Millington: John Force preview

Drag racing's biggest winner hoping to rebound at Memphis. MEMPHIS, Tenn. John Force tries to put his bid for an unprecedented 10th straight NHRA Funny Car Championship back on track this week (Sept. 20-22) when he brings his national ...

Drag racing's biggest winner hoping to rebound at Memphis.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. John Force tries to put his bid for an unprecedented 10th straight NHRA Funny Car Championship back on track this week (Sept. 20-22) when he brings his national record-holding (4.731 seconds) Castrol GTX Ford Mustang back to Memphis Motorsports Park for the 15th renewal of the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals.

Waylaid last weekend at Reading, Pa., the victim of a first round supercharger failure, drag racing's biggest winner hopes this week to recapture the form that carried him to four victories in one six-race stretch ending with the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.

He has had memorable moments before at Memphis, though not always pleasant ones.

It was at MMP in 1992, for instance, that he rode out an engine explosion, fire and crash that provided a frightening reminder of the inherent dangers of driving a race car at speeds exceeding 300 miles per hour.

Although he was not seriously injured, Force knows, even today, that had the carbon fiber body not separated from the chassis, the outcome might have been much different.

"I was on fire going backward into the wall," he said. "I couldn't see for the fire and smoke. The next thing I know, the body's gone and there's blue sky. It came off when I hit the guardrail."

That was the incident that prompted the now famous "I saw Elvis at a thousand feet" remark which later became the title of a book of Force's most notable quotes.

Memphis also was the site of one of the champ's most infamous first round losses to unheralded Jerry Caminito in 1991, his only first round loss of the entire season.

Of course, there also are a lot of positive memories victories in 1993, 1996 and 1997, current track records for quarter mile time (4.842 seconds) and speed (314.35 mph) and, last year, the best seat in the house for close friend Gary Densham's first career victory.

In fact, Force was alongside and just .045 of a second behind Densham when the former auto shop teacher crossed the finish line at the wheel of the Force-owned Team Castrol/Auto Club of Southern California Ford.

Although he never likes to lose, the Memphis result was unlike any of the other 56 final round defeats Force has suffered in his 25 years on the NHRA tour.

"Putting Densham in a car good enough to win a national event was one of the great moments of my career," Force admitted even though the loss further delayed his own bid to become drag racing's first 100-event winner.

He would not reach that milestone, in fact, until early this year after Densham also beat him in the finals of the 2001 O'Reilly Fall Nationals at Dallas by an even narrower margin (.008 of a second).

Force's friendship with Densham dates to 1974 when the two were on tour in Australia and Densham took the neophyte Force under his wing, putting him on the path that ultimately would result in a record 11 NHRA Funny Car Championships, 10 appearances on the Auto Racing All-America Team selected by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association and 1996 selection as Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing.

Ironically, entering the Mid-South Nationals, Densham is one of only two drivers currently close enough points to seriously challenge Force's bid for a record 12th championship in 13 years. The other? Teammate Tony Pedregon, driver of the third Force-owned Ford and winner last week at Reading.

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Gary Densham