Going into 2015 after winning half the Funny Car races in 2014, the normally power-packed John Force Racing had to regroup and take a step back before taking two steps forward.
JFR president and driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Funny Car, Robert Hight had to spend more of his time on the business side last year taking care of all the JFR cars and bringing on board Peak Antifreeze, Lucas Oil, and Monster Energy drink to their fold.
If that wasn’t enough distraction, Hight’s former crew chief Jimmy Prock left, leaving Mike Neff as the veteran tuner of JFR and the upheaval took its toll, but not for long.
“I think we did a darn good job putting everything back together and field four competitive cars,” said Hight, winner of 36 Funny Car events. “We didn’t have the season that we’re used to having. Nonetheless, all of our race cars had everything they needed. Everyone knows we lost some employees then. I think most of our stumbles last year were due to the fat that we were focused on trying to find sponsorship and putting things back together than we were in the past. We’re working on performance trying to make the cars quicker and faster. I think you’re going to see a new John Force Racing in 2016. This time, we’re not so focused on getting the money we need to race. Now we can think performance and spend the money we have and make our cars better and I believe that’s going to show in our performance.”
Other teams upping the functioning level of the class to new heights brought on part of that added pressure and what began in Denver in mid July changed Funny Car forever. We saw the Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car team with driver Jack Beckman lower the National ET Record numerous times, and starting in 2016 it now stands at 3.884 seconds.
Before the season ended, Hight had taken two Wallys, seeing victory in a slugfest at Brainerd and at Las Vegas in early November right in the middle of the Countdown.
“You have to give those guys [Don Schumacher Racing] credit over there,” said an optimistic Hight. “They ran well. Jimmy Prock was my crew chief for a lot of years. John actually ran fairly well the first part of the year and was holding his own. We had a better second half of the year, but we weren’t where we needed to be. We were behind the eight-ball a little bit. Now the last couple of races we were right there in the hunt with everyone else.
“For instance, Brainerd, that was the biggest performance race in the history of the sport. Look at the records that were set at that race and I won that race in Funny Car. We didn’t get lucky. We made really good respectable runs. It’s really nice to win one of those when you’re not being outmuscled. We won the Vegas race at the end of the year, but it definitely wasn’t the season that we were looking for or we’re used to most seasons. We’ve done a lot of work and I think we put a lot of the pieces of the puzzle in place, a lot of people in place to where you’re going to see a new John Force Racing.”
It didn’t hurt JFR to bounce back during the NHRA summer of ‘Header-gate’ when the DSR teams angled their headers in a way to use the force of the pipes to help propel the Funny Car off the starting line, breaking through to a new revelation.
“We started in Brainerd and that was the first race we won,” smiled a determined Hight. “They [DSR] had a couple of races start on us there at Sonoma and Seattle. We luckily figured it out and are fortunate enough to have all the resources we need in Indianapolis. Basically, overnight, we can build our headers however we want and we had them on all three of our funny cars in Brainerd.”
Seeing the game change and how that will affect future runs, Hight doesn’t see any let down at all at JFR, but rather feels they are ready to match up with DSR and that the 50th anniversary celebration of Funny Cars could be the best year, ever!
“I’ve been on both sides of all that,” said the 2009 champion. “In ’14, I won more races than anybody winning five races. It started great that year, winning four races early. I think that was that does when someone like Beckman gets hot, it forces everyone to work harder. Looking intuitively, that should be the case. You should never get complacent. You should always work hard to be the leader and outrun everybody. When someone dominates and gets all these wins, it pushes everybody to wok harder and eventually catch up. So, I feel that’s been the case. Looking back, in 2014 our Funny Cars won half the races. In ’15, it was all about the DSR cars. You know, it goes back and forth. We know we have to do a better job than we did last year. I really believe we’re going to have a better year.
“I believe we’re going to be a contender. I’m hoping to go out and get my second championship. I’m not just a dreamer here. I believe we have everything in place. We’ve got the same team from last year. I believe I’ve got the best sponsorship [Auto Club of Southern California] in NHRA drag racing and it’s a long-term deal. It’s a strong financial deal, so that leaves us with no excuses. We’ve got to get out there and work hard and do a better job than the next guy. I believe we can win another championship.”
The Circle K Winternationals start next weekend from February 12-14 at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
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