Joliet: John Force preview

Force seeks breakthrough win in Lucas Oil Route 66 Nationals 12-Time Champion without a victory in first nine events JOLIET, Ill. (May 30-June 1) For 13 seasons, winning was all but automatic for John Force, the 54-year-old drag racing icon...

Force seeks breakthrough win in Lucas Oil Route 66 Nationals

12-Time Champion without a victory in first nine events

JOLIET, Ill. (May 30-June 1) For 13 seasons, winning was all but automatic for John Force, the 54-year-old drag racing icon who entered the 2003 season with a record 106 NHRA tour victories and 10 consecutive Funny Car Championships.

That's why his struggles this season at the wheel of a brand new Castrol GTX0x00ae High Mileage Ford Mustang have generated as much media attention as the successes enjoyed by teammate and POWERade points leader Tony Pedregon.

Force returns this week to Route 66 Raceway, the track on which he broke Bob Glidden's career victories record, winless in the season's first nine events.

In most instances, a nine-race winless streak wouldn't cause even a ripple in the media.

A after all, Force's other teammate, Gary Densham, once went 245 races without reaching the winners' circle.

However, when you're an 11-time Auto Racing All-America selection, the NHRA national record holder and a 12-time series champion, you're held to a higher standard. The fact is that Force hasn't gone this long without reaching a final round since 1989.

Nevertheless, on the eve of this week's sixth annual Lucas Oil Nationals, no one who races with him or against him believes that Force suddenly has forgotten how to win.

Instead, the question is when are he and his Crew Chiefs, Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly, going to put it all together?

Early in the season, the problem was a new race car cloned from the one in which Pedrgon enjoyed so much success a year ago when he chased Force to the title.

When testing began at Phoenix last winter, Force was in a chassis built by someone other than Steve Plueger for the first time and was behind an engine incorporating a wealth of new components.

"Even though (Pedregon and Densham) were trying to help us," Force said, "every one of these cars has its own personality and it took awhile for Coil and Bernie to figure it out."

Once the car came around, Force's driving became an unexpected issue.

"I had to change my driving because of this new combination (which required him to shorten his burnouts so as not to overheat the clutch and engine) and the starting system," Force said. "I never worried about red-lighting (fouling) until they put the new (LED) lights in. My reaction times got so much better that, bottom line, I had to change my routine.

Last week, I went up there thinking about what I had to do and you can't do that. It has to be automatic. We'll get there. I just feel bad for my guys. They finally got me a good hot rod and then I screwed it up for us at Englishtown and Topeka (both times on foul starts, only the fifth and sixth in 25 years on the tour; 1,088 competitive quarter miles)."

No one expects Force to be "screwed up" for long, though.

He's already offered glimpses of what rivals can expect once the problems are solved. He qualified No. 1 at Atlanta with a time of 4.770 seconds, has started no worse than second in the last four races and in three of the four, including last week's O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Topeka, Kan., his GTX Mustang was the quickest Funny Car in the field on race day.

BY THE NUMBERS.... 1 Points position occupied 215 times over the last 14 seasons although not once this season. 8 Position occupied in current POWERade standings. 9 Events contested since last tour victory. 10 Consecutive NHRA POWERade titles. 106 Career victories, a drag racing record, second all-time behind only Winston Cup legend Richard Petty. 309 Consecutive starts, another drag racing record.

PREVIOUSLY AT ROUTE 66 RACEWAY.... Best time.............4.763 seconds, June 2, 2001. Best speed..........322.42 mph, Sept. 28, 2002. Victories..............1 (2000 spring race) Notable................When he won at Route 66 in 2000, he became the most prolific winner in NHRA history, passing Pro Stock driver Bob Glidden who had won 85 times. Last year.............After qualifying 13th, beat Whit Bazemore before losing to Del Worsham.

DID YOU KNOW?

John is trying to extend to 310 the record number of consecutive NHRA national events for which he has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car. The last time he failed to make a starting lineup was Oct. 31, 1987....John also is trying to extend to 17 the number of consecutive seasons in which he has won at least one NHRA national event. The record is 21 straight seasons by Bob Glidden....earlier this year, John was named by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association to its Auto Racing All-America Team for the 10th straight time. He also was the top vote-getter for a record fourth time....John was in the Fox Studios in Hollywood on Wednesday, shooting a segment of the hit animated TV series "King of the Hill" in which he will play a role. An air date has not yet been announced....Ashley Force, John's 20-year-old drag racing daughter, is skipping the Lucas Oil Nationals because of final exams this week at Cal State Fullerton where she is a senior majoring in Communications.Entertainment.

This is the longest John Force has gone without a victory to start an NHRA season since 1989 when he didn't win for the first time until the 15th stop on the tour.

John Force Analysis (Victories in Season's First Nine Events)

1989........0 1990........4 1991........2 1992........3 1993........7 1994........4 1995........4 1996........6 1997........2 1998........1 1999........6 2000........5 2001........2 2002........2 2003........0

Gastrol GTX Top Techs Winner joins Force at Route 66 Raceway

JOLIET, Ill. As part of the prize package he earned one of the eight national winners in the Castrol GTX Top Techs program, Michael Bretl of Fort Akinson, Wis., will serve as an honorary crewman on the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang Funny Car driven by John Force during this week's sixth annual Lucas Oil Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.

Bretl, a freshman student at Madison Area Technical College, was one of more than 250 students nominated for a Top Techs award in a contest to recognize and encourage aspiring young automotive technicians. Automotive students and teachers submitted 150-word essays to support each individual nomination.

"Choosing just eight winners from hundreds of talented nominees was quite a challenge for the judges," said Tim Miranda, Engineering/OEM manager for Castrol North America, who served as one of the contest judges. "It's encouraging to know that there is a talented pool of tech-savvy students out there who will one day service our vehicles."

All eight finalists, each recognized at a different NHRA POWERade national event, are eligible for one grand prize that includes a $7,500 scholarship and a trip to the world's biggest drag race, the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind.

Bretl works as a automotive technician apprentice at a Ford dealership on weekends and during the summer. He purchased a oval track stock car at age 16 and designed and built a new body for the car.

In addition to tickets to this week's races for himself and a guest, Dorset will receive a souvenir Castrol GTX hat and T-shirt, a Mac Tools toolbox stocked with $1,000 in tools and the donation of both Castrol GTX and Castrol GTX High Mileage motor oil for use in his school's vocational automotive program.

In addition to Miranda, the judging panel for the Top Techs program included Matt King, editor-in-chief of Car Craft magazine; John Lypen, editor and publisher of Motor magazine; Darren Morris, national business development manager for Mac Tools; and Bob Weber, ASE-certified Master Automotive Technician and "Motormouth" columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Densham , Bob Glidden , Richard Petty , Bob Weber , Ashley Force , Austin Coil