SONOMA, CA (July 24, 2012) —With four races to go before the cut-off for the 2012 Countdown Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team have clinched a spot in the race for the championship but he wants to hold onto the No. 1 seed. Throughout most of the season Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock have been tops of the field winning four races in a row to build a massive points lead. That lead has been diminished by the success of Ron Capps and Hight’s teammate Mike Neff but Hight’s focus is still razor sharp.
“Sonoma is a great track and we have had success here. The key for us is to get off to a good start on Friday, get a high qualifying position and then go rounds on Sunday. I want to keep this points lead. I don’t care whether it is 400 points or one point after Indy. Going into Charlotte for the first race of the Countdown I want to have a 30 point lead over whoever is in second place,” said Hight.
Hight is also aware of how he won the 2009 Funny Car NHRA Full Throttle championship, barely making the Countdown before going on a historic run that took him from worst to first. He saw 2010 champion John Force come back on the last day of the season to win his unprecedented 15th championship and last year he had to watch as Matt Hagan took control of the Countdown and held off a charge from himself, Neff, (Jack) Beckman and (Ron) Capps. He wants to do what neither of the previous two champions did which is dominate from the start of the season until the very last day.
“John was so dominant in the 90s that one year he clinched the championship at the Mac Tools US Nationals on Labor Day. His dominance is part of the reason we have the Countdown now. I want to dominate like that. I have four wins so far this season but I want to get more wins both before the Countdown starts and then definitely inside the Countdown. We are in a stretch right now that is sort of a Countdown warm-up with the Western Swing. We won a couple rounds in Denver but I want race wins,” said Hight.
John Force has captured seven wins at the Raceway at Sonoma and Hight picked up his lone win in 2008. The late Eric Medlen won one of his last races here in 2006. With nine wins in 24 events at the Raceway at Sonoma John Force Racing has to be one of the odds on favorites to win this weekend. While Hight likes his chances he also sees that his teammates could pose the biggest threat.
“Even though we didn’t win in Denver we made a lot of progress in the points. I stayed No. 1 and Courtney (Force) and John both put rounds on the people behind them. John has a little cushion on Tim Wilkerson who is No. 11. We want to try and knock some of these other drivers out early. We got two cars to the semis in Denver.”
The race weekend will start early for Hight and John Force as the duo will spend two days in Ukiah, Calif., at sponsor appearances and media events for BrandSource. On Wednesday Hight and Force will meet with the media from Mendocino and Lake Counties and then on Thursday they will participate in a two hour free fan event at Pardini Appliance in Ukiah, California from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. The Pardini Appliance, a BrandSource retailer, is located at 1204 North State Street, Ukiah, Calif., 95482. In addition to Force and Hight, two of their respective show Funny Cars, the Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang and the Auto Club Ford Msutang, will be on display.
NEFF DRIVES FOR BOTH RECREATION AND REWARD
SONOMA, Calif. – Mike Neff owes his success to three things: his ability to adapt to conditions, his aggressiveness when the rewards are great and his willingness to adopt a more conservative approach when it is necessary to do so.
Whenever he manages those elements effectively, the native Californian can be spectacular – whether the venue is the Olympic Club, where he played golf on Tuesday, or the currently nameless racetrack at the junction of Highways 121 and 37 where on Sunday he will try to get his Castrol GTX Ford to the winners’ circle at the 25th annual Sonoma Nationals.
Although his day at Olympic did include a bit of driving, it was not the kind for which the versatile 45-year-old is best known. While his play off the tee isn’t bad, he is far more adept at driving his drag racing Funny Car, a nitromethane-gulping Mustang capable of accelerating from a dead stop to 320 miles per hour in little more than four seconds.
While Neff’s vocation and his avocation might be perceived as polar opposites, they actually have a lot in common.
Both require preparation and planning. Both depend upon execution and consistency. Both demand concentration and patience and, in both, the biggest rewards are afforded those who successfully determine the limits of the course and then have the patience to stay within them.
Just as he knows it isn’t always prudent to try and cut the corner on a par four dog leg, Neff has demonstrated a knack for understanding when to push his 8,000 horsepower hybrid to its limits and when to concede that perhaps less is more.
That’s what made him a two-time world championship-winning crew chief (2005 with Gary Scelzi and 2010 with John Force) and what has put him in prime position to become the first in 38 years to win an NHRA Funny Car championship in the dual role of driver AND crew chief.
He came close a year ago when he won the 17-race regular season championship. And even though his slide from first to fifth during the Countdown to 1 playoffs was painful, it taught him lessons he is trying to apply to his current title bid.
“Last year, for whatever reason, we just lost the handle in the playoffs,” said the former off-road truck mechanic. “It happens. So this year we made a new plan and we’ve been kinda racing under the radar (despite a pair of victories, the most recent at Norwalk, Ohio).”
Instead of pushing himself and his resources to the absolute limit every week, Neff has opted for a more measured approach to winning his first driving championship and John Force Racing’s 18th in 23 years.
“We’ve been trying some things,” he said. “Some have worked and some haven’t. As long as you’re Top 5 (he presently is No. 3), I think you’ve got a good shot when they reshuffle the points.”
The aforementioned reshuffling, which occurs after the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, a race in which he is the defending champion, was Neff’s undoing last year when the 215-point lead he built up during the regular season was reduced to 30 with one keystroke.
“We’re just trying to improve in areas where we might have been a little weaker last year,” he said. “Nobody accumulated more points than we did, but it’s just based off six races and you have to try and plan so your program is strongest in those last six races.
“The tricky thing about racing is sometimes it just doesn’t work the way you want it to,” he said. “So, you work on your weaknesses and try to get better. The thing is, if it was easy, everybody’d be winning.”