Englishtown: John Force Racing preview

FORCE RIDES WAVE OF MOMENTUM INTO K&N FILTERS SUPERNATIONALS 13-Time Champ Tries to Further Erode Capps' Points Lead ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- On a racetrack on which he has struggled the last six years, John Force tries to chase down points leader...

FORCE RIDES WAVE OF MOMENTUM INTO K&N FILTERS SUPERNATIONALS

13-Time Champ Tries to Further Erode Capps' Points Lead

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- On a racetrack on which he has struggled the last six years, John Force tries to chase down points leader Ron Capps this week as the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing tour moves to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park for the 37th annual K&N Filters SuperNationals.

Coming off a breakthrough victory last week at Joliet, Ill., his first of the new season and the first for the new Ford Mustang, Force is hoping to reverse his fortunes at Raceway Park, a track on which he has won just four times in 28 appearances.

For most of the 13-time champion's rivals, four victories at any venue would constitute a windfall. Instead, it represents a major disappointment for the man who has driven a Castrol GTX0x00ae Funny Car to at least one tour title for 20 straight seasons.

While he has won 26.5 per cent of all the NHRA races for which he has qualified (120 of 452), Force has won only 14.3 per cent of the time at Raceway Park. That's the 13-time champion's third worst winning percentage at any event and his six-year drought is the longest anywhere.

Nevertheless, it would be ludicrous to suggest that Force is "jinxed" at Raceway Park. After all, he won four times in seven years from 1993 through 1999 and while he has been shut out since the turn of the century, his team has not. In fact, John Force Racing Ford Mustangs won in 2001 (Tony Pedregon), 2002 and 2004 (Gary Densham).

As a result, it is a newly-confident Force who moves to the season's 11th race believing that the pendulum has begun to swing in his favor.

"It's tough to deal with a guy who has lady luck on his side," Force said, "and Capps has had that, so we've just been taking our whipping."

Last week at Joliet, however, things began to change. Capps luck held in the early going. Not qualified after the first day and with rain in the forecast, he made the 16-car field on his finalattempt.

Then, in the first round, he won even though the braking parachute deployed prematurely.

Ultimately, though, he was beaten by Robert Hight in the second round, opening the door for Force who managed to beat Hight in an all-Castrol final despite shredding yet another supercharger drive belt, his fourth in the last four races. He dodged the bullet this time because Hight was suffering the same fate in the other lane.

"It's good to finally get that mental thing out of your head," Force said of last week's win, "that wondering whether you're ever gonna win again."

"We've had three good race cars all year,," Force said, "but I had to find myself and get back on my game. We started the season like gangbusters, but then the driver couldn't drive or we smoked the tires or we broke a belt and Capps just seemed to always have that consistency.

"Now, I think (crew chiefs Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) are getting a handle on this new combination. Capps isn't going away, but at least we feel like we can race him."

Force rolls into the race 48 points in arrears, his smallest deficit in three months. Teammates Hight and Eric Medlen are right behind him in third and fourth place.

"We showed we can still win, but (the points race) ain't over. Capps will be there at the end, so will (reigning series champion Gary) Scelzi and a few others, including Eric and Robert. It's gonna be just like last year -- down to the wire."

BEST FATHER'S DAY GIFT WOULD BE FUNNY CAR WIN FOR THE MEDLENS

According to Funny Car driver Eric Medlen, the only thing better than racing with your dad on Father's Day would be winning with your dad on Father's Day.

That's what the former high school rodeo champion hopes to do this week when the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series moves to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park for the 37th annual K&N Filters SuperNationals.

Coming off a solid showing last week at Joliet, Ill., where he reached the semifinals for the third time in the last four races, Medlen is upbeat about his team, his Castrol SYNTEC0 Ford Mustang and his dad crew chief John Medlen.

"We've made a lot of progress in the last two races," said the four-time tour winner. "We've changed a few things in the engine department as far as how we set the engines up and the parts we're using and it's made a big difference. The power level and the horsepower's still the same, but the tuning window's a lot wider. It's a little bit more forgiving now.

"We've been fast all year, but this sport is all about adapting to conditions and that's where we were having problems. My dad didn't have much of a tuning window. Now it's responding to the changes he makes and that means we've got a car that can race for the championship."

The 32-year-old also has a car with a history at Raceway Park.

Six times in the last nine years, a John Medlen-prepared Castrol SYNTEC Funny Car has started from the No. 1 qualifying position. Former driver Tony Pedregon turned the trick in 1996, 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2003 and Medlen put the Ford on the "pole" as a rookie in 2004.

However, only once (2003) did a No. 1 start result in a No. 1 finish, a theme that has become all too familiar in the NHRA Series. Through the season's first 10 events, not a single Funny Car or Top Fuel winner has come from the No. 1 starting position.

That includes Medlen, who was No. 1 in Phoenix and Bristol, Tenn.

"I think it's harder to win (from No. 1) now days because the field is only separated by a tenth of a second," he said. "Sometimes in the past, No. 1 and No. 2 were separated by that much."

"The competition is just so close anymore. Guys used to be satisfied just making the show. Now they know if they get in, they've got a real chance to win."

Ironically, the last Funny Car driver to win from No. 1 was Medlen, who turned the trick last August in repeating as champion of the Lucas Nationals at Brainerd, Minn. Before that? Medlen again, last year at Seattle, Wash.

"It's pretty deceiving," Medlen said of the No. 1 qualifying position. "People think, 'oh, he qualified No. 1, he should win,' but that's not the way it works. Most of the time, the No. 1 position is set on Friday night and it's set in conditions that aren't what you face on (race day). So, really, it's a crapshoot."

"You may be No. 1 because you happened to make your only good run on Friday night, when the conditions are best. Then, it turns hot on Sunday and you may be against a guy who missed the tuneup on Friday but got down the track on the other three (qualifying) runs."

Nevertheless, Medlen now believes he has a car that can win from No. 1 or No. 16, which was one of the goals when this new Mustang was in development.

"It's a great car," Medlen said, "but it takes more than that to win out here. It takes a great crew and a great crew chief. I think we've got all the pieces. We just have to 'git 'er done.'"

HEAVILY-HYPED BUGATTI NO MATCH FOR HIGHT'S AUTO CLUB MUSTANG

Zero-to-330 in 4.6 Seconds Constitutes Real Performance

The media has made much of the $1.3 million Bugatti Veyron, the world's fastest-accelerating and most expensive production car.

Presently on an extended U.S. tour -- and on the cover of publications from Automobile Magazine to USA Today, the Veyron is powered by a 16-cylinder, 1001 horsepower engine that delivers zero-to-60 mile per hour acceleration in a mere 2.5 seconds.

That, say those who have driven it, makes the hybrid Bugatti the ultimate performance vehicle.

Wrong, sports car-breath. If you want a car that will turn left, turn right AND accelerate, well, okay, maybe the Veyron's your ticket.

But for raw, unbridled, straight-line acceleration, it absolutely is no match for the American-built Ford Mustang Robert Hight will drive in this week's 37th annual K&N Filters SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.

In a test of pure acceleration, pitting a Veyron against Hight's Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Funny Car would be like racing a Vespa against a Hayabusa.

Powered by an all-American V-8 engine, albeit one producing 8,000 horsepower, Hight's Mustang can accelerate from zero to 250 mph in the time a Veyron is going from zero to 60. In fact, crew chief Jimmy Prock has given Hight a car that routinely goes from zero-to-100 mph in less than a second.

That kind of acceleration applies G forces to which only astronauts and fighter pilots regularly are subjected.

Hight, the 2005 winner of the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award, which identifies the Rookie-of-the-Year in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, is unfazed by the G-load, but admits that at speeds exceeding 300 mph it sometimes is difficult to get one's bearings.

That especially is true at Raceway Park because the guardwalls are so far from the racetrack surface. At most NHRA tracks, the guardwall is the outer boundary. Making contact with it results in disqualification. At Englishtown, that isn't the case.

"There's a line on the side (of the track) that's out of bounds, not the wall," Hight explained. "Subconsciously, you're used to centering yourself between the centerline and the wall when you drive. (At Raceway Park), you can't do that because the wall's so far outside.

"It makes it a little tougher," Hight admitted, "but what I like at Englishtown is that once you get to halftrack, you can see past the finish line and they've got this dotted line in both lanes. That's something you can guide yourself and center yourself on. I didn't actually notice it until I was watching the qualifying show last year. Then I looked for it. I don't know why every track doesn't have it."

Hight, who won the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., was a semifinalist last year in his first appearance at Raceway Park. His predecessor, Gary Densham, drove the Auto Club Ford to SuperNationals' victories in 2002 and 2004.

"I'm in a great race car with a great team," Hight said. "That makes all the difference in the world for a beginner like myself."

Son-in-law of 13-time NHRA champion John Force, Hight has been the performance leader over the last five races, starting three times from the No. 1 qualifying position and setting three track records. Last week at Joliet, Ill., his Mustang was dominant before a supercharger drive belt failure in the final round. For Hight, it was a disappointing, but not devastating result.

"We beat (points leader Ron) Capps and (reigning champion Gary) Scelzi and John won the race. Not bad. I'd take that again (this week)."

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Densham , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , John Medlen