then you are the only one that can screw it up. I wasn’t planning on doing that, so I turned on the switch,” said Force.

In true Force fashion, his 8000 horsepower Mustang blazed the strip with a 4.112 second run at over 297 mph, catapulting him from the No. 17 spot to the No. 7 spot on the final qualifying run. This keeps Force’s qualifying streak alive with 127 events in a row. 

“I went up there and had fun and I got to hear the cheer of the crowd. I would be giving the same interview if I hadn’t qualified. It makes things more exciting when you don’t have a lot of success. This makes you get your ducks in a row,” said John Force.

On today’s first qualifying session, Force’s Castrol-backed Funny Car smoked the tires around the 300-foot mark.

“We got bit the first run, and the second run the timers didn’t work on the clutch, so that took a run away from us. This morning we smoked the tires, but Jimmy fixed it and we went down there,” said Force.

John Force will face rival Cruz Pedregon in round one tomorrow. With lane choice and the fact they made a good clean run today, the Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang team can tune up their Mustang for race day.

“Anything can happen when you come down to the last run. That run will help us for tomorrow. We are definitely glad to get that run behind us,” said Jimmy Prock, crew chief on the Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang.

The last time John Force visited the winner’s circle at the NHRA Spring Nationals was 2002 when he won his 100th Funny Car title. For someone who’s focused on winning, that plays on his mind and makes him more determined.

“We have been in the last twelve finals, including last year and this year. We don’t get cocky, it is just that these cars are good and they make a lot of horsepower. Last week I was runner-up and Robert won. We got here and we got into the heat,” said Force, a 139-time winner.

Courtney Force will race from the No. 16spot on Sunday at the O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals. She will be matched up with No. 1 qualifier Del Worsham in the opening round.

“Our Traxxas team has made the show even though we’re in the No. 16 spot. I’m proud of my guys for working so hard. We’re just trying to work out the kinks in this race car. It’s been a challenging track for us, but I have a lot of confidence in Rob Douglas and Dan Hood that we’ll get this car turned around for eliminations tomorrow,” said Force.

Force posted a 4.413 second run early on Friday at only 213.50 mph and that held through the next three qualifying sessions to put the Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car No. 16. This is the first time ever that Force has qualified in the No. 16 spot. In fact, in her three-year professional Funny Car career, the 25-year-old driver has never qualified worse than the No. 14 spot.

“We’ve got Del Worsham in the first round. It’s going to be tough for us; going up against the No. 1 qualifier, but we’re going to give it all we got. We have nothing to lose from the No. 16 spot. If I have to pedal my heart out, that’s what I have to do,” said Force.

In three years, this is the ninth time Force and Worsham have met on race day and the fourth time they have met in the first round. The 2012 rookie of the year is 1-7 to the DHL-sponsored driver in previous events.

“I know we have a good car over here. We just need to work out the kinks and get back to where we’re comfortable. Hopefully we’ll have a good day tomorrow. I’m happy to be out here. The fans here in Houston have been amazing and I just hope we can go some rounds tomorrow,” said Force.

Once again, Brittany Force has shown the racing community, her fans and fellow competitors that the Castrol EDGE team will be a formidable opponent this season. She qualified nine places better than last year and her Castrol EDGE Dragster is fastest in the pits at Houston Raceway Park. With strong, consistent qualifying runs at this weekend’s O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals, she is ready for tomorrow’s eliminations and is looking to go to her second final round appearance this season.

During the third qualifying session today, Brittany’s 10,000 horsepower Castrol EDGE dragster scorched the pavement at Royal Purple Raceway Park with a 3.801 second run that moved her to the No. 8 spot and back in the top half of the field. What was just as impressive was the speed of her Castrol EDGE Dragster, as it stopped the clocks at over 325 mph, making it the fastest run for any competitor during the past two days.

“On the third qualifying pass the Castrol EDGE team made a good run. You know, we keep improving on each pass and that’s exactly what we want to do. I ended up running a 3.80 and had the top speed with 325 miles per hour and I was really excited about that,” said Force.  

On the fourth and final run today, Force was on a great pass when an unforeseen mechanical failure before the finish line caused her dragster to shut off early. Despite running 3.985 seconds, Brittany did not get bumped from her No.8 spot and stays in the top half of the field with lane choice going into round one tomorrow. 

“Going into our fourth qualifying pass we wanted to improve. Unfortunately I lifted at 800 feet, due to an engine and clutch problem and we didn’t get the car down the track like we hoped. It didn’t go as planned but we ended up in the number eight spot and I’m looking forward to racing tomorrow,” said Force, the 2013 Auto Club Rookie of the Year.

Force will have lane choice when she lines up next to rookie Richie Crampton in the opening round on Sunday. She doesn’t take any racer lightly and remembers it was Crampton that put her on the trailer in round one at the season opener NHRA Winternationals. Crew chief Todd Smith will make sure her Castrol EDGE Dragster is tuned up before she pulls up to the line on race day.

“I’m excited to be racing Richie Crampton, he’s a rookie, as it’s his first year out here. I remember how I felt during my rookie season, so I know what’s he’s going though. Sometimes I feel like I’m still a rookie,” said Brittany Force. 

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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 2014, Issue 4, Posted 1:04 AM, 04.27.2014