IF FORCE SEES ELVIS THIS TIME OUT, HE HOPES IT'S IN WINNERS' CIRCLE 13-Time Champion Seeks 5th Win in Mid-South Nationals MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- It's been 14 years since a wide-eyed John Force peered through the flames from inside his...
IF FORCE SEES ELVIS THIS TIME OUT, HE HOPES IT'S IN WINNERS' CIRCLE
13-Time Champion Seeks 5th Win in Mid-South Nationals
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- It's been 14 years since a wide-eyed John Force peered through the flames from inside his disintegrating Castrol GTX Funny Car and "saw Elvis at 1,000 feet" in the semifinals of the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park.
Shortly thereafter, the 13-time champion's car, still ablaze, slammed backward into the guardwall at 200 miles per hour.
The fact that the impact separated the burning body from the chassis probably saved the life of the 120-time tour winner -- that and the typically quick response of the NHRA's Safety Safari team.
It was the most frightening accident of his career, Force has said, one that brought him to terms with the reality that professional drag racing is a very serious and very dangerous sport, a lesson he has tried to impart to his daughters in the real-life TV series Driving Force, which airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. (ET) on the A&E Network.
"I'm not trying to scare them," Force said, "but they need to know the reality so they can make their own decisions."
Force made his. After his team addressed all the safety issues raised by the accident, the 13-time Auto Racing All-America selection decided that the rewards were worth the risk. Moreover, as a result of Force's fiery crash, and others like it, new equipment was developed and rules mandated that have transformed the Funny Car.
"It's a different beast," Force said of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang he'll drive this week in pursuit of points leader Ron Capps, whom he trails by just 48 points. "With on- board fire systems and braided (fuel and oil) lines and diapers (that keep the oil contained in problem situations) and blankets (that diminish the effect of parts failures by containing the effected components), fire isn't the problem it was."
That said, there's nothing more fearsome than a front-motored, supercharged 8,000 horsepower race car capable of covering the standard quarter mile, from a standing start, in 4.824 seconds, as Force's Ford did in 2001 when it set the current MMP track record, one of the oldest still in existence.
He'll try to do better beginning with Friday qualifying for a Mid-South Nationals event he has won four times since the "I saw Elvis" crash of 1992 including 2004, the first year the race was contested on its current date.
"We used to dominate in the heat," Force said, "but not this year. (Crew chiefs Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) just don't have enough data with this new combination. We're getting better but we're running out of time. If we're gonna win the championship, we're gonna have to turn it around."
Capps and Force have been 1-2 since the second race of the season at Phoenix, Ariz. Force has been as close as 15 points and as far back as 122. He'll start little more than two rounds behind at MMP as he, Capps and the five drivers immediately behind them jockey for position in advance of a stretch run that begins with next month's 52nd annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind.
"The race starts right now," Force said. "Whoever wins at Memphis, in the heat, is gonna make a statement."
Force would love to be that driver; would love to make a statement that might be as well-remembered as "I saw Elvis at 1,000 feet."