Brainerd: John Force preview

FORCE THROWS DOWN GAUNTLET AT BRAINERD 14-Time Champ Eyeing First Win of the Season BRAINERD, Minn. -- Okay, here's the deal. John Force, drag racing's biggest winner, the only driver in any category to have won as many as 100 NHRA tour...

FORCE THROWS DOWN GAUNTLET AT BRAINERD
14-Time Champ Eyeing First Win of the Season

BRAINERD, Minn. -- Okay, here's the deal. John Force, drag racing's biggest winner, the only driver in any category to have won as many as 100 NHRA tour events and 1000 racing rounds, has gone 15 races into the season without a final round appearance for the first time in his 32-year NHRA career.

That's right. Never has the 14-time Auto Racing All-American, the first Funny Car driver to break the 4.90, 4.80 and 4.70 second barriers, reached this point in a campaign with so little in his competitive portfolio.

Granted, he's holding onto the No. 8 position in the current driver standings and his qualifying results in the Castrol GTX0x00ae High Mileage0x2122 Ford Mustang are vastly improved over a year ago (when he was a DNQ in a career high four events), but for a 14-time series champion, his team's current level of performance is wholly unacceptable.

Entering this week's 28th annual Lucas Oil Nationals, a race he has won a record 11 times, Force told his crew chiefs that he expects measurable improvement, not just from his own car but from the other two John Force Racing entries that currently are struggling to make the Countdown to the Championship: Mike Neff's Ford Drive One Mustang and Robert Hight's Auto Club of Southern California Mustang.

In a meeting that followed the team's less-than-successful performance in the three-race Western Swing (12-12 overall), Force threw down the gauntlet.

"After hours of meetings and listening to the sincerity of my guys, I asked for options," Force said. "I considered moving drivers around, moving crew chiefs and changing combinations. In the end, I listened to my brain trust and their vote was to stick with what we have. They convinced me (that) we are about to turn the (competitive) corner with these Ford Mustangs.

"I told them they have three races left (and) if we don't turn it around, then change has to come. I challenged my crew chiefs to show me improvement."

The upshot is that Force has created an intra-team Countdown-to-the-Countdown that encompasses the next three events this week's Lucas Oil Nationals, the Aug. 21-23 Toyo Tires Nationals at Reading, Pa, and the Mac Tools U.S. National Labor Day weekend at Indianapolis.

Although he turned 60 this year and even though he is less than two years removed from the devastating crash that left him hospitalized for almost a month with broken bones in his arms, legs, hands and feet, insiders don't believe Force's abilities have diminished to any significant extent. If anything, he is in better physical condition today than he was when he crashed on Sept. 23, 2007.

Rather, the issue has been the lack of data available for the new, stronger-but-heavier chassis that emerged following Force's crash and the earlier testing accident that claimed the life of Eric Medlen. Crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly, both of whom won NHRA championships before coming to JFR, now believe that they're close to achieving a more Force-like level of consistency.

"Actions speak louder than words," Force said. "Right now, we need action."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , Austin Coil , Mike Neff