John Force Aims High At NHRA Denver Event

Force Aims High At Mopar Mile-High Nationals

John Force has spent a lot of time this season managing youngest daughter Courtney’s driver training program, orchestrating a build-up of studio facilities for John Force Entertainment in Yorba Linda, Calif., and launching the John Force Traveling Road Show, an ambitious interactive display featured this week at selected Denver-area Wal-mart locations.

John Force
John Force

Photo by: Glenn F. Katauskas

By contrast, the reigning and 15-time NHRA Funny Car Champion hasn’t spent much time in the winners’ circle, at least not as a result of his own success.

While Force has struggled to advance beyond the second round in his Castrol GTX® High Mileage™ Ford Mustang, teammates Robert “Top Gun” Hight and Mike Neff have taken up the slack, each winning four times while monopolizing first place in the Full Throttle point standings

Force, meanwhile, is only eighth just five races before the start of the NHRA’s Countdown to 1 playoffs.

The situation could change this week, however, when the 62-year-old icon returns to Bandimere Speedway for the 32nd running of the Mopar Mile-High Nationals, an event in which he has won five times and in which he has qualified outside the Quick 8 just twice in 29 career appearances.

“I’ve been running the mountain a lot of years,” said the 132-time tour winner. “Lot of good memories going back to the old match race days with the Bandimere family. I was the first one to run 300 miles-an-hour (at mile-high altitude), even before the dragsters.”

Indeed, Force sped through the then quarter mile timers in 301.30 miles per hour in 1996 just minutes before Scott Kalitta also broke the barrier in his Top Fuel dragster.

But that was then. In the now, the 15-time Auto Racing All-America selection understands that he needs to make a move if he hopes to have a reasonable chance of defending the championship he won in such dramatic fashion a year ago.

“We’re struggling a little,” admitted the 2008 inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Detroit, “but I’m not worried. I like this team. Great crew chiefs in Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas. They put my daughter Ashley (Force Hood) in the winners’ circle the last two years at Indy (in the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals) and that’s something I never even did (win back-to-back in the sport’s most prestigious event).

“Plus, I like the energy of all these young guys. They keep me feeling young. We’ll get it right,” promised the man who last year was voted RACER Magazine’s Racer of the Year. “We’re not that far off. I’ve been No. 1 (qualifier) four times, but it’s like I always said: qualifying don’t mean nothing if you don’t get the job done on race day.

“I take the blame,” Force said, “because these guys were all used to Ashley (who took a leave of absence this year to have a child -- due next month) and now they’ve got me instead. The whole routine changed and we’ve had to adjust. But I feel good about our hot rod.

“We just need to move up in points to stay in (the Countdown). It’s anybody’s game once the Countdown starts but you’ve got get in it.”

The Top 10 drivers in each of four pro classes will race for the championship in a six-race shootout that begins with the Sept. 18 O’Reilly Auto Parts Nationals at Charlotte, N.C.

Force presently leads fellow Ford driver Bob Tasca III by 16 points for the No. 8 position but enjoys a 100-plus point margin over the three drivers currently battling for the 10th and final transfer position: Johnny Gray, Tim Wilkerson and two-time series champ Tony Pedregon.

Force’s first goal this week will be to qualify well enough to stay away from his teammates in early round match-ups insomuch as he lost to Neff in the first round in 2008 and to Hight in the same round a year later. He also lost to Hight last year, but that setback at least came in the final round.

“Neff and Robert have saved me,” Force said, “winning four races each. Now we need to start pulling our own weight. Everybody’s working hard but sometimes you just need a little break.”

Maybe a little mountain air finally will do the trick.

By: john force racing