(07/02/12) The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series continued its tour through the country this week making a stop in Joliet Illinois for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 Nationals! After a tough weekend in Bristol, Traxxas and the entire John Force Racing team was looking to make a strong showing in Illinois. Even with a rocky start to the weekend, the entire JFR team came together and put a car in the final round, and that car was the Traxxas Funny Car driven by Courtney Force! Race number 11 of the 23 race series was one that Courtney Force won’t likely forget in the near future.
Following the deluge of rain that happened early Friday morning, Route 66 Raceway dried up causing the temperatures and humidity to go through the roof. In the first qualifying session, it appeared the Force team was struck with the same luck as two weeks ago in Bristol. Courtney Force’s Traxxas Funny Car dropped a cylinder early on in her run, breaking the beam running a 4.526 at 208.14 mph. John Force had all 8 of his cylinders firing on his pass, but unfortunately he overpowered the track at the 1/8 mile mark and only ran a 4.862 at 167.01 mph. Mike Neff ran into similar problems around the 330’ marker. A 5.637 at 124.11 mph was the result of his misstep. Even Robert Hight couldn’t get down the tricky Route 66 Raceway track. His car made it further than Mike’s but finished the run at 5.995 at 112.4 mph after going up in smoke.
Even with the sun sitting on the horizon and the temperatures dropping by the minute, the track surface was still 102 degrees. Robert Hight led off for team JFR running a 4.060 at 309.91 mph. That run would lock him into the 3rd spot for the day. Mike Neff followed, but his Funny Car wouldn’t produce the same results as Robert’s. He had a slew of problems and only ran a 5.184 at 145.34 mph. John Force must have had his Funny Car set on kill for his run because he stole the number one spot by running a 4.050 at 310.77 mph! Courtney Force was the last John Force Racing Driver to take a hit at the track. Unfortunately her Traxxas Funny Car lost power before she got to the 330’ mark and she rolled through the trap at 6.266 at 89.86 mph. Neither of Courtney Force’s or Mike Neff’s times would carry over into Saturday since they were outside of the top 12 after the second qualifying session.
The temperature and humidity climbed right back up again for the initial session of qualifying on Saturday. Courtney Force took her shot at the track, only to come up short for the third time in a row. Her Traxxas Car had a catastrophic engine failure around the 1/8th mile mark. Believe it or not, her 4.577 would actually qualify her in the number 16 spot for that session, but it was highly unlikely that it would hold for the duration of the next session. Mike Neff appeared to be on a solid run just before his car went up in smoke just beyond the 330’ mark. He rolled through at 246 mph with an E.T. of 4.664. Robert Hight’s pass looked almost identical to that of Mike Neff’s. He lost traction even earlier on the track and only ran a 6.969 at 99.98 mph. John Force made sure that at least one of the Traxxas John Force Racing cars made it down the track successfully on all 8 cylinders. He laid down a 4.147 at 298.47 mph, a great pass in high humidity on a hot 112 degree track!
Going into the final qualifying session, only two of the four JFR drivers were comfortably locked into the field. Mike Neff would have to qualify in on this run, and the odds got even worse when the car in front of him dropped oil in his lane. After a lengthy 30 minute clean up, Mike Neff hopped back into his car, rose to the occasion, and ran a 4.134 at 307.93 mph. That would be enough to lock him in the number 11 spot and put him in the race Sunday! Next up was Courtney Force, who had just been bumped out by other Funny Car competitors. Her confidence had to be elevated after watching her teammate run a great pass directly in front of her. With everything on the line and a few members of each JFR team on the starting line, she made a terrific pass and ran a 4.144 at 302.69 mph! What was even more impressive was that Bob Bode crossed the center line right next to Courtney, but she held her line and put her Traxxas Funny Car in the show. That would be enough to qualify her 12th. After a quick celebration, everyone returned to business as usual. Robert Hight, in typical Robert High fashion, blew the doors off of the rest of the Funny Car field running a 4.067 at 311.13! John Force tried to go lower than Robert’s time, but lost traction and only ran a 7.086. At the conclusion of qualifying, Courtney Force would start 12th, Mike Neff 11th, Robert Hight 4th, and John Force would hold on to his number one spot taking home the pole for Traxxas and John Force Racing!
After rain delayed first round by over three hours, the Traxxas John Force Racing team was more than ready for the first round of competition. Courtney Force took down Bob Tasca III, who blew the tires off his car instantly after leaving the line. Courtney would light up the score board with a 4.116 at 310.13 mph, her quickest run of the weekend. John Force, the number one qualifier, ran a 4.172 at 300.60 mph to take down Terry Haddock’s 5.754 at 120.72 mph. Robert Hight continued his jaw dropping performance blazing the track at a 4.087 at 312.50 mph. Cruze Pedregon’s 4.183 at 275.96 pass was good, but Robert’s was better, and that’s why he moved to the next round. Unfortunately Mike Neff fell victim to Johnny Gray in a great side-by-side drag race. Mike ran a 4.164 to Johnny’s 4.120, he simply got outrun.
In round two, John Force would have to face off against Alexis DeJoria. John smoked the tires uncharacteristically early running a 6.934 at 116.79 mph. Alexis rocketed down the track to take the win running a 4.168 at 302.96 mph. The next match up was a huge one as Courtney Force was slotted to race Robert Hight yet again! This time the tables finally turned as Courtney was able to blow the doors off Robert when he hazed the tires around halftrack! She ran a 4.147 at 306.40 mph to Robert’s 4.929 at 181.23 mph. That win landed Courtney her third semi-final round appearance this season, and she would have to race fellow rookie of the year candidate Alexis DeJoria!
Back in the pits, the entire Traxxas team was working hard to get the Traxxas Funny Car back up to the line. NHRA cut down the normal 75 minute “turnaround time” to only 50 minutes, so members of Mike Neff’s crew jumped in to help. They made it, with little time to spare. Alexis DeJoria was fresh off a final round appearance in Bristol, and the entire Kalitta team has been on a hot streak since Topeka. Courtney Force, however, was determined to take the win, and she did just that. Her 4.123 at 305.49 mph defeated Alexis’ 4.191 at 306.88 mph. All of the sudden Courtney Force found herself in her first final round in only her 11th race!
Before the final round there were members from all 4 JFR teams helping out, it was a great spectacle of teamwork. They got Courtney up to the lanes even faster than before for her final round match up with Jeff Arend. The race went live on ESPN and the stage was set for a great final round race in each of the professional categories! Everyone who is anyone at John Force Racing was on the starting line in hopes of seeing Courtney Force take her first Funny Car win. Courtney left the line ahead but ran into problems at half track where she had to pedal her car once. That was just enough to let Jeff Arend slip by and take the win at Route 66 Raceway. Arend ran a 4.11 at 309.20 mph compared to Courtney’s 4.454 at 272.67 mph. Despite the huge letdown for Courtney and the entire team, it was a great race and we all know that it’s only a matter of time before Courtney takes home a Funny Car Wally!
Even after a long rain drenched humid weekend that ended with a final round loss, Traxxas couldn’t be more proud of Courtney Force and the entire John Force Racing Team! The Traxxas support team was on location with their full line of RC vehicles, support staff, and mobile hobby store. Fans were able to drive a Traxxas Slash and watch our professional RC drivers demonstrate the agility, power, and strength of our Traxxas vehicles. The Traxxas models were also on-site handing out Traxxas magazines and Courtney Force stopped by Saturday to sign autographs and take pictures! Make sure you check out the Traxxas Racing page on either Twitter or Facebook for updates from the next NHRA race, the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals, in Norwalk Ohio this weekend, July 5th through 8th.