Bristol: John Force preview

With 100-Win barrier broken, Force focuses on 10th straight title. BRISTOL, Tenn. With one milestone behind him, John Force focuses on a second this week (April 26-28) when he sends his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang after the Funny Car championship...

With 100-Win barrier broken, Force focuses on 10th straight title.

BRISTOL, Tenn. With one milestone behind him, John Force focuses on a second this week (April 26-28) when he sends his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang after the Funny Car championship in the second annual Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.

Two weeks ago, Force etched his name on yet another piece of drag racing history when he beat Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final round of the O'Reilly Springnationals at Houston, Texas, to secure his 100th tour victory.

This week, on the track on which he earned the biggest payday of his career (at the 1999 Winston Showdown, an event that pitted Funny Cars against Top Fuel dragsters), the 52-year-old veteran is hoping to extend his points lead in an ongoing bid to earn a 10th consecutive NHRA series championship.

Ten straight titles. That would be an achievement unparalleled in sports history. Aside from the Harlem Globetrotters, no team in any sport ever has enjoyed such an extended run.

Of course, there still is work to do before the 10-time Auto Racing All-American can claim the $400,000 POWERade Champion's bonus.

Even though he rolls into Bristol 83 points ahead of second place Del Worsham, the national record-holder hasn't enjoyed the kind of dominance this year that marked some of his previous seasons, notably the 1996 campaign in which he won 13 of 19 races and was named Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing.

True, he has led the POWERade points all year long and, yes, he has qualified

No. 1 in three of the first five events and, granted, he is the season's only two-time Funny Car winner.

Still, Force insists that the challenge posed by drivers like Worsham, Ron Capps, Johnson Jr., Whit Bazemore, former Top Fuel Champ Gary Scelzi, Scotty Cannon, Cruz Pedregon and others, including his own teammates Tony Pedregon and Gary Densham, to whom he lost four times in final rounds a year ago, is the toughest he has faced during his remarkable run.

The man named No. 2 (behind Don Garlits) on NHRA's list of its Top 50 drivers is especially mindful of Worsham, who has beaten him in three final rounds the last two years including this year's finale at Phoenix, Ariz.

"That's an excellent race team," Force said of Worsham's Pontiac-based operation which is sponsored by Checker/Schuck's/Kragen. "They've learned how to race against us. They're not going to give any more away. They're going to go A to B and if we make even a little mistake, they're going to take us out.

"I don't think we intimidate any of these guys anymore," Force said. "All of 'em want to be the ones to take us down and that makes everyone of them dangerous."

With four races on tap in the next five weeks (Atlanta next week followed after a one week respite by back-to-back events at Englishtown, N.J., and Topeka, Kan.), Force expects the real players to step to the forefront.

"If we can get through (the next four races with the lead), we'll be hard to catch," he said, "but I still don't think it's going to be decided until the last race. There's just too many good cars and drivers out there."

FORCE at Mac ThunderValley Nationals...

*Won the $200,000 top prize in the 1999 Winston Showdown All-Star bonus race at Bristol Dragway, an event which pitted Funny Cars against Top Fuel dragsters.

*Bristol is one of only two tracks on which he has not one at least one event in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

FORCE Highlights...

*Two weeks ago became only the third driver in a major motor racing series to win 100 races and the first to do so in any series in the modern era.

*NHRA national record holder at 4.731 seconds, set Oct. 5, 2001, at Reading, Pa.

*1996 Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing.

*Is seeking his 10th straight series championship and 12th overall.

DID YOU KNOW?
John this week will try to extend to 283 the number of consecutive NHRA national events for which he has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car. The last time he failed to make the 16-car lineup was in October, 1987, at the World Finals at Pomona, Calif....John has won at least one NHRA national event in each of the last 16 seasons....two times in his career, John Force has won the NHRA series championship wire-to-wire, leading the points from the first race to the last. He first accomplished that feat in 1991 and did it again in 1997....this is the 13th consecutive season in which John has earned multiple victories.

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Gary Densham , Scotty Cannon , Cruz Pedregon , Don Garlits , Tommy Johnson Jr.