ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- John Force and his Castrol GTXÃ‚Â® crew test their race car as often as anyone in the sport of drag racing as evidenced by the fact that they've made more than 50 test runs already this year. According to Force, that's...
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- John Force and his Castrol GTXÂ® crew test their race car as often as anyone in the sport of drag racing as evidenced by the fact that they've made more than 50 test runs already this year. According to Force, that's the secret to his success in a straight-line sport in which he has won 89 events and nine series titles.
It certainly will be the basis for whatever success he enjoys Saturday when, after a 110-day postponement, competition finally begins in the 31st annual Matco Tools Spring SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
"It's doubtful that we'll be able to use any of the data we accumulated in May," acknowledged Crew Chief Austin Coil, "although, if you'll recall, it was as cold then as it probably will be this weekend. The thing is, other variables have changed and we don't really know what to expect from the racing surface, which was marginal in the spring.
"As a result, what we're able to learn in the two test sessions (on Friday) certainly will have a great deal to do with our strategy on race day."
Since he qualified only seventh in May, Force isn't dealing from a position of strength in his return to a race in which his Castrol Ford has reached the winners' circle three of the last four years.
Winston Championship challengers Jerry Toliver, Jim Epler and Whit Bazemore all qualified ahead of him and Epler and Bazemore were the finalists last week at the 46th annual U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind.
Nevertheless, few would dare write off the eight-time Auto Racing All-America selection who's come from much further back to win.
"We just need to stay focused," Force said. "There's still a lot of racing ahead. This is a big race for us for two reasons. We need to protect our points lead and we need to beat some people so that we can help my teammate Tony Pedregon."
Pedregon, winner of last June's Pontiac Excitement Nationals at Columbus, Ohio, a runner-up in four other races this year and owner of the quickest quarter mile time in Funny Car history at 4.779 seconds, will be forced to watch the race from the sidelines, the result of a snafu which kept his Castrol SYNTECâ„¢ Ford out of the lineup last May.
The second generation pro will go into the Spring SuperNationals in third place and come out in fourth. The only question to be determined in competition is the margin by which he will trail Ron Capps.
A cold racetrack, tire problems and an abbreviated schedule (which eliminated one qualifying session) all contributed to Pedregon's first DNQ since joining Team Castrol and John Force racing at the outset of the 1996 season.
"I'll be there to support John," Pedregon said, "but it's going to be very uncomfortable not being involved directly in the racing."
Force will make test runs at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday before facing Gary Densham in Saturday's first round at 2 p.m. Should he advance, he likely would face Toliver in round two, a key showdown between the No. 1 and No. 2 drivers in the series. An eight-time winner already this year, Force leads by 186 points. That's a 259-point swing in only four races.
"That's how easy it can turn around," Force said. "I told my guys, if we go into a slump and Toliver wins a couple in a row, he's right back in it. It'd be just like 1992, when Cruz (Pedregon) won five straight races (five of the last six in the season) and caught us for the title. So, this is a big race for us and big race for Toliver."