Norwalk: John Force preview

ON A FAVORITE TRACK, FORCE SEEKS FIRST WIN 14-Time Champ Tries to Add Season's 2nd Victory NORWALK, Ohio -- A grandstand at Summit Motorsports Park is named for John Force, the drag racing icon who, at the wheel of the Castrol GTX High...

ON A FAVORITE TRACK, FORCE SEEKS FIRST WIN 14-Time Champ Tries to Add Season's 2nd Victory

NORWALK, Ohio -- A grandstand at Summit Motorsports Park is named for John Force, the drag racing icon who, at the wheel of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang, is in the midst of one of the most remarkable comebacks in professional sports history.

Nine months after suffering career-threatening injuries in the worst crash of his career, Force is back battling for one of the 10 spots in the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship, a playoff format that will crown 2008 POWERade champions in Funny Car and three other pro categories.

That said, the 14-time champion knows he still has work to do.

Although he's logged more quarter miles and sold more souvenirs at SMP than any other professional driver and although he's already won a POWERade tour event since coming back from last fall's devastating crash at the Texas Motorplex, Force's success in this week's second annual Summit Racing Equipment Nationals is far from assured.

After starring for 10 seasons in the track's Night of Fire event, he returns this week with a losing record in the Summit Nationals. In fact, the 126-time tour winner gladly would trade the big sign on the grandstand for a smaller one on the Funny Car trophy to be awarded on Sunday.

Despite last year's No. 12 start and first round loss to Jack Beckman, Force credits a Monday test session following the race for turning around his 2007 season and landing him a berth in the inaugural Countdown.

"Last year, we turned our season around by staying over at Norwalk and finding out what was wrong with our hot rod," he said. "After we tested at Norwalk, we went toBristol (Tenn.) and won the race and that's what got us into the Countdown to the Championship."

Mainly, though, Force just likes the track's atmosphere and the promotional philosophy of the family-owned and operated facility.

"I like Norwalk because the Bader family knows how to put on a drag race," Force said. "The dad (Bill Bader Sr.) taught us and the son (Bill Bader Jr.) learned (the lessons) and carried on. It's all about showmanship. We're in the entertainment business and it's the way they put on a show that I enjoy.

"I think the partnership with the NHRA (after years as a mainstay in the rival IHRA series) was brilliant for them to do, even in a tough economy, and I salute them for spending millions to upgrade their facility," he said. "It was necessary to bring it up to the high standards Bruton Smith is setting with his racetracks; to give us a stadium that we can all be proud to race in.

"Bader and I have spent hours talking about the future," Force said. "It's all about the growth of the sport. It's a racetrack we know because we've match-raced (there) for years. It wasn't like we were completely starting over. We went there knowing what was out there, so I'm excited to be back. The Ohio market is very key to us and to all our sponsors: Castrol, Ford, the Auto Club of Southern California, Old Spice, BrandSource, Mac Tools, Fadal and Sanyo."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force