CHARLOTTE, NC – Going into Sunday’s eliminations at the 5th annual Four-Wide NHRA Nationals at zMAX Dragway outside of Charlotte the quartet of John Force Racing drivers have the same goal but different starting points.
Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang will start the day from the strongest position as No. 2 qualifier and will race in a quad made up of No. 7 qualifier Matt Hagan, No. 10 qualifier Jack Beckman and No. 15 qualifier Tony Pedregon. With four collective Mello Yello Championships amongst his opponents Hight is eager to take on the challenge of Four-Wide racing.
“The key is just focusing on your job. I can’t control what Beckman, Hagan or Tony (Pedregon) do. I will do my usual routine and try and cut the best light I can. I know Mike Neff will give me a great race car and we will try and take advantage of the Four-Wide format. You can slip up a little in the first two rounds and finish second and still advance,” said Hight.
“Our goal will be to be the quickest so we can always have out first choice of lanes. That could become critical. This all-concrete track has been pretty even and it will be an exciting day. I want to win another Four-Wide race and keep this momentum in the Auto Club pit.”
Hight’s quickest ET was 4.074 seconds for the weekend. He holds the Mello Yello points lead and picked up four qualifying bonus points this weekend.
Courtney Force picked up three additional bonus points today on the fourth and final qualifying pass when her Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car ran the best ET of the session. She posted a 4.088 at 316.01 mph to pick up the points and keep her No. 6 qualifying spot. She will go up against John Force, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Jeff Arend in the opening round on Sunday.
The 2012 Auto Club Rookie of the Year was fastest overall in the Funny Car category on Friday, but bumped up that number to 316 mph today on the final pass.
“In Q4, the car did exactly what we wanted it to. Running that 4.08 put us low of the round so we picked up three bonus points which is awesome. We even increased top speed to over 316 mph, which is fastest of the weekend so far,” said Force.
Force ran a 4.181 ET at 288.83 mph in the first session today when her car smoked the tires before the finish line.
“It spun the tires in Q3 and we ran a 4.18 so it slowed us down a little bit, but I could tell we were on a good run. My car has been pretty consistent this weekend, which is a good thing for us,” said Force.
For the past two years, the 25-year-old has qualified No. 12 at the Four-Wide events and has gone out in the first round on race day, but Force says she thinks her team has stepped it up quite a bit and is ready to take on the competition.
“We’re excited. We’re going into race day with second pick of lane choice. Unfortunately, we’re in a quad with my dad, but hopefully both of us can move on to the next round. We’re going to do the best we can. We have a good car and we know which lanes we like best and we just have to get around the other guys first and hopefully a JFR team takes home the win tomorrow,” said Force.
Once again, the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals is making John Force and the crew of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang work overtime in trying to get a handle on the zMAX Dragway track surface. However, hard work would pay off as Jimmy Prock tuned-up John Force’s Funny Car to a 4.13 second elapsed time at over 316 mph during the third session today.
The good news is John Force was able to move up in the qualifying order to the No. 11 spot. The bad news is he faces daughter Courtney Force along with Tommy Johnson Jr. and Jeff Arend is round one.
“We were low ET of that first session with a 4.13 and we tried to step it up out of the bottom to get lane choice and that’s going to be tricky winning this race,” said John Force.
For a crew chief, the Four-Wide racing format is hard to grasp at times but with Jimmy Prock and Danny DeGennaro calling the shots on race day, the Castrol GTX High Mileage team will be ready to go rounds.
“The way we are with our tune-up from Jimmy Prock and Danny DeGennaro is off a little bit and we’re going to have to find it no matter what lane we run. We’re going to go out there and give these fans here on the east coast a show and everyone on ESPN and we’re excited about it,” said John Force
Even though John Force is the winningest driver in NHRA history, he knows there’s a strategy in going rounds and winning the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals a feat he accomplished in 2010. Force has a 6-3 round win record at the Four-Wide race and the only quad he has won was the final round in 2010. His other five "wins" came in races in which he finished second to advance to the next round.
“I’ll watch who I’m racing but none of these kids play games, the bottom line is the crew chiefs have their job cut out for them. A four lane format is really great for a short TV show as it all works good but then you don’t have the time to watch the other cars. If you’re the first or second pair, you don’t get to watch nobody. For crew chiefs, it’s a nightmare but they love it. It’s a real mind boggler but I’m the best and I can do it,” said John Force.
Under tricky track conditions at zMAX Dragway, Brittany Force was still able to keep her Castrol EDGE Dragster qualified in the top-half of the field. The sophomore Top Fuel racer was hoping to pick up a few more qualifying spots and move up during today’s two sessions and improve on her 3.80 second elapsed time from yesterday.
Unfortunately, she slipped to the No. 5 slot but will still have ever important lane choice over No. 12 qualifier Leah Pritchett and No. 13 qualifier Clay Millican come Sunday’s first round eliminations.
With this being Brittany’s second crack racing the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, she’s more confidence as driver but will not take anything for granted when lines up with three other Top Fuel Dragsters in round one.
“I definitely feel more comfortable going into race day here at the Four-Wide in Charlotte. However, it’s definitely a challenge going up on that starting line, you don’t want to get lost and you want to keep your focus. You need to know where you’re at on the Christmas tree. That’s my number one focus right now,” said Brittany Force.
With any driver, the hours and minutes before they suit up and get strapped in can be agonizing as they go through their routine repeatedly in their mind. They make sure they’re mentally prepared and Brittany knows what she’s need to do.
“I’ll figure out what lane I’m in before first round and go up be the run, stand in my lane and look at the Christmas tree and know exactly where I’m at so I don’t do anything to screw me up come first round on race day tomorrow,” said Brittany Force.
During the 2013 NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, severe weather conditions prevented the drivers from getting four qualifying sessions. For Brittany, it was tough as it was her first time racing in a Four-Wide format. However, she made passes in each of the four lanes this weekend and feels confident.
“It definitely helps me and our crew guys going down the race track in each lane. Just being to go down this track while working on my reaction times on that Christmas tree helps. With three other cars next to me, it can be very distracting. It is so different and challenge being on that starting line and I don’t think many people understand that. I changes a drivers routine because all year you race with only one other competitor in the lane next you but here, it’s a whole new ballgame,” said Brittany Force.
Brittany Force also had the opportunity to meet a local Girl Scout Troop and give them an insider’s perspective of driving a 10,000-horsepower nitro dragster.
“One of the greatest aspects of my job is working with kids. We had some sixth and seventh grade Girl Scouts come out and Courtney and I talked them a little pep talk about how we got into this sport, what we studied in school and mostly about chasing your dreams, no matter what,” said Brittany Force.
Brittany also has the potential to be the winner of the 100th national event by a female in the history of NHRA this weekend. Eric Enders-Stevens won the 98th national event by a woman in Las Vegas two weeks ago. This is an achievement she hasn’t really thought about but is still something she’d like to obtain.
“That would be insane but right now, I want my first win. That’s something the Castrol EDGE team is after. Now, if we accomplish that, it would top it all,” said Brittany Force.
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JOHN FORCE, 64, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 11th at 4.130 seconds at 304.39 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +3 (Quickest of Q3)
First Round Opponents: Tommy Johnson Jr., Jeff Arend, Courtney Force
ROBERT HIGHT, 44, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 2nd at 4.074 seconds at 311.99 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +4 (2nd quickest of Q1 and Q2)
First Round Opponents: Tony Pedregon, Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman
COURTNEY FORCE, 25, Traxxas Ford Mustang
Final Qualifying: 6th at 4.086 seconds at 314.75 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +3 (Quickest of Q4)
First Round Opponents: Tommy Johnson Jr., Jeff Arend, John Force
BRITTANY FORCE, 27, Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster
Final Qualifying: 5th at 3.800 seconds at 325.61 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +1 (3rd quickest of Q2)
First Round Opponents: Antron Brown, Clay Millican, Leah Pritchett
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Sunday, April 13
Final Eliminations noon