FORCE HOPES TO BOUNCE BACK AT CSK NATIONALS 13-Time Funny Car Champ After Eighth Win at Phoenix PHOENIX, Ariz. -- One race does not a season make. No one knows that better than John Force, the 13-time NHRA Funny Car Champion whose ...
FORCE HOPES TO BOUNCE BACK AT CSK NATIONALS
13-Time Funny Car Champ After Eighth Win at Phoenix
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- One race does not a season make.
No one knows that better than John Force, the 13-time NHRA Funny Car Champion whose latest title defense got off to an unexpectedly slow start two weeks ago when his national record-holding Castrol GTX® Start Up® Ford made a surprising first round exit at the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.
The 114-time tour winner expects to put that misstep behind him this week in his return to a Firebird Raceway track on which he has won seven of the last 11 incarnations of the Checker/Schuck's/Kragen Nationals.
Although he is excited about working this year with Eric Medlen and Robert Hight, the Next Generation drivers to whom he has pinned the team's future, Force is quick to emphasize that his retirement is not imminent.
"I just signed an extension with Castrol to drive this car for five more years," he said. "That's five years after this one. The rumor was out that I was retiring. No way. I still love driving. That's why I do everything else I do -- so I can drive my hot rod and chase the POWERade championship.
"There's no reason to retire. This isn't NASCAR. We don't drive around for three-and-a-half hours. Those guys are retiring at 40. I always joke that if I was in NASCAR, they'd have to put in rest stops.
"Bottom line, drag racing is a four-second sport and as long as I have my vision and my reflexes, I know I can compete. We've got guys over here who are racing at 75 (sometime Top Fuel entrant Chris Karamesines). So I'm not going anywhere. I'm having too much fun where I am."
Indeed, the 12-time Auto Racing All-America selection showed no signs of slowing down on the way to his most recent championship, winning five times, becoming the first Funny Car driver to break the 4.70 second barrier and setting new records for quarter mile time (4.665 seconds) and speed (333.58 miles per hour).
Nor was his early exit at Pomona cause for undue concern.
"It was just way too (powerful)," Force said of his 7,000 horsepower Ford. "It shook the tires. I pedaled it (feathered the throttle) once, twice and on the third time, it just blew up. It happens."
In fact, Force has been further back in the point standings coming into Phoenix and still gone on to win the title. He also was ninth in 1990, the first year the CSK Nationals was moved to its current position as the second race of the season. He was 15th in 1994 and 10th in 2001. He went on to win the championship each season.
Last year, he came into Phoenix in fifth place in points, but left in eighth.
"It's a long season," Force said, "but we've got a fast hot rod."
How fast is Force's ride? Well, in pre-season testing at Firebird, the green-and- white Mustang was clocked in 4.736 seconds, eclipsing the official track record (4.773) by almost .04 of a second, a spectacular improvement by drag racing standards.
Much of the Force legend grew out of incidents that occurred at Firebird, a track he helped to open in the spring of 1985 as one of the participants in a special Funny Car match race.
In 1995, amidst allegations of cheating by rival Al Hofmann, Force stripped down to his shorts after exiting his race car at the far end of the track to show that he wasn't hiding a traction control device on his person. He then went on to win that race from the No. 12 qualifying position, the worst starting spot from which he ever has won an NHRA tour event.