MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Eight years ago, when his Funny Car erupted in flames at Memphis Motorsports Park, hit the wall at 280 miles-an-hour, shed its carbon fiber body and ground to a halt more than a half mile from the starting line, John Force ...
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Eight years ago, when his Funny Car erupted in flames at Memphis Motorsports Park, hit the wall at 280 miles-an-hour, shed its carbon fiber body and ground to a halt more than a half mile from the starting line, John Force exited what was left of his Castrol GTXÂ® hybrid claiming to have seen a vision.
"I Saw Elvis at a Thousand Feet" subsequently became a book. More important, it forever linked the nine-time Winston Champion to the Rock icon whose museum and Graceland mansion he probably will visit this week (Oct. 5-8) in advance of the 13th annual AutoZone Nationals, 20th of the 23 races comprising the NHRA's Winston Drag Racing Series.
While Force always had been an Elvis Presley fan, few recognized the similarities between the racer and the rocker until the two were linked by that 1992 fire which the 90-time NHRA tour winner still remembers as the most frightening of his career.
"Elvis was a man of the people," Force said as he prepared to compete in an event in which he could clinch his 10th NHRA/Winston Championship. "I guess that's why I always liked him. He came up the hard way. I don't know if he drove trucks or sold shoes or what he did, but I know he didn't have a lot of things given to him.
"He had to make it on his own -- and he did. But he still never forgot where he came from. Even when he was playing Vegas and making all those movies, he still was devoted to his mother and to all the people who were with him in the bad times. I always respected that."
There are other things that link the original Elvis to the "Elvis of the Asphalt," of course, the least of which is not the Elvis theme car Force raced at Memphis two years ago in a joint venture with Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., and Action Performance Companies, Inc.
That black Castrol GTX Ford, with the "King of Rock 'n Roll's" guitar reproduced on the side panels, today resides in a permanent display within the Elvis Presley Automotive Museum across from Graceland.
If Force has a regret, it's that he never won a race with the Elvis car. In two tour appearances, the Elvis Ford reached the final round of the 1998 Castrol Nationals at Dallas, Texas, where it lost to the U.S. Tobacco Chevrolet of Ron Capps, and the second round of the 1998 AutoZone Nationals.
This week, though, Force has a chance to make history and tie Bob Glidden's record for series championships in the town that Elvis built, home to Sun Records, Beale Street and Mud Island. For a man whose shop walls are adorned with Presley memorabilia, that would be really sweet.
Force currently leads by 272 points. If he leaves Memphis 325 points ahead, he could clinch the title simply by making a qualifying ATTEMPT at the season's last three events regardless of what Jerry Toliver might do.
A nine-time winner already this season, Force has won 20 races over the last two years but hasn't won at Memphis since 1997.
John Force at......
Memphis Motorsports Park, Memphis, Tenn.
Starts: 12 Times No. 1 qualifier: 4 (1988, 1990, 1993, 1996) Final round appearances: 3 Wins: 3 (1993, 1996-97) Won-Lost Record: 21-9 Best Performances: 4.924 seconds, Oct. 9, 1998 *314.35 mph, Oct. 5, 1997 *track record LAST YEAR -- After qualifying sixth, John beat Scott Weiss and Bob Gilbertson before losing to Tommy Johnson Jr.
DID YOU KNOW: John has qualified for 249 consecutive events dating back to the 1987 World Finals....he has won at least one NHRA event for 14 consecutive seasons, the longest such streak in Funny Car history....John was runner-up for ESPN Espy Awards for Driver of the Year (to Dale Jarrett) and Driver of the Decade (to Dale Earnhardt) last February ....Although he's won nine Winston titles, John never has clinched a championship at Memphis. He has clinched most often at Pomona, Calif. (1990, 1991 and 1998) and Dallas (1995, 1997 and 1999). He also has clinched at Reading, Pa. (1993), Topeka (1994) and Indianapolis (1996).
SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. (Central Time) on Friday; 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. (CT) Saturday. Final Eliminations at 11 a.m. (CT) Sunday.
The Race on TV: Speedvision coverage will begin at 5:30 pm (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 8. Qualifying coverage at 8 pm (ET) on Saturday, Oct. 7. NHRA Heat pre-race show at 5:30 (ET) on Thursday, Oct. 5.