Gainesville: John Force preview

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - John Force knows that his black-and-gold Castrol Edge Ford Mustang is a better race car than its 0-2 season record might indicate. Unfortunately, drag racing's biggest winner is running out of opportunities to prove...

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - John Force knows that his black-and-gold Castrol Edge Ford Mustang is a better race car than its 0-2 season record might indicate. Unfortunately, drag racing's biggest winner is running out of opportunities to prove it.

In fact, this week's 40th annual ACDelco Gatornationals represents the last chance for the special edition Funny Car to enhance its resume before it is retired to the John Force Racing museum in Yorba Linda, Calif.

Beginning with the O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston, Texas (March 27-29), Force will return in more familiar green-and-white Castrol GTX High Mileage livery.

There was a time when Force's success at Gainesville Raceway was virtually automatic. In one 10-year stretch, from 1992 through 2001, the veteran went to the Gatornationals' final eight times with seven wins, five of them in succession.

Unfortunately, that was then. In the now, the 126-time tour winner has been a spectator after just one round four times in the last seven years. It's a trend he hopes to reverse this week with a car he thinks can win it all.

"We've got a good hot rod," Force said. "Last year, we didn't have a car that could run with these guys. Don't know why but we seemed like we were always behind. The end of last year things started getting better and Coil and Bernie (crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly) changed a lot of stuff in the winter: new injector, new clutch, new blower (supercharger). It's a different animal.

"We just got outrun at Pomona. We were good in qualifying and we ran good first round, but Cappsie (points leader Ron Capps) just ran better. At Phoenix, we had that fuel leak at the starting line and smoked the tires. It's early (in the season), but you don't want to lose too many chances."

Force is motivated this week by more than just a desire to apply an exclamation point to the Castrol Edge promotion that began last January at the Super Bowl.

He also is locked in an internal competition with teammate Mike Neff to become the first to win an NHRA tour event in a Mustang powered by the BOSS 500 engine. The new nitro motor, designed in collaboration with Ford engineers, has taken Neff to four final rounds but the second year pro has yet to win with it.

     "Coil says it makes more horsepower," Force said of the new motor, "but the big
thing (to me) is durability.  You can knock a rod out the side and it doesn't destroy the
block.  We built strength into it.  I don't know of any of the Ford blocks we've lost so far.
We just put  em right back into action."

Although the engine eventually will power all four of the JFR Mustangs, right now there is not enough inventory to support such an ambitious effort.

     "After we got a second machine (a MAG Giddings and Lewis CNC), we were
finally able to get blocks for me," Force said.  "Now we can run blocks on one machine
and (cylinder) heads on the other.  That's really pumped up the production."

At Gainesville Raceway:

* Although he won the race five straight years in the 1990s, John hasn't tasted victory at Gainesville Raceway since 2001 and hasn't escaped the first round the last two years.

* In his first trip to the Gatornationals in 1979 John suffered the double indignity of failing to qualify AND losing in the first round. That anomaly resulted from his insertion into the starting field as an alternate for qualifier Larry Fullerton, a quirk in a competition format that no longer is in place. He then lost to Tom "the Mongoose" McEwen

-credit: jfr

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