CHANDLER -- John Force overcame a mental mistake, lengthy delays, rain, cold weather and the reigning Full Throttle Champion Sunday to reach the final round of a problem-plagued 26th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird Sports Park.
In one of the most bizarre days in NHRA history, racing in Pro Stock was suspended after a single round, racing in the sportsman categories was stopped entirely early in the afternoon and racing in the two marquee categories, Funny Car and Top Fuel, was halted one round from completion, ostensibly because of rain and cold.
The day also was marred by an accident involving the Top Fuel dragster of Antron Brown during which an unidentified female spectator suffered fatal injuries when she apparently was struck by a tire and wheel assembly that broke away from the chassis and bounced into and over the grandstands.
From NHRA’s official release, “a woman who was struck by a tire earlier today .... was pronounced dead at Good Samaritan Hospital. The tire became detached from Brown’s dragster following an incident during the first round of eliminations.”
Force, winner of the season-opening Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., and the No. 1 qualifier at Firebird, survived an uncharacteristic .141 first round reaction time against arch rival Cruz Pedregon, getting his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang to the finish line 001 of second before Pedregon.
In round two, Force sped to quick time of the weekend at 4.044 and, in an all-JFR semifinal, raced past his son-in-law, reigning World Champion Robert Hight, when the latter’s Auto Club Ford experienced troubles almost at the hit of the throttle.
According to NHRA officials, the Funny Car final will be contested at 10 a.m. Monday followed immediately by a Top Fuel final matching Cory McClenathan and Doug Kalitta with the winner taking the points lead.
“Well it’d be really nice to win it,” Force said. “I don’t especially like beating a team car. [Robert’s] car never moved on the starting line. [That] must have been a malfunction because Jimmy Prock has got that car flying, but Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly and Mike Neff [have] got my car flying, [too].
“That 4.04 was pretty impressive and then the 4.08. I’m a nighttime match racer and I grew up on these streets here at Firebird Raceway, at this drag strip.”
As they stand
Funny car results from the first three rounds of racing completed Sunday in the 26th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird Sports Park:
First round – 1. John Force, Yorba Linda, Calif., Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang, 4.142, 305.01 mph, def. 16. Cruz Pedregon, Brownsburg, Ind., Snap-on Tools Toyota Solara, 4.201, 290.76 mph; 2. Matt Hagan, Christiansburg, Va., Diehard Dodge Charger, 4.307, 216.90 mph, def. 15. Paul Lee, Anaheim, Calif., Canidae Pet Food Chevrolet Impala, 7.147, 92.14 mph; 14. Tony Pedregon, Brownsburg, Ind., Nitrofish Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 4.198, 300.06 mph, def. 3. Del Worsham, Chino Hills, Calif., Al Anabi Toyota Solara, 4.181, 304.74 mph; 4. Robert Hight, Yorba Linda, Calif., Auto Club Ford Mustang, 4.075, 308.99 mph, def. 13. Tim Wilkerson, Springfield, Ill., Levi, Ray and Shoup Ford Mustang, 4.113, 295.66 mph; 5. Ashley Force Hood, Anaheim Hills, Calif., Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, 4.104, 306.80 mph, def. 12. Melanie Troxel, Duluth, Ga., In-N-Out Burgers Dodge Charger, 4.426, 207.05 mph; 6. Ron Capps, Carlsbad, Calif., NAPA Dodge Charger, 4.097, 307.65 mph, def. 11. Gary Densham, Bellflower, Calif., Lawson Rock and Oil Chevrolet Impala, 4.250, 249.76 mph; 7. Jack Beckman, Norco, Calif., Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger, 4.132, 307.27 mph, def. 10. Bob Tasca III, Cranston, R.I., Quick Lane/Motorcraft Ford Mustang, 4.196, 299.20 mph; 8. Jim Head, Columbus, Ohio, Head, Inc., Toyota Solara, 4.170, 304.87 mph, def. 9. Jeff Arend, San Dimas, Calif., DHL Toyota Solara, 4.346, 229.20 mph.
Second round – Force, 4.044, 309.77 mph, def. Head, 8.927, 79.54 mph; T. Pedregon, 4.195, 304.05 mph, def. Capps, 4.911, 216.06 mph; Beckman, 4.136, 303.78 mph, def. Hagan, 6.968, 126.64 mph; Hight, 4.107, 302.69 mph, def. Force Hood, 4.144, 295.01 mph.
Semifinals – Force, 4.080, 309.06 mph, def. Hight, 20.952, 36.81 mph; Beckman, 5.023, 262.64 mph, def. T. Pedregon, 9.335, 91.65 mph.
FINAL – John Force, Yorba Linda, Calif., Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang, versus Jack Beckman, Norco, Calif., Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger, noon, Eastern Time.