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.