John Force loves the night life. MADISON, Ill. (June 25-27) That's why the 12-time NHRA Champion and his Castrol GTXÂ® Start Upâ„¢ Ford Mustang will be favored this week when the NHRA POWERade drag racing tour goes under the lights for...
John Force loves the night life.
MADISON, Ill. (June 25-27)
That's why the 12-time NHRA Champion and his Castrol GTX® Start Up™ Ford Mustang will be favored this week when the NHRA POWERade drag racing tour goes under the lights for the eighth renewal of the Sears Craftsman Nationals at Gateway International Raceway.
With the possible exception of teammate Gary Densham, the most recent winner in the 23-race series, Force has gone down more dragstrips than anyone else who will zip up a firesuit this weekend.
That goes double for night races, a rarity in the NHRA series but a staple on the old match race circuit on which Force and crew chief Austin Coil developed the skills that have delivered 111 victories over the last 18 seasons.
The sport's most productive team, Force and Coil hope to draw once more on the lessons they learned individually in Saturday night events at Irvine, Calif., Kansas City and Gary, Ind., and Wednesday night races at Englishtown, N.J.
There was a time when a good Funny Car like the Chi-Town Hustler, the car with which Coil established his reputation, could run races on Wednesday night, Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. It was an era in which Funny Car teams ran as many -- or more -- events as do teams in today's World of Outlaws sprint car series.
"Our busiest season was probably 1970," Coil said. "We ran 96 match race dates with one car. 'Jungle' (the late 'Jungle Jim' Liberman) ran like 142 or something that year, but he had three (different) cars on the circuit. He didn't personally drive all those dates. All of our dates were run by us with the same car, driven by Pat Minick."
Force never racked up those kinds of numbers with his own car, but he did develop a level of comfort with night racing that many of his rivals have not yet achieved.
"Funny Car racing at night? There's nothing more spectacular," Force enthused. "The fans love it, but it's fun in the car, too. Big ol' header flames shootin' up taller than the car. It's a rush. You don't need fireworks. We bring our own."
Given Force's affinity for night racing and the fact that he's already won a night race at Gateway International, albeit not a scheduled one (the rain-plagued 1999 Sears Craftsman Nationals that was completed at 2 a.m.), one would think that scheduled nighttime finals would play right into his hands.
However, the 11-time Auto Racing All-America selection is quick to point out that while this week's race is designated a "night race," racers are going to have to deal with a whole lot of daytime misery to get to the nighttime fun.
"When they say it's a 'night race,' they don't mention that it starts at three in the afternoon," Force said. "To play at night, you've gotta get through the afternoon and in the heat and humidity, with track sitting right by the river, that won't be easy. That's why I've got Austin Coil and Bernie (co-crew chief Bernie Fedderly)."
Day or night, Force likes his chances, especially coming off a stellar performance last week, one in which he posted three of the five quickest times in the race day heat at Raceway Park in Englishtown before a supercharger malfunction forced him to settle for runner-up honors and left him just 42 points out of first place in an ongoing bid to reclaim the championship that has been his 12 of the last 14 seasons.