Baytown: John Force preview

HOUSTON, Texas - John Force already has won a two-wide race and a four-wide race this year. If the NHRA wanted to go eight-wide during this week's 23rd annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park, few doubt that Force and ...

HOUSTON, Texas - John Force already has won a two-wide race and a four-wide race this year. If the NHRA wanted to go eight-wide during this week's 23rd annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park, few doubt that Force and his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang would be able to master that, too.

Nevertheless, after scoring two weeks ago in the controversial side- by-side-by-side-by-side format that marked the inaugural 4-Wide Nationals at Charlotte, N.C., drag racing's biggest winner is glad to get back to what he knows best - and that is focusing on a single opponent in the lane immediately adjacent even if the driver occupying that position is his daughter, Ashley Force Hood.

Force beat his progeny to the finish by just .021 of a second in a Charlotte final she actually thought she had won. Now she's itching for a two-wide rematch this weekend on a track on which she was dominant a year ago when she won at the wheel of the Castrol GTX Mustang.

"Racing my own daughter, that's the hardest thing," Force said. "I have to be honest, she told me that when she pulls up beside me, she doesn't leave anything on the table. I had to get that attitude, (too) because when I look at her through that visor, all I see is the little girl who used to fall off her tricycle. On that track, though, I know she's not a little girl anymore. She's learning the game."

The difference, at least to this point, is that Force already knows the game and, after enduring two seasons of struggle and failing last year to win a race for the first time since 1987, he has put himself back into contention with a new race car, new crew and new mechanical "brain trust.".

Compelled by economics to park one of the four Ford Mustangs his team campaigned in 2009, Force consolidated his resources. Significantly, he took Mike Neff, who last year drove the fourth Ford, and put him together with Hall of Fame crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly to form a crew chief consortium responsible for 18 NHRA championships.

The results have been magic. In four races in this, his 25th season with primary sponsor BP/Castrol, Force has gone to three finals, won twice and ended three years of qualifying frustration by starting No. 1 at Phoenix, Ariz.

After surviving a spectacular 2007 crash at the Texas Motorplex in Dallas and enduring months of physical therapy, he suddenly is flashing the form that made him almost unbeatable in the 1990s.

"I just kept staying after it," said the 2008 inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, "and I'm excited that I can play the game again. I'm 60 years old and I intend to race until I'm 65 or better. It's all about motivating yourself. I wanted Ashley to see me this way and Robert to see me this way; (to) prove that I could come back, so that if it ever happened to them they would know that if you want it bad enough you can (overcome almost anything)."

Although he likely will remain undefeated in the experimental four- wide format of which a majority of pro drivers, owners and crew chiefs were critical, Force isn't too bad in the traditional format, either.

Since he began his NHRA career in 1978, the California pro has been in 1,448 two-car races and won 1,046 of them. That means he's crossed the finish line ahead of his opponent, at either the quarter mile distance at which events were run for more than 50 years or at the 1,000 foot distance at which the have been contested since the death of two-time world champion Scott Kalitta in 2008, 72.2 per cent of the time.

At HRP, the 14-time series champion has been even more prolific, winning 75.3 per cent of his two-car heats (56 of 74) en route to seven victories, six of them in the Spring Nationals.

" I like Texas," Force said. "It's fun to go there and you can really run good if the conditions are right (as they are supposed to be this week with 70 degree temperatures). We've been pretty consistent there over the years. We're looking forward to getting back."

-source: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Scott Kalitta , Ashley Force , Austin Coil , Mike Neff