Force Focused As Countdown Looms Ahead
With his bid to sweep the critical Western Swing derailed last Sunday at Sonoma, Calif., John Force this week shifts his focus to Pacific Raceways, to the 24th annual O’Reilly Northwest Nationals and to improving his starting position in the NHRA’s Countdown to 1 playoffs that begin in slightly more than a month.
The reigning and 15-time NHRA Champion, Force is on the move in the Funny Car driver standings after directing his Castrol GTX®™ High Mileage Ford Mustang to an historic victory two weeks ago at Denver and to the semifinals last week at Sonoma.
As unlikely as it might have seemed just three weeks ago, the sport’s biggest winner has put himself in position to actually clinch a playoff berth, if not this week then certainly at the Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minn., two weeks hence.
He’ll roll to the starting line for Northwest Nationals qualifying 226 points ahead of Johnny Gray, currently the odd man out in the Countdown battle. If, on Sunday night, he is at least 300 points ahead of Gray or whomever is in 11th place, he will be assured of a starting spot and of a Top 10 finish for the 27th consecutive season.
“My Mustang is starting to run,” said the 62-year-old racing icon. “I’m starting to go rounds and that’s good for Ford, Castrol, Auto Club, Mac Tools, BrandSource, all the sponsors. But mainly it’s good for my team and my crew chiefs, Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas. It’s taken awhile for us to get going but, at the end of the day, we’re not doing too bad.
“I might be seventh (in Full Throttle points), but I’m in position to move up,” he said. “We’re (21 points) out of fifth place. All our cars are good and our people are working together. The attitude is good and the parts are holding together. I don’t think we had any parts breakage (at Sonoma). We’re ready to get back in the fight (to claim the team’s 18th Funny Car championship in the last 22 years).”
Although he failed to advance beyond the second round in the season’s first nine races, Force has gone 8-3 in the last four events and reached two more milestones. One, with the Denver victory, he became the first driver in a major auto racing series to win events in 24 different years. Two, he joined a short list of drivers to have won races for three different crew chief tandems.
The biggest winner in tour history with 133 victories, the former truck driver won 19 races with Austin Coil as his lone crew chief before Bernie Fedderly came on board early in 1992. Coil and Fedderly then collaborated for 107 more wins before Mike Neff joined them as lead tuner and directed Force to six victories a year ago.
Denver was Force’s first victory with Antonelli and Douglas, who previously tuned his daughter, Ashley Force Hood, to back-to-back wins in the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.
Force credits son-in-law Robert Hight, the 2009 series champion, for turning his season around.
“It was Robert who stepped up and told me that I was the problem,” Force said. “I told him I didn’t seem to have any luck and the car didn’t have consistency and he said ‘the only problem, John, is you.’
“I made him president (of John Force Racing) because he tells you what he believes,” Force said of the driver of the Auto Club Mustang, “and not just what you want to hear. He said that I told him that to keep winning, you’ve got to live it seven days a week and that I wasn’t doing that. My head wasn’t in the game.
“Well, I’m living it again,” said the 1996 Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing. “We’ve struggled, but we’re back in the game.”
Ironically, Hight’s input is a payback of sorts because it was Force who got his team back on track in 2009. That year, Hight struggled mightily with an erratic Mustang and was in danger of not making the Countdown when Force initiated a driver swap in which, for one race, he drove Hight’s car with Hight’s crew while the champion-to-be climbed into his Castrol GTX Ford.
Two races later, Hight reached the final round at Indy to secure the 10th and final playoff berth. He then won three of six races in the Countdown to claim the championship.
By: john force racing