JOLIET, IL — Rookie of the Year candidate Courtney Force and her Traxxas Ford Mustang pushed veteran Jeff Arend and his DHL Toyota to the limit in the final round of the O’Reilly Route 66 NHRA Nationals but in the end she came up just a bit short dropping a close race 4.454 to 4.131. The youngest Force advanced to her first final round in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series in only her eleventh race. She is the ninth different John Force Racing Funny Car driver to reach the final round after John Force, Tony Pedregon, Eric Medlen, Gary Densham, Robert Hight, Ashley Force Hood, Mike Neff and Phil Burkart Jr..
She was one round win away from being the eighth different driver to win a Full Throttle tour event in a John Force Racing Ford Mustang. By comparison sister Ashley Force Hood went to her first Funny Car final in her 20th race and won in her 27th. Her father, John Force, went to the finals in his fourth pro race, as did brother-in-law Robert Hight. Teammate Mike Neff was a finalist in his seventh race as a driver.
This is the fourth straight year JFR has had a car in the Chicago final. JFR has won six times previously at Route 66 Raceway. Courtney started this week from the No. 12 position. She defeated Bob Tasca III, Robert Hight, and Alexis DeJoria en route to her final round appearance with Arend.
She would have become just the third female winner in Funny Car after sister Ashley and Melanie Troxel.
“We had a good weekend. We stumbled a little during qualifying. We found a couple of malfunctions on our car, got them fixed and we were able to make the show. You know what, we had a good weekend overall. Making it to Sunday; going all the way to the final round was a huge accomplishment for us. I definitely think we could have got that win in the final round, but there’s always next weekend,” said Force. We’ll be out there in Norwalk and we’ll be fighting to make this car better, but looking at the times, everything was good for this car. It was on a good run and it just so happened that Arend got the win. He had a great pass and he’s had a great car all weekend too. We’re just going to have to go back and get after them in Norwalk.”
Courtney moved from 9th to 7th in the Full Throttle Funny Car standings and she is just two points behind Arend in 6th place. She is the highest positioned non-winner in the Funny Car class.
The semi-final race between the two females in the Funny Car category was a must see event with the win going to Force. The anticipation leading up to the race was palpable at Route 66 Raceway. Heading into the semis Force was excited but also anxious.
“I am really hoping to get this win against Alexis. She has a great race car. We have a pretty competitive one too with this Traxxas Ford Mustang. These guys have been busting their butts putting a great car together. I really hope we can go out there and make it to our first final. I wish her the best of luck but I really want this win and I want to get this Ford Mustang to the final,” said Force.
“It is a little bit of a bummer. I hate going up against her but once you get on the line everything changes. I want to get that win and I know she wants to win. We have to get our game face on and go after it for our sponsors. We will do the best we can and battle it out until the end.”
This was the second time these two Auto Club Road to the Future Award candidates have squared off but this race was the most pressure packed. DeJoria grabbed a quick starting line advantage in the race but Force’s Traxxas Ford Mustang quickly closed the gap and Force kept it right in the middle of the groove for the win, 4.123 to 4.191.
Team leader John Force was ousted in the second round by Alexis DeJoria and at the end of the day he was content with the turnaround weekend for his four car Funny Car team.
“Good weekend anytime you can get to a final. I’m really proud of my girl the most. She’s driving like a veteran. I got bumped down to 10th in points because Arend passed me with that win, but Courtney moved up to 7th putting that Traxxas Ford in the final and doing a pedal job,” said Force, the winningest driver in NHRA history and proudest dad. “She left on time, cut a good light on the other driver, all part of it, but mainly pedaling it and getting it down the race track. Robert is locked up there in the top and Neff is right behind him a round or two. So, we’ll go from here and see what happens.”
In the second round Hight made a strong run at beating his sister-in-law and teammate for the fourth consecutive time but at about 700 feet his Auto Club Ford Mustang overpowered the track. He had made the quickest run of the opening session a great 4.087 second run at 312.50 mph.
“It is always tough to race your teammate. This was the fourth time we raced each other this year and she finally got around me. Our goal coming into this race was to erase Bristol and I think we did that. We have a car going to the semis and we got three cars out of the first round,” said Hight. ”I got a round on Capps and that was big. I wanted to get the win here but luckily one of my teammates still has a chance to get a win. This Auto Club Mustang made a great run in the heat this morning and that run was just a little too strong. We’ll be ready for Norwalk.”
Hight’s first round win over Cruz Pedregon was big when it was combined with a first round loss by surging Ron Capps. Hight extended his points lead and after his win he was fired up about trying to put some distance between himself and Capps. He busied himself before the delayed first round by spending time with fans in his pits.
“When it was raining I spent time with all the great fans that stuck around. We had a lot of them in our pits so they could avoid the bad weather. It is awesome to get a win especially after a first round like we had in Bristol. What we have to do is stop Capps. He is like a little dog nipping at your heels. We have to get rid of that little thing.”
Mike Neff and the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang made one of their better runs of the weekend but it wasn’t enough to get around Johnny Gray. Neff posted a solid 4.164 second pass in the first round but Gray’s 4.120 was a little better. For the driver and crew chief it was a weekend he is glad to get behind him and he is turning his focus to Norwalk next weekend.
“I felt really confident going into the first round. I tuned off the run last night. It was going to run quicker but it burned up the backside of one of the pistons. I definitely thought we were in position to get that win,” said Neff, the defending O’Reilly Route 66 NHRA Nationals. “I am looking forward to getting back on the track in Norwalk. This was just a tough race. We had a couple issues but nothing we can’t fix before Norwalk.”