Joliet: John Force preview

FORCE AFTER OLD MAGIC IN RETURN TO ROUTE 66 14-Time Champ Still Lacking Consistency JOLIET, Ill. -- Although John Force has been driving like a champ this year, his results could have as easily been achieved by a chump. With just seven ...

FORCE AFTER OLD MAGIC IN RETURN TO ROUTE 66
14-Time Champ Still Lacking Consistency

JOLIET, Ill. -- Although John Force has been driving like a champ this year, his results could have as easily been achieved by a chump.

With just seven races remaining before the field is pared to 10 drivers for the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship, Force and his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang have no number one starts, no final rounds, no wins, a losing record and they occupy only ninth place in the Full Throttle Funny Car standings.

Needless to say, those are very un-Force-like statistics, ones the 60-year-old icon hopes to amend this weekend when he brings his Mustang back the site of some of his biggest racing moments to compete in the 12th annual United Association Route 66 Nationals.

Although Force is third among Funny Car drivers in best average reaction time, his race car has struggled to achieve the consistency that once made him virtually unbeatable.

"I'm trying to give the car all the help I can give it," Force said of his reaction time starts. "We've struggled so much with these new chassis. I'm not complaining. It's where we went with the technology, with Ford, after Eric's accident and mine. We know it's going to work, but it can be really frustrating right now.

Indeed, this is the longest Force has gone in his career without reaching the finals (24 straight races) or starting from the top of the qualifying order (61 consecutive events dating back to the 2006 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind.). Nevertheless, no one has suggested that the fault lies with the driver.

In fact, most believe that because of the training regimen upon which he embarked after his crash in September, 2007, Force now is in better physical condition than he was during his run to a record 10 straight championships (1993-2002).

"I'm in the gym every night," Force said. "When I don't go, I can tell the difference. I didn't want to just make a comeback, I wanted to be competitive, but the car isn't there, yet. (Crew chiefs Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) are learning what to do, but it's been slow. I'm guilty of not being patient, especially when we've got one car (daughter Ashley Force Hood's Castrol GTX Mustang) that runs like Jack the Bear.

"Mine does the same thing," Force said. "It hauls ass and the next run it won't. Why? I don't why. That's what we're trying to find out."

Last week's race in Topeka, Kan., provided the perfect illustration of Force's dilemma. After qualifying No. 2 and posting the quickest time of the race in round one, his Ford slowed by a tenth of a second in a round two loss to points leader Ron Capps.

"You push it too hard, it (overpowers the track and) smokes the tires," Force said. "Then, if you pull it back, it's weak and it still smokes the tires. It's just a combination of things. We just have to continue testing to find our way back.

"We've had seasons where we were off two or three months, even six months," said the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection, "but not this far off and not this many cars (a reference to the Mustangs of Robert Hight and Mike Neff, which also have struggled). We're better than we were last year, but we're not where we need to be. We don't need to go rounds; we need to win a race."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , John Force , Ashley Force , Robert Hight , Mike Neff