NHRA

NHRA: John Force Racing flexes muscle with Hight, Brittany Force wins in Houston

1 Comment

Like Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing his arms in his prime as a body builder, John Force Racing showed its muscle in this weekend’s Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals at Houston Raceway Park in Baytown, Texas.

Not only did JFR team president Robert Hight win his third Funny Car final of the season (in the first five races), teammate Brittany Force earned her first win of 2019 in the Top Fuel category in the fifth national event on the 24-race Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit.

In addition, team patriarch John Force came into Sunday’s eliminations as the No. 1 qualifier, which daughter Brittany also accomplished in Top Fuel, marking the first time in NHRA history that a father-daughter combination have qualified No. 1 in the top two nitro-fuel classes.

John Force reached the semifinals before being eliminated by Hight. The elder Force continues in his quest to earn the 150th win of his career; he remains at 149 wins heading into the next race in two weeks (April 26-28) at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Here’s how Sunday’s action played out:

IN FUNNY CAR: Hight moved one step closer to 50 career Funny Car wins – he now has 48 – defeating Matt Hagan in the final round by a tight margin of 3.941 seconds (at 310.84 mph) to Hagan’s 3.966 seconds (at 311.70 mph).

Hight struggled in Friday’s qualifying, but rebounded to earn the No. 5 starting spot on Saturday. But the big story for him in reaching the winner’s circle Sunday was outstanding consistency: in his four rounds of competition, Hight’s performance never wavered between 3.895 seconds and 3.941 seconds.

I’m proud of (my team), never disbelieved in them,” Hight said. “That’s why we have three wins already this season because they’re so good.

“Down at the other end, they said, ‘How do you keep your team in check?’ Really, it’s the other way around. They keep me in check. I’ve never seen a more focused group of individuals. They keep their heads down, work hard, don’t do a lot of talking and we got the job done.

Brittany and I, this is the third time we’ve got to double-up. We seem to do really well together in these circumstances. It was really cool to be down there when she made the [turn off] and throw a bunch of Mello Yello on her car.”

During Sunday’s eliminations, Hight defeated Jonnie Lindberg, 2018 Funny Car champ J.R. Todd and his boss, John Force.

Hagan, meanwhile, defeated two of his three Don Schumacher Racing teammates, Tommy Johnson Jr. (first round) and Ron Capps (semifinals), as well as Blake Alexander (quarterfinals) to match up with Hight in the final.

“I had a great weekend here in Houston, I’ve got a great race car and (crew chief) Dickie Venables is doing an amazing job with this car,” Hagan said. “I couldn’t be happier with the car and team I have surrounding me. We’re ready to keep things going in Charlotte.”

IN TOP FUEL: Brittany Force earned her first win in a year, her last visit to the winner’s circle coming at this race last season.

The 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion covered the drag strip at an elapsed time of 3.749 seconds (at 302.14 mph) to defeat Antron Brown (3.995 seconds at 233.48 mph).

Also of note, it was the first win for David Grubnic as Brittany Force’s crew chief, a role he assumed during the off-season.

All of John Force Racing was on a mission this morning,” Brittany Force said. “My dad and I were No. 1, the first time father and daughter have ever qualified No. 1 at an event. That’s something very special my dad and I will share. We were looking for a win, but to be able to do it with Robert Hight by my side in that Auto Club car, that’s pretty awesome.”

Force defeated Cameron Ferre, points leader Doug Kalitta and Clay Millican in the first three rounds of eliminations before holding off Brown for the win. Brown had an equally tough road to the final round, defeating Las Vegas winner Mike Salinas in the first round, followed by triumphs over Leah Pritchett and 2018 Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence before meeting Force in the money round.

“We’ve been going through a lot of adversity and we’ve just been fighting through it as a unit together,” Brown said. “Today, people saw what we are capable of. It feels good just to get back to what’s been the norm.

“We still have a ways to go, but we’re just going to keep on working and keep our heads down and everything’s going to be just fine. We can take this run today and build a little momentum and go to Charlotte and start where we left off here. We just need to keep getting better. That’s the name of the game.”

NOTES: This marked the first race of the season that did not include the Pro Stock class. Drivers in that class are contesting an 18-race season, as compared to the 24-race schedule that Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers compete in.

*******************************************

FINAL FINISHING ORDER

TOP FUEL: 1. Brittany Force; 2. Antron Brown; 3. Steve Torrence; 4. Clay Millican; 5. Doug Kalitta; 6. Leah Pritchett; 7. Scott Palmer; 8. Austin Prock; 9. Mike Salinas; 10. Jordan Vandergriff; 11. Shawn Reed; 12. Terry McMillen; 13. Kebin Kinsley; 14. Richie Crampton; 15. Billy Torrence; 16. Cameron Ferre.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight; 2. Matt Hagan; 3. John Force; 4. Ron Capps; 5. J.R. Todd; 6. Shawn Langdon; 7. Blake Alexander; 8. Bob Tasca III; 9. Jonnie Lindberg; 10. Terry Haddock; 11. Cruz Pedregon; 12. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 13. Jack Beckman; 14. Tim Wilkerson; 15. Jim Campbell; 16. Jeff Diehl.

*******************************************

SUNDAY’S FINAL RESULTS

TOP FUEL: Brittany Force, 3.749 seconds, 302.14 mph def. Antron Brown, 3.995 seconds, 233.48 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.941, 310.84 def. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.966, 311.70.

*******************************************

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Austin Prock, 3.717, 325.85 def. Jordan Vandergriff, 3.747, 324.51; Clay Millican, 3.765, 316.60 def. Richie Crampton, 5.644, 90.35; Brittany Force, 3.766, 321.19 def. Cameron Ferre, Foul – Red Light; Antron Brown, 3.735, 325.69 def. Mike Salinas, 3.727, 321.96; Steve Torrence, 3.720, 327.19 def. Kebin Kinsley, 3.855, 313.58; Leah Pritchett, 3.736, 322.73 def. Shawn Reed, 3.755, 326.16; Scott Palmer, 3.807, 319.82 def. Billy Torrence, 6.295, 116.08; Doug Kalitta, 3.768, 313.44 def. Terry McMillen, 3.784, 279.96; QUARTERFINALS — Millican, 3.730, 319.82 def. Palmer, 3.802, 305.22; S. Torrence, 3.732, 322.73 def. Prock, 4.739, 162.18; Force, 3.678, 323.74 def. Kalitta, 3.744, 320.36; Brown, 3.750, 320.89 def. Pritchett, Foul – Red Light; SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.746, 320.28 def. S. Torrence, 3.744, 315.71; Force, 3.738, 314.31 def. Millican, 11.114, 66.60; FINAL — Force, 3.749, 302.14 def. Brown, 3.995, 233.48.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Blake Alexander, Ford Mustang, 3.959, 298.34 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 6.727, 83.56; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.895, 322.27 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 3.961, 310.63; John Force, Camaro, 3.858, 326.71 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.162, 267.53; Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.950, 318.54 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 12.698, 69.80; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.930, 318.99 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 8.381, 71.17; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.946, 318.62 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.807, 166.87; Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.944, 316.23 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.335, 203.77; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.949, 316.60 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 5.321, 137.23; QUARTERFINALS — Capps, 3.938, 315.78 def. Langdon, 3.983, 318.17; Hight, 3.914, 314.75 def. Todd, 3.940, 318.62; Force, 3.977, 311.34 def. Tasca III, 4.060, 258.47; Hagan, 3.948, 312.93 def. Alexander, 4.011, 306.40; SEMIFINALS — Hagan, 4.613, 225.79 def. Capps, 7.818, 98.67; Hight, 3.924, 309.91 def. Force, 3.932, 312.78; FINAL — Hight, 3.941, 310.84 def. Hagan, 3.966, 311.70.

*******************************************

UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Doug Kalitta, 367; 2. Brittany Force, 349; 3. Steve Torrence, 343; 4. Mike Salinas, 320; 5. Leah Pritchett, 303; 6. Clay Millican, 302; 7. Antron Brown, 278; 8. Billy Torrence, 265; 9. Richie Crampton, 264; 10. Terry McMillen, 231.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 476; 2. Matt Hagan, 366; 3. J.R. Todd, 341; 4. John Force, 339; 5. Jack Beckman, 332; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., 315; 7. (tie) Ron Capps, 286; Tim Wilkerson, 286; 9. Bob Tasca III, 250; 10. Shawn Langdon, 223.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Graham Rahal’s ‘Weighty Issue’

Leave a comment

MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses lasers to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around. There was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“It takes a long time, I think,” Rahal said. “It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is.”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

“It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy.

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (crap), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches, and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”