John Force and a resurgent PEAK Antifreeze and Coolant Chevrolet Camaro SS team put up career best performance numbers in qualifying and powered their way into the final round of Sunday’s 38th annual NHRA Texas Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex before losing to new points leader, Matt Hagan. Meanwhile, the path to a fourth world championship became a little more challenging for Robert Hight and the AAA / Cornwell Tools Chevrolet Camaro SS team after they were upended in the first round along with Top Fuel teammates Brittany Force and the Flav-R-Pac / Monster Energy team and Austin Prock and the Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist team.
After qualifying second with a career-best time of 3.823 seconds, Force drove his PEAK Chevy past Jeff Diehl in an upset-filled round one and beat Cruz Pedregon in their 122nd career meeting before dispatching J.R. Todd in an engine-destroying semifinal. In the final, the 16-time series champ got a slight advantage at the start before his Chevy lost traction and slowed to just 94.02 mph at the end of a 6.818-second run.
It was Force’s 266th final round appearance and it enabled him to leapfrog four rivals and move into fifth place in points as the tour moves in two weeks to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the NHRA Nevada Nationals.
“I had a race car this weekend that was back in the hunt,” said a re-energized Force. “(Crew chiefs) Daniel Hood and Tim Fabrisi and Mac Savage and the whole team ran this hot rod into 3.80s every run. Then it got in trouble in the semifinals when we had that explosion after it spun the tires. We got it back together thanks to all the teams joining in to help. I was in my moment because that’s how I lived and grew up in racing and I love being a part of it. It gets my energy up!
“I just couldn’t get the job done with Hagan,” lamented the 155-time tour winner. “We wanted to help Robert and cut a few points but he’s still only three rounds behind with two to go.”
After improving by four positions in Saturday’s final qualifying session (to 3.832 seconds), Hight and his team were victimized by changing track conditions on race day. When No. 1 qualifier Bob Tasca III lost traction in the left lane as one of the first two Funny Cars down the track, crew chief Jimmy Prock responded by making changes to the set-up on the AAA Camaro. However, those adjustments weren’t quite enough to keep Hight’s car from suffering a similar fate as it lost traction and slowed to 4.273 seconds in a narrow .005 of a second loss to Terry Haddock. Fortunately, Tim Wilkerson helped minimize the damage by taking out Tasca in round two, opening the door for Hagan to assume the points lead with just two races remaining.
When Nevada Nationals qualifying begins on Oct. 27, Hight will trail Hagan by 69 points and Tasca by 32 as he tries to become just the fourth driver to win as many as four NHRA series championships.
“Not the weekend that we hoped for,” said the 62-time tour winner. “This would have been a great opportunity to gain some points (but) this championship is far from over and the AAA/Cornwell team will bounce back in Vegas!”
Brittany Force and her Flav-R-Pac team qualified solidly in the No. 4 position but, like Hight, suffered a loss of traction in a challenging first round that allowed Spencer Massey to drive around for an upset win. After qualifying at 3.657 seconds, the two-time and reigning Top Fuel champ slowed to only 4.676 seconds at a pedestrian 156.30 mph in the opening stanza.
“It was a tough Sunday for this Flav-R-Pac / Monster Energy team,” said the two-time and reigning World Champion. “We qualified well. We had three killer runs and went into the show from the number four position and got beat first round. It’s hard to pack up and leave on that note (but) we head to Vegas next and we are looking to surprise everyone and come out and win it. This team can win! We’ve done it before, and we have two more races to get it accomplished this year.”
A year after earning runner-up honors at the Motorplex in a Countdown run that propelled him from 12th to third in the 2022 point standings, Austin Prock couldn’t advance beyond a first round meeting with three-time former World Champion Antron Brown on Sunday. Like teammates Hight and Force, Prock was undone by a loss of traction, his Montana Brand entry slowing to 5.861 seconds at only 132.99 mph after qualifying at 3.669 seconds at 33.23 mph.
“Not the way we wanted to end our weekend,” Prock said. “We had a strong race car all weekend and just missed the set-up first round. The track was technical and got the best of us, but we will come out swinging again in Las Vegas, a win there would be a dream come true.