Force still the x-factor in championship battle
POMONA, Calif. – John Force is so far back in the Full Throttle driver standings that if all his rivals were abducted by aliens and never arrived at Auto Club Raceway for this week’s 47th annual Auto Club Finals, he still couldn’t repeat as Full Throttle Funny Car Champion.
Even unopposed, the best the 62-year-old icon could do is fifth place – and that’s if he drove his frustratingly erratic Castrol GTX® HIGH MILEAGE™ Ford Mustang to an NHRA national record. It’s a situation that, not surprisingly, sticks in the craw of drag racing’s biggest winner.
“What bothers me the most,” he said, “is that I can’t run for the championship. We’ve struggled this year and they don’t pay us to struggle.”
Still, the man who last year was named RACER Magazine’s “Racer of the Year” is very much still in the game – both as the driver of his Castrol-backed Mustang and as the owner of two of the six cars still in contention for the $500,000 champion’s bonus.
“This thing isn’t over,” proclaimed the man who has won the Auto Club Finals a record eight times, most recently in 2010. “I had to overcome a big point lead last year, but we did it and we won the championship. We win together and we lose together. That’s what makes a team.”
Force’s passion for a championship he’s won a record 15 times was reflected in his decision to test his Mustang following the most recent event at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a decision that to many didn’t make much sense insomuch as he had played himself out of contention early-on.
“Well, I’m not going to just give up,” Force said. “I’m planning on helping Mike Neff or Robert Hight win this championship.”
That isn’t the only motivation for the 133-time tour winner, though.
“When you win the last race, the off season doesn’t seem as long,” he smiled. “I’ve had years where I won the championship but all I remembered was how bad I did in the last race. It would be a good way to end a bad season.”
Although he will finish the year with a losing record for only the second times in 27 seasons, Force’s car has shown potential and he did win the Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Denver, Colo., marking his 24th season with at least one tour victory, an accomplishment that broke a tie with the legendary “King Richard” Petty, who won NASCAR races in 23 different seasons.
Moreover, the 2008 inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, started five races this year from the front of the pack but rarely was he able to transform that performance into round wins. He enters the Finals still four round wins shy of a record 1,100 in his career.
“As a team, we’ve still got a shot at this title, but I’ve got to get my hot rod back in the game,” Force said. “That’s why we were testing at Vegas. We’ve got two really good Mustangs but we need all three to do some damage this week. This team is known for winning and we’lI win again – I promise you that.”
In the meantime, Force is looking for another storybook finish at Auto Club Raceway where last year he overcame a 37-point deficit on the last day of the season to catch at pass Matt Hagan for the title. The margin between Neff and points leader Hagan this week – 34 points.