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John Force Racing sweeps funny car qualifying at Bandimere, looking to improve on race day

MORRISON — For the second consecutive year at Bandimere Speedway, John Force Racing’s funny car family affair qualified first and second at the Mopar Mile-High Nationals. Courtney Force on Saturday secured her second consecutive pole position, with her father, John Force, a close second.

A year ago, No. 2 qualifier John Force defeated Courtney in the all-JFR final at Colorado’s 37th annual national event.

This year, sweeping the top two qualifying spots could be the kiss of death for JFR, which can’t seem to race as well as it qualifies. Coming into Bandimere, JFR has qualified No. 1 a division-most eight times in 13 races, but won just once. The rival Don Schumacher Racing has won 12 races, despite qualifying No. 1 just four times.

“We’re low E.T. almost every week but they’re winning them all,” John Force, the winningest driver in NHRA history, said of DSR. “So we’ve got a problem. We have to learn how to race on race day.”

JFR’s third car, driven by Robert Hight, who is John Force’s son-in-law, qualified third Saturday for a 1-2-3 JFR sweep. In the NHRA’s previous race July 9 outside Chicago, each JFR driver lost in the first round. John Force has the team’s only win, back on March 19 in Gainesville, Fla.

“We have yet to win this season, so there’s a lot on my mind,” said Courtney Force, who set Bandimere’s funny car elapsed time and speed records with a 3.889-second pass at 328.30 mph in Friday’s qualifying. “We’d like to end the week on a high note. We got to look for a good race day, and we need to make it happen. We’ve had a great race car. We’ve proven it in qualifying. We’re stumbling over ourselves on race day, and we can’t do it anymore. We’re well aware of it.”

Another nitromethane-powered female, Leah Pritchett, emerged the No. 1 qualifier in top fuel, and Drew Skillman (pro stock) and Eddie Krawiec (pro stock motorcycle) also have the pole positions in their 16-car/bike ladders.

Courtney Force will face No. 16 Jim Campbell in Sunday’s first round. John Force will open against DSR rival Matt Hagan, who failed to reach 161 mph in four qualifying passes, and Hight will oppose Todd Simpson in the first round.

DSR struggled through much of funny car qualifying before points leader Ron Capps ripped off a 3.965-second run (313.73 mph) in Round 4 to collect the No. 5 position. Teammate Jack Beckman also made big strides in the final round, ending sixth. Like Hagan, DSR’s Tommy Johnson Jr. couldn’t figure it out and stands 12th.

Hagan introduced the new Mopar funny car to commemorate the company’s 80th anniversary Thursday.

“All can say is I’m sorry,” Hagan said of his four poor qualifying runs. “Obviously our performance is not what we hoped and planned for up here on the mountain. We’ve really never been in this situation where we’ve been this far back. We’ll get it figured out (Sunday). I trust in (crew chief) Dickie Venables and the job he’s capable of doing, and the brains that he has, and the decision’s he’s got to make.”

The John Force vs. Hagan race will be the most interesting first-round affair. In top fuel, the big-money teams each qualified in the top half of the field, and there are no big-name early matchups.

Footnotes. Courtney Force is just 5-5 on Sundays when qualifying No. 1 this year. She has lost twice in the first round. … Top fuel’s Tony Schumacher will race his backup car Sunday after bending his chassis in Saturday’s final qualifying run. The front of Schumacher’s dragster went airborne midway through the run and it slammed back on the track after the driver lifted off the gas. … John Force has won seven funny car titles at Bandimere, the most in nitro divisions and tied for first with pro stock’s Bob Glidden and Allen Johnson.