To use a PGA TOUR analogy John Force used today’s qualifying session as “moving day” as he moved up from 17th to 12th to 4th in the hyper-competitive Funny Car qualifying order. As qualifying concluded at the 44th annual Amalie NHRA Gatornationals Force’s final qualifying effort, 4.089 seconds, garnered him three valuable qualifying bonus points and landed him in the No. 4 qualifying position unfortunately this will set him up for a first round match-up with daughter Courtney Force, the No. 13 qualifier.
“I don’t look at just myself I look at the whole team. I’m positive because a lot of the changes that are going on here are working. Brittany and the Top Fuel car made the show. That’s for Castrol EDGE. That’s excellent. I jumped up to 4th. Courtney was in early with Robert and if you look at the last races, next to Courtney’s win, we’ve all just been kind of just getting in the show and you can’t win like that. You’ll get picked off first round,” said John Force.
“We came back, me and Courtney, we were excited and we were high-fiving. ESPN ran over and grabbed us and said, ‘Are you ready?’ We said, ‘Yeah, we’re in!” and they said, ‘Yeah. You race each other tomorrow,” so that bummed us out.”
“I look at the big picture; somebody will go on. She wants to win at all costs, but that’s the attitude I want her to have. It should be a good match-up,” concluded Force.
With Force’s qualifying effort today he extends his current qualifying streak to 100 consecutive races and he is now the active qualifying streak leader for Funny Car. In 2007 at the Las Vegas spring event Force’s unprecedented streak of 395 consecutive qualifying efforts came to an end. The Las Vegas race was Force’s first race following the loss of teammate Eric Medlen after a testing accident at the 2007 Gatornationals.
The youngest Force struggled for the first time in 2013 making one representative run her first session, 4.132 seconds, today and then smoking the tires in the final session. The 2012 Automobile Club Road to the Future Award winner had a chance to move off of the first round match-up with her father and seven-time Gatornationals winner but her Traxxas Ford Mustang smoked the tires in the left lane. She wound up “lucky” No. 13 qualifier.
“The most important thing is we made a good pass down there and got qualified. We pushed the car harder on that last run and couldn’t get it done, but I have full confidence in my team tomorrow. I know that we’ll have our car back that we’re used to,” said Force the Winternationals winner.
“We have my dad first round tomorrow which is a little bit of a bummer being that we are on the same team. He’s excited right now because he’s shown that he has the better car throughout qualifying. I have full confidence in my team that we’ll be able to get around him. We’re still trying to stay up there in the points and we’re going to do the best we can. It’s going to be a little bittersweet, but I’m ready to go kick his butt.”
Courtney Force holds a 2-1 record against her father and is 1-1 versus the 15-time Funny Car champion in first round races.
While spirits were high in the Auto Club Ford Mustang pits yesterday following Robert Hight’s qualifying run of 4.117 seconds today he was unable to navigate the track today during his two qualifying attempts. He slipped to the No. 8 qualifying position going into Sunday. He will have lane choice over former John Force Racing teammate Tony Pedregon in the opening round. Hight is 8-15 against the two-time Mello Yello Funny Car champion.
“We made some progress yesterday but today we just struggled getting a handle on the track. I am not sure that lane choice will matter tomorrow. We just need to string together four good runs and I feel that Jimmy Prock can do that,” said Hight, the defending Gatornationals champion. “All the crew chiefs are talking after every run and you are seeing improvement from all the teams. A lot of time you just miss the mark and I feel we are right around the corner from getting this Auto Club Ford Mustang thundering again.”
Rookie Brittany Force had the most pressure-packed day as she entered Saturday on the outside looking in at a tough Top Fuel field of 23 dragsters. In the opening session she moved into the No. 16 spot, a far cry from solidly in the field. In the final session Force’s Castrol EDGE dragster made a strong move off the starting line and stayed hooked up the entire 1,000 foot race track. At the finish line she lit up the scoreboard with a strong 3.861 second run at over 322 mph and moved from the bump spot (No. 16) to No. 13. She will face veteran Clay Millican in the first round.
“I was excited to get in. I was No. 16 going into my last qualifying run. We didn’t know if that would hold or not so I was a little nervous, but we ran a 3.86 and that was the best we ran all weekend and bumped on up in the field so I was very happy about that,” said Brittany Force.
“I’m ready for tomorrow. I have a great team behind me. I have Dean Antonelli and Eric Lane making the tuning decisions. I have awesome guys on my team. I know they support me and we’re learning together. We’ve made mistakes together, but we’re going to go out there and kick some butt with this Castrol EDGE dragster.”
Ironically Clay Millican was the first driver to ever run side by side with Force at the PRO Winter Warm-up testing event in West Palm Beach, Florida. The combo raced side by side twice in January. This will be the first official race between the two Top Fuel drivers.
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JOHN FORCE, 63, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 4th at 4.089 seconds, 312.06 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +3 (quickest of Q4)
First Round Opponent (W-L): Courtney Force (1-2)
ROBERT HIGHT, 43, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 8th at 4.117 at 308.21 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
First Round Opponent (W-L): Tony Pedregon (8-15)
COURTNEY FORCE, 24, Traxxas Ford Mustang
Qualifying: 13th at 4.132 seconds, 309.98 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
First Round Opponent (W-L): John Force (2-1)
BRITTANY FORCE, 26, Castrol EDGE Top Fuel Dragster
Qualifying: 13th at 3.861, 322.19 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: 0
First Round Opponent (W-L): Clay Millican (0-0)