Indianapolis: John Force U. S. Nationals preview

Indy always Jekyll-or-Hyde for drag racing's biggest winner CLERMONT, Ind. At the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the world's oldest, largest, richest and most prestigious drag race, John Force has proven himself to be almost mortal. That is, he...

Indy always Jekyll-or-Hyde for drag racing's biggest winner

CLERMONT, Ind. At the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the world's oldest, largest, richest and most prestigious drag race, John Force has proven himself to be almost mortal. That is, he hasn't won the Labor Day classic as often, say, as Bob Glidden, Don Garlits or Don Prudhomme .

The reality of the situation is that the 10-time Auto Racing All-America selection, his sport's biggest winner, has claimed the Funny Car championship in drag racing's signature event "only" three times.

In his first 11 trips to Indianapolis Raceway Park, the man most closely identified with straight-line racing posted an 8-10 individual record and failed on one occasion even to qualify (1984). That's not exactly the stuff of legend.

Furthermore, his Labor Day record includes as many first round losses as final round appearances (five each), which isn't to say that the former truck driver won't be the Funny Car favorite in this week's (Aug. 30-Sept. 2) 48th renewal.

The fact is, Force is the favorite any time he climbs behind the wheel of the Castrol GTX0x00ae Ford in which he won the two most recent events in the series and in which, last year, he set the current NHRA national record (4.731 seconds)

Nevertheless, except for the Pontiac Excitement Nationals at Columbus, Ohio, Force has a worse starts-to-win ratio at the U.S. Nationals (6.66 starts per win) than at any other event in the NHRA POWERade Series.

That said, it also is true that he has won more often at IRP than at anywhere but Brainerd, Minn., and Pomona, Calif.

That apparent contradiction stems from the veteran's remarkable resume in the companion event to the U.S. Nationals the Budweiser Shootout. He has won the Funny Car bonus race five times in his career and been runner-up on four other occasions. Twice he has won the Shootout and the U.S. Nationals the same weekend, one of only two drivers (with Glidden) to have won NHRA's "double-up bonus" on two different occasions.

Nevertheless, Indy weekend always has had Jekyll and Hyde implications for the 103-time NHRA tour winner. And there's really no way to tell which John Force will show up this weekend the one who lost to Jim Epler the last two years or the one who crushed the competition in both races in 1996 on the way to earning Driver of the Year honors for all of American motor racing.

Recent history suggests that this may be the veteran's year to shine.

After all, he's won three of the last five tour events (the June 30 Sears Craftsman Nationals at Madison, Ill, the Aug. 4 Fram/Autolite Nationals at Sonoma, Calilf., and the Aug. 18 Rugged Liner Nationals at Brainerd, Minn.), and comes into the Nationals in his usual position atop the Funny Car point standings.

Moreover, he is motivated by his anemic performances over the last three seasons.

"This is NHRA's biggest race," Force said. "It's the race every racer wants to win. If you can win Indy, it kinda saves the season no matter how bad you do in the other races."

Force used to think the same way, back when he was losing in the first round to guys like Len Imbrogno (1980), now the NHRA's Director of Sportsman Racing.

Today, though, his motivation to win the biggest drag race in the world is a little different. To do so, Force knows, would put him one step closer to an even bigger goal his 10th consecutive NHRA Funny Car Championship; his 12th overall.

FORCE at Mac Tools U.S. Nationals...

*For 12 straight years (1990-2001) has left IRP as the Funny Car points leader.

*Three-time champion (1993, 1996, 1998); runner-up in 1991 and '95.

*Twice claimed the NHRA Double-Up Bonus as winner of both the Budweiser Shootout on Sunday and the U.S. Nationals on Monday.

*One of three events in which he has qualified No. 1 on seven different occasions, a personal best.

*Hasn't survived beyond the second round the last three years.

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Epler , John Force , Bob Glidden , Don Garlits , Don Prudhomme