Atlanta: John Force preview

FORCE RETURNS TO FORM AT SOUTHERN NATIONALS At Age 61, Champ Among Atlanta Favorites COMMERCE, Ga. -- John Force is no Warren Johnson, an NHRA national event winner at the age of 66. However, at 61 Force shares with Johnson the belief that, as...

FORCE RETURNS TO FORM AT SOUTHERN NATIONALS
At Age 61, Champ Among Atlanta Favorites

COMMERCE, Ga. -- John Force is no Warren Johnson, an NHRA national event winner at the age of 66. However, at 61 Force shares with Johnson the belief that, as long as he can deliver for his team and his sponsors, the mere mention of retirement is more than just premature, it is repugnant.

After two years of struggle to recover, mentally and physically, from the most serious accident of his 33-year NHRA career, Force this year is back in contention for the Full Throttle Championship and loving every moment of his time behind the wheel of a special edition Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang.

Specifically, the sport's biggest winner is relishing the fact that at races like this week's 30th annual Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, he is considered something more than just "window dressing." Winner of three of the season's first seven races and the current Funny Car points leader, Force once again is a genuine threat every time he rolls to the starting line.

b^0x001cThere are no highs without the lows," Force said of the problems he has endured since a 300 mile-an-hour crash at the Texas Motorplex in September, 2007.

"I've been on a rollercoaster," he continued. "I just kind of got stuck in the mud, but (now) we're back in the ball game. The truth is, I'm back in good shape. I'm living in the gym (but) it's starting to show on the racetrack. There were days (when) I thought 'it's over, I'm not gonna make it.' But I've gotten back and (now) I just got to keep doing it."

From 1990 until his accident, Force won 120 of the 374 races for which he qualified, almost one in three. However, after the crash, after six hours of reconstructive surgery and three months of physical therapy, he returned in 2008 as just a shell of his former self.

Even though he won the 2008 O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Topeka, Kan., a victory that propelled him to yet another Top 10 finish (his streak is now 25 straight), Force was far from dominant, failing even to qualify for four of 24 races. Last year was even worse because, while he qualified for every race, he didn't appear in a single final round for the first time in 25 years; didn't win for the first time in 23 seasons.

"It was embarrassing," Force said. "When you've been good, and I was good over the years, then all of a sudden to be in the cellar, it was tough. The truth is, I want to show my kids that I'm still good. Some of them were so little, they don't remember when I was winning or when I was dominating."

The key elements in Force's resurgence are (1) a chassis developed in-house at John Force Racing, Inc.; (2) the JFR-designed BOSS 500 Ford nitro motor; (3) a crew new except for clutch specialist Tom Ekstrom; and (4) the partnering of Mike Neff with Hall of Famers Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly to create a "super team" of crew chiefs.

"We just shook things up," Force said. "We put a young pup with a couple of old dogs and now everybody's happy. We found consistency in our motor program with the Boss 500 and (with) this new chassis. I actually (am driving) the first chassis that came out of the project, so that car is really working.

"We're going to stay on track, go down the road (and) not get lost. (Our goal is) to stay focused and see if we can get another championship."

And why not? Not only is Force winning again, he's doing so with a flair that has been largely absent since the accident. That's what he brings to the Summit Southern Nationals, a race in which he has appeared in more final rounds (14) than he has in any other event in the series.

-source: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , John Force , Austin Coil , Mike Neff