Ford Drag Racing news: Hight & Tasca 2009 Preview

Summary of Contents:

  • Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang Funny Car, finished fourth in the NHRA Funny Car standings in 2008 after posting back-to-back runner up results in 2006 and 2007. Hight will once again team with 14-time champion John Force, 2007 Rookie of the Year Ashley Force and 2008 Rookie of the Year Mike Neff to comprise the lineup for John Force Racing. Hight took a few minutes to chat with TWIFR about the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car Series.
  • Bob Tasca III, driver of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Shelby Mustang Funny Car, reflects on his rookie year as he prepares for the 2009 Full Throttle NHRA season. Tasca talks about his goals for 2009, the alliance with ’08 Funny Car championship contender Tim Wilkerson and other changes at Tasca Racing.

ROBERT HIGHT – Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang –

COMPARE WHERE YOU AND THE TEAM ARE AT THIS POINT IN 2009 TO WHERE YOU WERE IN PREPARATION FOR THE 2008 SEASON. “I think we are in better shape as far as going out and contending for a championship and winning races because last year was so chaotic. Last year, a week before we went testing in January, we were still putting together all the cars that we had completely redesigned. It was a total redesign of the chassis after all the accidents we had in ’07. At that point, performance and winning races wasn’t really the focus of ours. This year we are still focused on safety, we haven’t put that on the back burner at all, but we are also looking at where we needed to improve in ’09 from ’08. What was the main problem that we all faced? We have put all our heads together, all the crew chiefs and focus on being more competitive and getting back on top, which is where we believe we belong.”

FOR THE THIRD STRAIGHT YEAR YOU WENT TO THE FINAL RACE IN CONTENTION FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP. UNFORTUNATELY, FOR THE THIRD STRAIGHT YEAR YOU NARROWLY MISSED WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP. ARE YOU PROUD OF THE CONSISTENCY OF BEING IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENTION IN THE FINAL RACE OR ARE YOU FRUSTRATED BY THE NARROW MISSES? “It is a consistent run to be on the cusp three straight years, but it also goes back to the fact that we need to be in the driver’s seat come the last race of the year. We need to be the guy that everyone else is chasing and not have to wait until the last day to catch up or be right there to win. We want to lock this thing up early. It will take a lot of hard work and a lot of technology to be successful. In fact, Ford was at the shop last week working with us on a new programs that should help us with our consistency our performance and ultimately win races.”

YOU MENTIONED THE EMOTIONAL 2007 SEASON. IN 2008 THERE WERE SEVERAL MILESTONES FOR THE TEAM. JOHN WON AT TOPEKA AND WON HIS ONE THOUSANDTH RUN. ASHLEY WON FOR THE FIRST TIME. MIKE NEFF WON ROOKIE OF THE YEAR AND YOU WON THREE RACES AND CAPTURED THE U.S. NATIONALS AND WERE A CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER IN THE FINAL RACE. DO YOU TAKE PRIDE IN THAT THE TEAM HAD SUCH SUCCESS COMING OFF THE DIFFICULTIES OF THE PRIOR YEAR? “Big time. I have a lot of pride in what we were able to accomplish, as a team last year in a short period of time; that was phenomenal. We simply wouldn’t have been able to make the to make the chassis changes and improve the level of safety without Ford Racing. Ford was the major backbone behind the changes. We consider ourselves very fortunate to be involved with Ford to have their engineers at our disposal for all these projects. Safety and performance are what we are all about.”

IT IS THE START OF A NEW YEAR. HANDICAP THE FUNNY CAR FIELD AND WHO DO YOU THINK WILL BE THE TITLE CONTENDERS? “You have the start with the Pedregons (Tony and Cruz), who have won the championship the last two years and they will always be tough. The new combination of Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca joining together and they will both be driving Ford Mustangs, so they will be tough. Tim honestly should have won the championship last year; without the Countdown to 1, he would have. Teaming Tasca, who is a good driver in the Motorcraft / Quick Lane car, with him will help them both because now they have two cars to share data with where before they were always a single car. All the Schumacher cars will be tough, and then there are my own teammates. I still think Funny Car will be the class to watch for competition. I think there will be a lot of different winners and even with the tough economic times I think Funny Car will be the strongest class because there should be 18-20 good cars every week and that means there will be a good car sitting out on Sunday.”

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO GET OFF TO A FAST START? IS THERE AN ADVANTAGE TO GETTING THE FIRST WIN IN THE FIRST COUPLE OF EVENTS? “I won the first event last year and I was in the final at the next event and I still didn’t win the championship. I do think it is big, but with the new Countdown to 1 it isn’t as important as it used to be simply because the points reset mid-year and you have a fresh start. For the morale of everybody involved with the program it is important to get out there and get a few wins under your belt early.”

HOW BIG OF AN ADVANTAGE IS IT FOR JOHN FORCE RACING TO HAVE FOUR CARS? “The four-car team only works because of the people that John Force has assembled. If we were butting heads and didn’t all get along and race and work together it wouldn’t be a good deal. To his credit, John has put together four teams of good people that work well together. It is a big advantage to share data and one team can try something and if it is good we can share with each other and really it is a continuous learning curve. The key is the interaction and in our case it is four teams working as one.”

LAST YEAR, IN THE INTEREST OF SAFETY, THE NHRA CHANGED THE RACE DISTANCE FROM THE TRADITIONAL QUARTER-MILE TO ONE THOUSAND FEET. THIRTEEN RACES, OR JUST OVER HALF A SEASON, HAVE BEEN RUN AT THE NEW DISTANCE WHAT IS YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CHANGE? “I don’t mind it a bit. If it were half-track you still have to get to the finish line first. Wherever they (NHRA) say the finish line is, that is my goal is to get there first. I think the 1000-foot is necessary for a lot of the race tracks because there isn’t sufficient shut down area and it is impossible to move the race track and change it. So, the change is necessary unless they put in place performance limitations, which I am not a big fan of. I think it should be the 1000-foot and get there as quick as you can. Hopefully, we will see Funny Cars turning three-second times this year. I did that in ’07 (3.95 to 1000-foot), and last year I had the quickest run at 1000-foot at four-flat. It won’t be a regular occurrence, but in perfect conditions with a great race track and the team being set up and having the opportunity to really go for it I think you will see some three-second times.”

WHAT WAS THE BEST PART OF THE OFF SEASON? “Spending time with my family. We are gone for 24 events and with testing and match races and appearances we are gone a lot with everything we do. It was great to spend the time at home, and my daughter is four so Christmas was really special. It is funny because when I thought I was going to win the championship going into the final race at Pomona, I was looking at the off -season and thinking, ‘I am really going to enjoy this winter and enjoy some time off.’ When I lost, my perspective changed and I was ready to get right back out there. We just have to work harder so we can be where we want and need to be.”

Bob Tasca III, driver of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Shelby Mustang Funny Car, reflects on his rookie year as he prepares for the 2009 Full Throttle NHRA season. Tasca talks about his goals for 2009, the alliance with ’08 Funny Car championship contender Tim Wilkerson and other changes at Tasca Racing.

Bob Tasca III – Motorcraft/Quick Lane Shelby Mustang Funny Car – YOU SPENT SOME OF THE OFF SEASON TESTING; CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE TESTING? “For us, our 2009 season started right after Pomona. We went to Las Vegas with Tim Wilkerson’s setup, because at the end of the day for us, a second car is critical, getting the two cars to run common parts with similar tune-ups is really the next step in the relationship. We wanted to get into the off-season at least with a couple of runs under our belt at Las Vegas. We made nine runs. Five of the nine runs were the quickest runs we’ve ever made, ever, to half-track. We weren’t making full runs by plan purpose, but it was just incredible. A lot of what Tim has worked on and developed and some of the things that (crew chief) Chris Cunningham wanted to try really came together well for us at Las Vegas. Certainly, it was a great way to go into the off season with that enthusiasm knowing that we’ve got a hot rod. We struggled in 2008 in certain areas of the race track, not getting the car to accelerate as hard as we wanted it to without smoking the tires. Getting that kind of information going into the off-season is a real morale boost. It had the guys pumped up.”

HOW DOES THE 2007 OFFSEASON COMPARE TO THIS OFF SEASON? “This time last year – you talk about pressure – I didn’t get a race car until January 15th. I had a multi-year contract with Ford and didn’t even have a license. I knew I could drive, but didn’t have a license to get to Pomona. Then you get to Phoenix and we make 25 runs and two of the 25 are full runs and we go into the last day, of the last run of the last test session, and I need to make a run to get a license. The pressure, heck, if my team or I didn’t fold then, we’ll never fold because that’s pressure. If you look at this off-season and I think the whole attitude of the team, last year it was about let’s get qualified, let’s put ourselves in a position to win, let’s see how the chips fall. This year it’s: ‘Let’s qualify number one’ and ‘Let’s put ourselves in a position to win the championship.’ That is the attitude and I think at the end of the day, if you look at the steps we’ve made in ’08, we couldn’t have gotten to ’09 without going through ’08. You’ve got to lay a foundation. If we’ve come out of ’08 with anything, it’s a team that almost everyone is coming back to. It’s an assistant crew chief that’s worked many, many years with Chris Mockdenner, that’s joined our team. It’s an alliance with Tim Wilkerson, who both as a person, as a racer, a competitor is about as triple-A as you can find. The guy, the more I got to know him, the more excited I am about standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him and his team and to attack this 2009 season because you really, really need the data. Two cars is 400 percent better than one, three cars isn’t much better than two and four cars can just be a confusion sometime. The two-car team is the right formula. Cruz and Tony [Pedergon] have won back-to-back championships with a two-car team. As I talk to you, I’m about three inches off the chair because I just can’t wait to get out there and hit the ground running with Tim and our team. I just think we’re going to be a tough team to beat in 2009.”

WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR 2009? WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH? “I have two goals. We’ve got to win two championships in 2009. We’ve got to win one on the race track and we’ve got to win one off the race track. I think that’s what I’m most proud of this program, we’ve built this platform. It’s not a race team, it’s a platform. At the end of the day, sponsor dollars are tight, budgets are crunched, but even more so than that, when you spend X number of dollars, the return on investment needs to be more. It needs to be more than it was last year and the year before. That you can achieve by winning on the race track and off the race track. When you look at the platform we’ve built, me as a driver growing up around Quick Lane and Motorcraft brands, the creditability factor is through the roof. When I talk about Ford, when I talk about Quick Lane and Motorcraft to the fans, to the distributors, to the vendors, it’s from my heart. When we have track activation, 19 of the 24 events, it’s about building the relationships. It’s about strengthening relationships; it’s about starting new relationships to help Motorcraft and Quick Lane. When we’re in the midway and we’re interacting with the fans, it’s about selling parts, selling service, selling accessories, selling Fords. That’s why we race. A lot people forget that if we don’t sell parts, if we don’t sell cars, we don’t race. We need to sell the brand that we represent, and that’s winning a championship off the race track. I don’t think there’s another team out there that represents the off-the-track performance that we represent. We went to New York to basically represent NHRA on a best-in-class activation program. That’s very important to me. In the same breath, a championship. That’s what our goal is for 2009. Nobody can guarantee a championship, not in today’s day and age. John Force was able to do it for 14 years. The competition is too tight, the margins of victory are too small and unfortunately, as many people won’t admit, luck plays a bigger role in the outcome of some races than anything else. You lose by one-thousandths at 310 miles an hour. Is the driver a bum? Is the crew chief a bum? You shake your head. Those are the crushing losses, but unfortunately to win a championship, you need a few of those to go your way. And that’s just the bottom line. I think we’ve positioned ourselves with Wilkerson and the team around us and the resources to give ourselves as good a chance to win a championship as anybody that’s going to enter the 2009 season. I’m confident about that, but in the same breath, we have to guarantee a championship off the track, and I feel very confidently that we’ll do that as well.”

CAN YOU TALK MORE ABOUT THE ALLIANCE WITH TIM WILKERSON? “That was the biggest announcement we made in 2008, second to announcing that we were going racing. It’s so important from a couple of perspectives. Number one, chemistry, and I say that as number one because at the end of the day, you can take the best people and put them together and they won’t win. When I looked at forming an alliance, it was obviously associating myself with a team that is championship caliber and a person that had the chemistry that not only I share, but also Chris Cunningham and my team shares. The more I got to talk to Tim, the more I just fell in love with the guy. He’s a first-class family man, which is obviously a big part of what I’m all about. He’s a meat-and-potato racer. He’s not a complicated guy. He races is car in a very simple but effective manner, which is very similar to how Chris thinks, and he’s a competitor. He’s just a phenomenal competitor. We are going to help one another through different initiatives. We’ve got a blower initiative going on, we’ve got a clutch initiative. We’ll be doing a lot of testing in 2009 that he’ll be able to gather a lot of information from. I think he’ll be a mentor for me. That will be a great asset. I’m just thrilled to start this season off with Tim alongside me. I knew going in, about halfway through 2008, the owner side of me says, ‘Nope, we ain’t gonna do this next year. Not going into 2009 alone. That’s not going to happen.’ We were very fortunate to be able to put something together with Tim and I know Tim echoes the feelings. I talk to Tim a couple of times a week and he’s about excited as I am of starting this season off.”

CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW YOU AND WILKERSON RACE IN A ‘SIMPLE AND EFFECTIVE MANNER’? “You know how when you ask some people for the time, they tell you how the watch is built? I just want to know what time it is. And the end of the day, that’s Tim’s philosophy. He doesn’t try and reinvent the wheel. He doesn’t try to make the race car do something it can’t do. He really has a fabulous handle on his tune-up. He might not be the quickest car out there but he’s by far the most consistent. The most consistent car will win a championship, period. He had the most consistent car from the beginning to the end of the season. The problem is he didn’t have the most consistent car the last three races of the season. Unfortunately when NHRA resets the points, that’s the way, and we play by their rules. He lost the championship because of the last three races of the season. He won the championship if you took all 24 races. I think there are things that we are going to work on to make the tune-up better because at the end of the day, like Tim said, ‘We can’t rest on our laurels.’ We have a testing budget that we allocate to test and Tim doesn’t test as much as we do, so that will be a big help for him. While we’re testing, he’s privy to our information as we’re privy to his information.”

WHAT IS THE STATUS ON YOUR CONCORD SHOP? “We have a roof and we have siding. Those are all big steps in building a building. We’ve got the foundation in and the project is on time. We’ve got some great builders out there that have done an exceptional job keeping this thing on track. We hope to move in just after the Gainesville race. Then that’s where the work really begins. We have to build our blower dyno to get our blower program off the ground and our clutch program off the ground. There’s just a lot of things that have to happen once they hand us the keys to the building. That goes back to the ’08 season and another fantastic job for the guys to work out of the trailers the whole year versus all of the other teams having shops to go home to, it’s just another piece that is going to make our team stronger for years to come.”

HOW DO YOU JUGGLE BEING A BUSINESS OWNER, TEAM OWNER, DRIVER, AND FAMILY MAN? “On the business side, I’m just blessed to have just incredibly talented people around me, both at my family level, my brother, my cousins, my sister, my uncles and a management team that’s just second to none. My brother and uncles focus on the front end, the sales side of it, because that really is a day-to-day operation. I could never do that and race without their help. I’m still very involved from the road; you can manage for the short time that I’m in the office with forecasting and initiatives and holding people accountable for the different projects we’ve got going on. I can be more effective without a service management team that is really, really strong. Then my wife, I just could never do it if she wasn’t the type of person she was. She’s very understanding of my time away. Certainly, it wasn’t easy for her. There are a lot of sacrifices that she makes. She didn’t marry a race-car driver, and a lot of people can’t make that transition. She’s made the transition, although tough at times, she’s very supportive of me and the three boys I’ve got at home. For me, it’s when I’m home, getting home earlier to be with them. When I’m on the road, it’s having them with me as much as I can. In the summer, we have some great times together out on the road with the family. Then there are huge sacrifices when I’m away for a week at a time and they’re not with me. It’s a balancing act, but at the end of the day, I think you have to live your life the way you want to live it and you have to love what you do. I love what I do and my wife supports me. She supports that because she knows how much I love it. It has its challenges, but you just need to have some great people around you.”

SO ‘WIN ON SUNDAY, SELL ON MONDAY’ HAS A PERSONAL MEANING TO YOU? “There’s no question. Winning on Sunday is why we race. Selling on Monday keeps us racing. If you can’t sell on Monday, there’s no point of racing on Sunday. We have to win on Sunday and win on Monday. For me, that holds true on both sides because on Monday, I’m in the dealership trying to figure out how to win. It’s a pretty neat relationship that I think is going to deliver pretty tremendous results here and years to come.”
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Published with permission of PCGCampbell

Susan Pollack, Motorcraft/Quick Lane Shelby Mustang NHRA PR (313) 203-7162