Force Hopes To Turn Ohio Fortunes To The Positive
Drag racing icon John Force loves Ohio. Unfortunately, Ohio hasn’t always loved him back.
In 33-plus seasons on the NHRA pro tour, 15 of which have yielded series championships, Ohio is the state in which the 2008 inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America has been the least productive.
Six final rounds, four No. 1 starts and four wins might be considered a bonanza by someone else, but not by the most dominant driver in the sport’s history, one whose Ohio resume includes 27 NHRA tour events at National Trail Raceway (Columbus) and four at Summit Motorsports Park, site of this week’s fifth annual Summit Racing Equipment Nationals.
While he has won 23 percent of all the NHRA tour events he has contested in his career, including DNQs (132 of 575), he’s won just 12.9 percent of the time in Ohio.
That disparity, coupled with the knowledge that Summit Motorsports Park is the only track in the series on which he hasn’t won at least one time, would seem an unlikely confidence-builder in a season in which the 62-year-old veteran has yet to get his Castrol GTX® High Mileage™ Ford Mustang out of the second round.
So, despite the fact that a Norwalk grandstand bears his name, despite his success in the track’s summer “Night Under Fire” event and despite the fact that he was runner-up to Tim Wilkerson in last year’s Summit Nationals (after starting from the No. 16 position for just the second time in his career), Force won’t be one of the favorites to win Sunday’s Funny Car championship – and that might be all the impetus he needs.
After all, the 15-time Auto Racing All-America selection prides himself on responding to challenges.
He did so in winning his first tour event at Montreal in 1987 after nine straight final round losses. He did so in 1990 by winning his first championship after almost being shut out of the winners’ circle the previous year. And again in 1993 when he reclaimed the championship after losing it to a young rookie named Cruz Pedregon.
All of that pales, however, when compared to the challenge he confronted after a near-fatal crash at the Texas Motorplex in 2007. Told by doctors he might not walk again, much less race, Force threw himself into an accelerated rehab program that had him back in his Castrol Ford to start the 2008 season. He won at Topeka, Kan., just nine months after the accident and, after going winless in 2009, completed the comeback last season with a six-win campaign that earned him another championship
Even though he’s won just five rounds in nine events this season, Force insists that he isn’t concerned.
“I ain’t worried about my race car,” he said. “We’re learning every day. Everybody forgets I’m on a new team. Even though (crew chiefs) Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas have been together for years with Ashley (Force’s daughter, Ashley Force Hood, who presently is on maternity leave), they are new with me.
“They’rere having to teach me the game all over again from the way they do things, but we’ll be fine,” he continued. “I have two real good hot rods (the Castrol GTX Ford tuned and driven by Mike Neff and the Auto Club Ford driver Robert “Top Gun” Hight) and we’ll get back on track with our Mustang, too.”
Force hasn’t been bad, he just hasn’t won.
“We’ve been No. 1 four times,” he said of his production, “so that tells me we’ve got a good car. We are just working through some stuff.”
Indeed, by qualifying No. 1 in four consecutive races, the 1996 Driver of the Year for all American motor racing tied the record for career No. 1s held by Pro Stock driver Warren Johnson (138). His next No. 1 will give him the record outright and, even though he’s qualified no better than No. 7 in four previous appearances in the Summit Nationals, he’s not ruling that milestone out this weekend.
“We know this racetrack,” he said, “and Ashley was No. 1 last year in this same race car. There are a lot of real fast hot rods out there right now but we can run with any of them.”