FORCE IS STILL THE DRIVER TO BEAT IN POWERADE CHAMPIONSHIP RACE 13-Time Series Champ 31 Points Back of Leader Scelzi DALLAS, Texas -- Coming off a strong showing last week at Reading, Pa., John Force returns this week to his favorite ...
FORCE IS STILL THE DRIVER TO BEAT IN POWERADE CHAMPIONSHIP RACE
13-Time Series Champ 31 Points Back of Leader Scelzi
DALLAS, Texas -- Coming off a strong showing last week at Reading, Pa., John Force returns this week to his favorite racetrack hoping to end a three-and-a-half month victory drought and keep himself and his national record-holding Castrol GTX® Start Up™ Ford Mustang in contention for the 2005 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship.
Drag racing's most prolific winner, Force hasn't won since May 29th when he beat Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final round of the O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Topeka, Kan., to complete a three victories-in-three-weeks blitz.
Since then, the 13-time series champion has suffered through one of the least productive streaks in his 30-year career, losing in the first round nine times and plummeting from first place in points to as low as fourth.
Nevertheless, entering this week's 20th annual O'Reilly Fall Nationals at Billy Meyer's Texas Motorplex, the track on which he became the first Funny Car driver to break the 4.80 second barrier, Force is looking more-and-more like the man who has dominated Funny Car racing for the last 15 seasons.
Last week, he appeared to be on his way to a record 119th tour victory when his 7,000 horsepower Mustang, which had performed flawlessly in the first three rounds, inexplicably lost traction in a final round match with Tony Pedregon.
As a result, Force rolls into the Motorplex, a track on which he has reached the finals in 11 of his last 17 appearances, 31 points back of pacesetting Gary Scelzi instead of 11 in the closest championship chase in Funny Car history. In addition to Scelzi and Force, who between them have won 16 championships, three other drivers also are in the mix with just four races remaining.
"It's kinda exciting," Force said of the race for the $400,000 POWERade bonus, "after you get over the gut ache you have every morning. But everybody's running out of races now. You can't make a mistake because two or three guys might pass you."
Indeed, only 82 points separate the five contenders. That's roughly four rounds of racing, a total that either of the five could make up in a single event.
In addition to Force and Scelzi, the mix includes rookie sensation Robert "Top Gun" Hight, driver of the Force-owned Automobile Club of Southern California Ford; veteran Ron Capps, Scelzi's Dodge teammate, who was runner-up to Force in 1998 and 2000, and second year pro Eric Medlen, last year's top rookie and driver of the third of the Force Racing Mustangs, the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford.
Never have as many drivers been in contention this late in the season. That said, Force still remains the favorite.
A 12-time Auto Racing All-America selection, his Castrol-backed team has won the championship 12 straight years and 14 times in the last 15 seasons.
"These guys have been here before," Force said of a GTX Start Up team anchored by co-crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly. "We're usually at our best when we're backed against the wall and that's the way we feel coming into the Motorplex. Scelzi's been kicking our butt and it's time to put up or shut up."
Despite the fact that he's lost in the first round almost half the time (in nine of 19 races), Force also has won more often this year than anyone else (four times) and his car remains the quickest (4.665 seconds) and fastest (333.58 mph) on the planet.
"It'll come down to who makes the right adjustments," Force said. "It looks like all of us have pretty good cars in the cool and pretty good cars in the heat. When you're that close, all it takes is one mistake."
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Did You Know? This weekend, John can extend to 366 the record number of consecutive events for which he has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car....John has won at least one tour event for 19 straight seasons and three or more for 15 straight years....last year, after qualifying No. 1 for the fifth time in seven years, John beat Jeff Arend and Gary Densham before losing to Del Worsham in the semifinals....John has qualified No. 1 at least one time for 20 straight seasons. He extended that streak this year with a No. 1 start at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis....John hasn't lost a first round race at the Motorplex since 1987....it was in the final round of the 1992 O'Reilly Fall Nationals that John hit the wall not once, not twice, but three times in a valiant, but vain attempt to catch Cruz Pedregon whose victory, for all intents, earned him the championship. That dramatic final was named one of the top five moments in Motorplex history as part of the track's 20th anniversary celebration....John was selected the 1996 Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing, the first drag racer so honored.