Force claims record 10TH straight Funny Car championship; showdown with Pedregon creates classic finish at Pomona. POMONA, Calif. -- In his 25th year on the NHRA pro tour, John Force showed once again why, when the pressure is on, he is the...
Force claims record 10TH straight Funny Car championship; showdown with Pedregon creates classic finish at Pomona.
POMONA, Calif. -- In his 25th year on the NHRA pro tour, John Force showed once again why, when the pressure is on, he is the best ever to negotiate the straight-line quarter mile.
In a season in which he faced challenges from both without and within, the 53-year-old resident of Yorba Linda, Calif., applied an exclamation point to an already legendary career by winning his 10th consecutive NHRA Funny Car title, by winning his 100th race and by moving into second place in all-time motor racing victories (behind Richard Petty) with 106.
He did so in spectacular fashion by facing down teammate Tony Pedregon, whom he has called the heir to the dynasty, in the season's final events.
Responding to those who had suggested that he could not 0x2022 or would not 0x2022 race heads-up with Pedregon, Force beat his protege in two classic head-to-head matches that, for all intents, decided the championship.
Following on the heels of a final round victory in the Oct. 27 AC/Delco Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Force closed out his teammate in a heads-up semifinal at the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California Finals at the Los Angeles County Fairplex.
At Las Vegas, with the points lead hanging in the balance, Force left in a dead heat with Pedregon, the talented 37-year-old whose starting line skills are considered among the best in the sport, and got his Castrol GTX0x00ae Ford to the finish line first by just .048 of a second.
Pedregon had a .472 reaction time; Force a .473. At the finish, in a race in which both of the Castrol Fords suffered supercharger drive belt failure near the finish line, Force's 4.820 was good enough to beat Pedregon's 4.869 at the wheel of the Castrol SYNTEC0x28a2 Mustang in which he won six races during the season and started from the pole seven times.
At Pomona, it was even closer. Force's .447-.471 starting line advantage provided all the difference in a semifinal race decided by an almost indiscernible .005 of a second.
Had Pedregon beaten Force in that race and gone on to beat Tommy Johnson Jr. in the finals (as his boss ultimately did), he would have wrestled the title from Force's grasp by two points. That would have ended the longest reign in professional sports history.
"Tony was up for it," Force said. "He wanted it bad. I could tell that. But I wanted it, too. To win 10 straight, to me that was a goal. And to win the first POWERade championship. We won the last Winston Championship. I wanted to be the first POWERade Champion.
"But Tony didn't make it easy. He's a very talented driver. He's going to be a great champion."
Force's Pomona victory boosted him to eight wins for the sixth time in his career. That's significant because no other Funny Car driver EVER has won eight races in a season. It also enabled him to sweep the season-opening and season-ending races at the Fairplex for the first time, becoming only the 10th pro driver to accomplish that feat.
Along the way, Force posted the two quickest quarter miles of the season (4.749 at the season-opening Winternationals and 4.762 at the season-ending Finals) and retained his national record (4.731 seconds) but this was a championship earned as much on Force's driving skills as on Austin Coil horsepower.
Consider, for instance, that in the last five final rounds in which he appeared this season, he won by an average of .039 of a second. By a total margin of .197 of a second, the 10-time Auto Racing All-America selection effected a 200 point swing, earning 100 points and denying his opponents another 100.
That included a .086 of a second win over Johnson Jr. at the Finals, the .048 of a second win over Pedregon at Las Vegas, a .010 of a second hole shot victory over Johnson Jr. to win the sport's biggest race, the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., a .003 of a second dead-heat win against Ron Capps at Sonoma, Calif., and a .050 of a second victory over Scotty Cannon at Madison, Ill., the margin by which Cannon was guilty of jumping the start.
"Force is best under pressure," acknowledged Coil. "When he's mad or when he's backed into a corner, that's when he's dangerous. When we started out, I used to try to make him mad just before he climbed in the car because I knew he would drive the wheels off."
The drive to the championship actually began at the Winternationals where Force showed off one of his other skills 0x2022 backpedaling. When his Castrol GTX Ford lost traction in the final round against Del Worsham, who also was on a troubled run, it was Force he was the first to recover and manhandle his car to the finish in a winning 6.260 seconds.
Along the way, there were three key victories over Whit Bazemore, the driver who had chased Force to the 2001 championship and who, at the outset, was expected to be his chief rival for the $400,000 POWERade title.
Force beat Bazemore in first round races at both Phoenix and Joliet, Ill. On both occasions, Bazemore's quicker quarter mile time was trumped by Force's superior starting line reaction.
He also beat Bazemore in the semifinals at Houston en route to his history-making 100th career win.
"I did my job," Force said, "and that's why this one meant so much. You have people tell you your getting old and you can't do it anymore, sometimes you wonder. But I said after the Finals that I was going to go home, call all the sponsors and tell 'em not to throw me out, yet. I've still got some racing ahead of me."