Las Vegas: John Force preview

ON TROUBLESOME TRACK, FORCE AFTER 1,000TH WIN 14-Time Funny Car Champ Four Rounds Shy of Milestone LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Returning to one of the few tracks on which he has struggled during a remarkable 31-year NHRA driving career, the indomitable...

ON TROUBLESOME TRACK, FORCE AFTER 1,000TH WIN
14-Time Funny Car Champ Four Rounds Shy of Milestone

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Returning to one of the few tracks on which he has struggled during a remarkable 31-year NHRA driving career, the indomitable John Force sends his 330 mile-an-hour Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang after another milestone this week at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 58-year-old icon, still battling back from injuries suffered in a spectacular crash last September at the Texas Motorplex outside Dallas, is poised to become the first driver in NHRA history to win 1,000 competitive rounds.

All he has to do to make it happen is reach the winners' circle at the ninth annual SummitRacing.com Nationals, the only event in the NHRA POWERade Series in which he has made multiple appearances without at least one victory.

In fact, the 14-time NHRA Funny Car Champion hasn't even reached the finals at this particular event, the only race in which he has a losing record (6-7). It's also the event that last year brought to a end his 20 year qualifying streak at record 395 consecutive events.

Nevertheless, Force has a way of rising to the occasion, like in 2002, when he had to win the fall race at Vegas to hold off Tony Pedregon and win his 10th consecutive series title. He did what he had to do, beating Pedregon in a pressure-packed final, 4.820 to 4.869, for his only win in 14 tries at The Strip.

So, since he's won once; rivals know he could do it again although for the first time since he's been coming to LVMS, Force this week isn't the favorite of the Las Vegas oddsmakers. That distinction has fallen to his son-in-law, Robert Hight, who is the 3-1 choice to repeat at the wheel of the Auto Club Ford Mustang. Despite his past struggles, Force still is listed at 7-1 by Micah Roberts, oddsmake for Station Casinos.

"I'm not thinking records," said the 1996 Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing, the first drag racer ever so recognized, "especially not at Vegas where we've struggled. If it happens, it happens. I'm just trying to stay on my rehab (program) and hold up my end of the deal. I'm getting better but I'm not there yet."

Where the 125-time tour winner wants to be is back on top in a sport he has dominated for the last 18 seasons.

Even before he suffered a compound fracture of the left ankle, broken bones in both feet and hands and ligament and tendon damage, Force was having an atypical 2007 season.

First came the tragic death of teammate and protege Eric Medlen in a March testing accident in Florida. Then came the end of Force's qualifying streak followed six months later by his failure to qualify for the biggest race in the series, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.

He didn't win his first competitive round until the season's seventh event, putting himself in jeopardy of not making the lineup for the NHRA's inaugural Countdown to the Championship and he qualified outside the Quick 8 a career worst seven times .

Nevertheless, he rallied to win three races in mid-season and seemed poised for another title run when his car broke apart in the second round of the O'Reilly Fall Nationals in Dallas.

Now he's back on tour but, according to him, not yet back on his game. He'll try to complete the cycle this week and, in the process, set another standard.

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Robert Hight