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2014 NHRA: John Force Racing Pre-Race Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals
Posted by: newsla on Mar 12, 2014 - 06:04 AM
2014 NHRA: John Force Racing Pre-Race Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals

The first race of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series on the East Coast has always been a big deal. The 45th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals has so much history it is considered one of a handful of “major” races on the season long tour. For Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team racing at the Gatornationals is about history and momentum. Sitting in the No. 2 Mello Yello point standings after a final round appearance in Phoenix has the 2009 Funny Car champion looking to get one more win light this weekend.


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“Losing in the final of Phoenix was tough. We had a great race car all day and in the final we just smoked the tires. We moved up in the points and (crew chief) Mike Neff has a great handle on the tune up. No one knew what to expect since the track surface was new in Phoenix but everyone knows Gainesville. It is cool that both Mike and I have won here. We are starting to get into a really comfortable groove,” said Hight.

In back to back years the driver and his tuner hoisted the Wally in the Gainesville winner’s circle. It was just two years ago that Hight picked up his second win in a row of the season with a win over Johnny Gray. The previous season it was Neff prevailing over Cruz Pedegron when his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was almost bracket car like posting three 4.0 runs on the way to the win.

“Mike Neff is one of the best crew chiefs at racing the track. He will get the most out of a tune up and track conditions and that gives you so much confidence as a driver. I know that I just have to do my job. If I have a solid reaction time and keep it in the groove we have a great chance of getting a win light. It is a lot of fun to drive a Funny Car that just pulls the whole way down the track and Neff will give you a race car like that,” said Hight.

John Force Racing holds down the top two spots in the Mello Yello standings and while Hight is right behind team leader John Force ,who last won at the Gatornationals in 2001, he knows there is even more competition behind him.

“Courtney (Force) was in Indy all last week fine tuning her Traxxas Mustang and we tested after Phoenix so this race will be a lot of fun because everyone is still figuring things out. The regular season is a marathon not a sprint. You want to qualify at the top of the field and then have a great race day set up. This Auto Club team will be in the mix for sure,” said Hight.

Hight is bringing some history to Gainesville after spending last weekend at the famed March Meet in Bakersfield. For several years Hight has been working with John Force to track down various Funny Car bodies, parts and photos of some of Force’s early race cars. He has spearheaded the rebuilding project of a number of classic Funny Cars that are on display in the Yorba Linda shop.
“I like to see these Funny Cars come together and to make them as realistic as possible. You see the cars in action at the March Meet and John says it is like being in a time machine. Auto Club is very involved and it is always fun to head up to Bakersfield. I took my daughter Autumn this year and we had a great time,” said Hight.

When people turn 64, they head to Florida to play golf, lie in the sun and just relax - not John Force. He’ll be strapped into his 8000-horsepower Castrol GTX High-Mileage Mustang in pursuit of a 17th NHRA Mello Yello championship at the 45th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. While some Florida vacationers drive golf carts, the 16-time NHRA world champ will be wrestling the steering wheel of his 300 mph Funny Car to keep it straight and in the groove at Auto-Plus Raceway chasing another victory.

Being the third stop on the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello tour, the Gatornationals has long been a spring-break destination for drag racing fans from the Midwest and northeast looking for warmer weather, nitro and burning rubber. John Force would also like to break his streak of coming up winless at the Gatornationals since 2001.

During last year’s event, it was the father and daughter going up against each in round one with Courtney beating John. Despite having raced at the Gatornationals 35 times, John has only won the event on seven occasions. While these stats don’t look favorable for John Force this weekend, here’s something to consider. His Funny Car has been hitting on all eight and scorching the drag strips during the back half of 2013 and the first two races of this year.

“I won a lot of races, [former crew chief] Austin Coil and myself and the teams. We were hot. We rolled. We won 10 straight [season championships]. We did stuff nobody can imagine. None of that matters. here are two things that are important to me, and it's goal setting, record setting,” said John Force.

Speaking of scorching, the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang is on a hot streak. John Force has been the No.1 qualifier for the past five events dating back to Reading last year. He also blasted the NHRA national records and winning the season-opener Winternationals in Pomona, California.

“I think I call it a hot streak, call it what you want. My crew chief got hot, Jimmy Prock, and it happens. Working together with the brain trust. We're focusing on Corporate America. If I don't continue to win, if I don't continue to dominate, I'm not going to have a job in this sport. I've been very lucky with corporations like Castrol and Ford that have been with me for a long time,” said John Force.

John Force heads into Gatornationals as the NHRA points leader. He’s been in this spot before, eight times to be exact. With a tune-up crew chief Jimmy Prock has been perfecting on the Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang, this weekend could snap John Force’s victory drought in Florida.

Brittany Force wants to keep the momentum for her the Castrol EDGE team. To say the 2013 Auto Club Rookie of the Year is itching to blast down Auto-Club Raceway in her Castrol EDGE Dragster during the 45th running of the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals would be a massive understatement. After coming off her first NHRA Top Fuel final round appearance in Phoenix last month, the sophomore Top Fuel pilot is ready to drive the Castrol EDGE dragster to her first pro win this weekend.
“I am so excited and pumped for the Gatornationals coming up this weekend! My team’s energy is still buzzing after making it to our first final in Phoenix a couple weeks ago. Our car has been running extremely consistent especially with new crew chief on board Todd Smith,” said Brittany Force.

Going back a year ago, it was a different story as Brittany struggled and ended qualifying her Castrol EDGE Dragster in the No. 13 spot at the Gatornationals. Her first round match-up was with veteran and eventual finalist Clay Millican. In looking back at the 2013 season as a whole, Brittany understands it was challenging.
“I believe we will be able to improve our starting position from last year and even go rounds. Heading into the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello season the Castrol EDGE team now has a year of experience to work from. We have been down the Gainesville track and this year plan to go some rounds,” said Brittany Force.

With her freshman year in the rearview mirror, things have changed significantly not only for Brittany, but for the whole crew as they enter their sophomore season. Currently tied in fifth place for driver points, Brittany’s team has been transformed into a well-oiled machined this year under the guidance crew chief Todd Smith directing the team with the objective of giving Brittany a race car that will get her qualify in the top half of the field, go rounds and win races.

She is heading into the race weekend with one win already in her pocket. On Monday it was announced that Brittany was recognized by RACER Magazine as their 2013 Racer Rookie of the Year for all over motorsports. At the end of the season RACER readers voted online and in the magazine for their top rookie and the Castrol EDGE driver took the fan vote with a commanding 78% of the votes.

Brittany’s pumped up and will put these assets to work when her Castrol EDGE Dragster rolls up to the starting line this Friday during the first round of qualifying at the NHRA Gatornationals. She’s also been awarded RACER Rookie of the Year for all of motorsports from RACER magazine. From what we seen of recent, Brittany’s on the right path to achieve her own milestone for Castrol and John Force Racing.

Courtney Force has spent the last two weeks in Brownsburg, Ind. working with her Traxxas team on improvements to her Ford Mustang Funny Car and participating in events such as Indy Cars and Coffee with boyfriend Graham Rahal. Now, the 25-year-old is ready to get back behind the wheel and take the reins of her Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car for the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals this weekend.

“I have been in Indy making the cockpit feel more comfortable since Phoenix. Little changes can always make a big difference and we obviously don't want to change anything too drastically. We're still learning about this car and we will have it coming back around soon. I have no doubt about that,” said Force.

John Force Racing teams stayed over in Phoenix after the last NHRA event two weeks ago to make a couple laps and test their hotrods before returning home and prepping for Gainesville.

“I think it has been great for our Traxxas team to have those couple weeks off in between because we were able to stay over and test some things in Phoenix on Monday after the event. My Traxxas Ford Mustang team is ready and excited to go in to Gainesville and I have high hopes that after testing we will be able to start turning things around starting here,” said Force.

Last year at Auto-Plus Raceway, Force qualified in the No. 13 spot and beat her father, now 16-time Funny Car Champion John Force, in the first round on race day, but fell in quarterfinals to Del Worsham.

“Gainesville has always been a tough track for our teams in the past which makes it that much more of a challenge coming out to Gainesville and makes us hungry for that win. However, the fans are always great at this track. They pack them in every year and the fans keep you excited and motivated with their high energy to be out at the track. We’re ready to give them a great show,” said Force.

Being just two races into the season thus far, Force is anxious to get back on track, prove herself and show what her Traxxas Ford Mustang is capable of.

“I'm very happy for my teammates and how well they have done with their early-season successes and it definitely doesn't frustrate me, but makes me excited and determined to get things turned around for myself and my team. We have great cars and an experienced brain trust behind all our teams at John Force Racing. I'm confident that it's only a matter of time before we're back where we need to be. There's absolutely no reason to be frustrated after only two races which is why we are staying positive and determined,” said Force.

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