TOPEKA, KS ---- For the third time in four years Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team were running for the money on Sunday afternoon at the NHRA Kansas Nationals. Facing veteran Johnny Gray and his Pitch Energy Dodge Charger in the final round Hight had lane choice but for the first time in four final round meetings Gray took the win. Gray posted a solid 4.067 second pass as Hight’s Mustang smoked the tires for the first time this weekend.
“I really believed we were going to get this one today. Not to take anything away from Johnny Gray. If this thing would have made a run like it had been all day we would have given Johnny a better race,” said Hight, the 2010 and 2011 Kansas Nationals winner. “It is hard to explain why we do well here. I don’t really know why. We have had some team members through the years that have been from this part of the country. This is just a great race track. (Crew chief) Jimmy Prock has won here in Top Fuel and Funny Car.”
Hight took out Jeff Arend in the first round and then outran BobTasca III’s Ford Mustang Funny Car in the second round. Hight’s semi-final race was a monster John Force Racing versus Don Schumacher Racing match-up. Hight was giving away lane choice to Capps but Prock had the Auto Club Mustang ready. It blasted down the track in 4.044 second nearly equaling John Force’s track record ET set yesterday.
“I just kept expecting good runs. I look at the data with Jimmy and I see what he is trying to do. You can see the potential if we just get the back half right. It wasn’t surprising. I honestly thought if we got it right in the final it was going to run better than that,” said Hight.
“It was cool at driver introductions this morning Capps came up to me and said it was good to have us back. That just shows the class of the guys we race. I am sure if we start really doing well he is going to take that back,” joked Hight. “It is cool that he noticed we had improved and said something. Right before the semi-finals he came up and said he just saw a smile on Jimmy’s face. It is noticeable that the Auto Club team is back.”
Hight moved up on the Mello Yello point standings from 8th to 7th and now has a firm position in the Top Ten heading into a critical stretch of the season. For his entire Auto Club team the qualifying success and then race day success really had an impact.
“Without a doubt having a weekend like this is great. Now it is just a matter of time. We are going to win some races. To come in here and just hit it that first run was big. If we wouldn’t have had a good run who knows how this weekend would have gone. If we would have missed it and then had to start working on it,” said Hight.
“That first run is just huge. The biggest thing is how this weekend affected by team. We had a big team meeting in Indy. When you are struggling team morale is down and you are just working harder. Things just aren’t right. We decided to come in here with a new combination and a new attitude. It is pretty cool to see some smiles on all these guys’ faces. I believe we will see smiles for a long time to come.”
John Force led the team in qualifying grabbing the top spot in qualifying with a track record 4.043 on Saturday. Force opened Sunday with a win over former teammate Tony Pedregon. In the second round Force was outrun by Jack Beckman due to a wiring malfunction in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. At the end of the day the 15-time champion was pleased with the overall improvement in all his cars.
“Any time you can get a race car to the final that is part of the game plan. Winning is the icing on the cake. It is important to get the exposure for the sponsors like Auto Club, Ford, Castrol and Traxxas. We made some changes to our chassis and with our tune-up. We had a lot of meetings and got a game plan,” said Force, the nine-time Kansas Nationals winner. “To come out and be 1-2-3 in qualifying shows that we are moving in the right direction. We are starting to go rounds and get those extra runs down the race track without smoking the tires. All four of our race cars are testing tomorrow. That takes budget but we have to do it to get the runs and get where we want to be at the end of the season.”
The winningest driver in NHRA history was pleased that the entire event was able to be completed. It was the first time in a month that all qualifying sessions were run and there were no interruptions on race day for weather.
“It was not only important for the teams and the crew chiefs to be able to make good decisions. It is just getting seat time. That is a big deal especially for a driver like Brittany who is a rookie,” said Force. “Courtney has some experience from last year but getting runs is critical. Mostly getting a full event in is good for the sport. If the fans can’t have a show and what they buy the ticket for then they won’t come back. They put on a good show here at Heartland Park Topeka.”
Courtney Force qualified in the No. 2 spot coming into race day and took on Dale Creasy Jr. in the first round for the first time ever. Force took the win with a 4.136 ET at 311.63 mph and moved on to the next round.
“We came out strong in eliminations. Our cars qualified 1, 2 and 3 and all of our Funny Cars got past first round. It was a great start to the day. Our Traxxas Ford Mustang machine was running strong. We had a problem with a dropped cylinder on the first pass, which slowed us down a little, but we were still able to get the win over Creasy,” said Force.
“It was tough racing him because my brother-in-law Danny, his dad works on that team. It’s like second family over there and it makes it that much tougher when you have to race family,” said Force.
Force had Ron Capps in the next round of eliminations. Force lost lane choice and ran a 4.233 ET at 300.73 mph after dropping a cylinder and getting close to the wall.
“We went up second round and did the best we could. Capps and I both struggled getting it down the track. My Traxxas car dropped a cylinder and pulled me over to the wall so I just tried to drive it back to the center of the groove, but it just wasn’t enough to get that win light.
“We’re coming out here tomorrow to test. We’re excited for that. I know we’ve got a great hot rod, we just have to have a little bit more next time. I’m ready to get these problems squared away and move on to Englishtown,” said Force.
In Top Fuel Brittany Force and the Castrol EDGE Top Fueler ran into a tough first round opponent, Khalid alBalooshi racing for Al-Anabi Racing. Both Top Fuel dragsters launched together but unfortunately for the rookie driver the maroon and gold alBalooshi dragster pulled away.
For Force just getting four qualifying runs was a win.
“We have been losing runs in qualifying because of weather. It was great to get four runs in qualifying and we made good runs. We are in the low 4.80s and I am getting experience which is important,” said Force.
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MELLO YELLO POINT STANDINGS
FUNNY CAR – 1. Johnny Gray, 591; 2. Cruz Pedregon, 581; 3. Matt Hagan, 568; 4. Ron Capps, 512; 5. Courtney Force, Traxxas Ford Mustang, 485; 6. Tim Wilkerson, 457; 7. Robert Hight, Auto Club Ford Mustang, 447; 8. Jack Beckman, 444; 9. Del Worsham, 397; 10. John Force, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, 385
TOP FUEL – 1. Tony Schumacher, 665; 2. Shawn Langdon, 631; 3. Antron Brown, 593; 4. Spencer Massey, 541; 5. Doug Kalitta, 470; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 442; 7. Brandon Bernstein, 414; 8. Morgan Lucas, 409; 9. Bob Vandergriff, 358