FORCE IS STILL THE DRIVER TO BEAT IN POWERADE CHAMPIONSHIP RACE 13-Time Series Champ 31 Points Back of Leader Scelzi JOLIET, Ill. -- Badly in need of a boost in his bid for an unprecedented 14th NHRA Funny Car Championship, John Force ...
FORCE IS STILL THE DRIVER TO BEAT IN POWERADE CHAMPIONSHIP RACE
13-Time Series Champ 31 Points Back of Leader Scelzi
JOLIET, Ill. -- Badly in need of a boost in his bid for an unprecedented 14th NHRA Funny Car Championship, John Force returns this week to the scene of one of the most dominating performances of his 30-year career.
Back at Route 66 Raceway, where last fall he became the first driver in Funny Car history to cover the standard quarter mile in fewer than 4.70 seconds, Force is hoping to overtake pacesetting Gary Scelzi in the most competitive points race in history.
The 56-year-old drag racing icon enters this week's fifth annual Ameriquest Nationals trailing both Scelzi and rookie Robert "Top Gun" Hight in a championship duel in which five drivers are separated by just 82 points.
Winless since May 29 in a season in which he has offset a record nine first round losses with a category-best four victories, Force is just 31 points behind Scelzi and five behind teammate Hight in the race for a $400,000 champion's bonus.
For the 12-time Auto Racing All-America selection, the good news is that this week's race is contested on the high-traction surface on which he crushed the competition just one year ago when he obliterated NHRA's national records by pushing his Castrol GTX® Start Up™ Ford through the quarter mile timers in 4.665 seconds at 333.58 miles per hour.
Sometimes lost in the recollection of that 2004 performance, however, is the fact that the 118-time tour winner didn't get the trophy, losing the final to Del Worsham when his seemingly unbeatable Mustang lost traction almost as soon as he hit the throttle.
In fact, the Ameriquest Nationals is one of two POWERade events Force never has won. He has won before at Route 66, but only in the spring race which, in 2000, yielded his 86th career win, enabling him to pass Bob Glidden and become the most prolific winner in NHRA drag racing history.
In the fall, he has only runner-up finishes in 2001 and 2004 to show for all of his performance dominance.
"I don't know where those 4.60s went," Force said, "but we need to find them. We know this track can handle horsepower but bottom line, even if we run 4.60s (this week), it won't be like last year.
"There are a lot of cars out there right now that can run that good: Scelzi and (Ron) Capps, Robert, Eric (Medlen, driver of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford), Worsham, Tony (Pedregon), (Whit) Bazemore, Frankie (Pedregon), maybe even Tim Wilkerson."
Indeed, while he still is the national record-holder, Force rarely has had the best race car this season. His four wins came, not from the No. 1 starting position from which he has won 55 times, but rather from the No. 4, No. 5, No. 7 and No. 8 spots.
In fact, he went 18 races before finally getting his first "pole" and extending to 20 the number of consecutive seasons in which he has started at least one race from No. 1.
"Once you get over the gut ache very morning, it's kinda exciting," Force said of the race for the $400,000 POWERade bonus, "but everybody's running out of time. One mistake is all it takes."
Despite his roller-coaster of a season, Force still likes his chances.
"These guys have been here before," he said of the veteran team that surrounds him, one anchored by Chicago native Austin Coil who has been on board for each of Force's 118 tour victories and 13 championships. "We know the game and we know all the players. We're just gonna line up and take our best shot."
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Did You Know? This weekend, John can extend to 366 the record number of consecutive events for which he has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car....John has won at least one tour event for 19 straight seasons and three or more for 15 straight years....last year, after qualifying No. 1 at 4.695 seconds, becoming the first Funny Car driver to break the 4.70 second barrier, John lowered the NHRA national record to 4.665 seconds, bumped the speed record to 333.58 miles per hour and reached the final round before being upset by Del Worsham....in his career, John is 41-16 against Del Worsham but he has never beaten the CSK driver at Route 66 Raceway. He is 0-3 against Worsham at Joliet, twice losing to him in final rounds (spring, 2001; fall, 2004)....John has qualified No. 1 at least one time for 20 straight seasons. He extended that streak this year with a No. 1 start at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis .....John was the 1996 Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing....John has reached the final round four of the five times he has qualified No. 1 at Route 66 Raceway. The exception was the 2003 spring race when he lost in the first round to Joliet's John Lawson.