DESPITE LOSS OF HIS CHAMPIONSHIPvFORCE STILL MAN TO BEAT AT FIREBIRD 13-Time Champion Makes Statement with New Mustang PHOENIX, Ariz. (Feb. 24-26) -- Gary Scelzi is the reigning NHRA POWERade Funny Car Champion. Robert Hight is the current...
DESPITE LOSS OF HIS CHAMPIONSHIPvFORCE STILL MAN TO BEAT AT FIREBIRD
13-Time Champion Makes Statement with New Mustang
PHOENIX, Ariz. (Feb. 24-26) -- Gary Scelzi is the reigning NHRA POWERade Funny Car Champion. Robert Hight is the current points leader. That said, John Force will be the favorite this week when the NHRA touring pros congregate at Firebird International Raceway to contest the 22nd annual Checker/Schuck's/Kragen Nationals.
Make no mistake. Despite the fact that he lost the 2005 championship to Scelzi and the fact that he stumbled in the second round of the season-opener two weeks ago in Pomona, Calif., Force is the focus as the tour moves to Firebird.
Not only is he the defending event champion, one who has celebrated in the winners' circle at Charley Allen's desert racetrack eight times in the last 12 seasons, he also has been the Funny Car performance leader since the first day of the new year, something he never was a year ago.
In fact, in a 2006 season just one event old, the 119-time tour winner already has started as many races from the front of the field as he did all last year and he did it in spectacular fashion, pushing his new 2006 Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang through the quarter mile timers in 4.664 seconds, the quickest run in Funny Car history.
"We're still not consistent," said the 13-time series champion, "but we've got a real fast hot rod. I think we have a car that can set the (NHRA national) record (at Phoenix)." Has anyone ever set the record at Phoenix?"
Although the question was rhetorical, the short answer is: no. Never.
Force set the current record of 4.665 seconds, which he coupled to a speed of 333.58 miles per hour, two years ago at Joliet. The 13-time Auto Racing All-American didn't get a new record at Pomona because of an NHRA certification policy that requires a back-up run within one per cent. For Force, that meant a time of 4.711 or better. He ran 4.712.
"We worked hard all winter," he said. "(Co-crew chief Austin) Coil came back from vacation a week early because we knew we let one get away last year. I took it for granted we were going to find a way to win. When we didn't, it was a wake-up call."
In fact, this is the first time in 13 years that a car other than one from the John Force Racing stable earned the right to fly the No. 1 on its side panels.
In response, Force came out of the short winter break to fire a shot heard around the drag racing world when he put up a time of 4.673 seconds in pre-season testing at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Although unofficial, at the time it was the second quickest quarter mile in history.
To prove it was no fluke, he unloaded a 4.678 during a similar test the following week at Firebird and, to provide an exclamation point, he rang up both of those numbers with an "old" 2003 Mustang body on the chassis.
With the new 2006 shell in place, he was the quickest in EVERY qualifying round at the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals. There's no reason to believe he'll slow down this week.
Although he has called the new body "sleek and sexy" and said his car "looks like a Ford Mustang but runs like a Top Fuel dragster," Force said his team's biggest performance gains weren't aerodynamic in nature.
"Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) found some motor things, some clutch things," Force said. "We've made a lot of changes from last year and the new body, even though it took 18 months to get here, is just the icing on the cake.. It might take awhile to get the consistency but it'll come."
Consistency was a stranger last season. Force won two more races than anyone else in the class including Scelzi but he also lost in the first round a personal record 10 times. In the end, it was those 10 early exits that he was unable to overcome although he came remarkably close.
"You lose 10 times in the first round, you shouldn't win the championship," Force said. "That's unacceptable but, hopefully, it's made us a better team."
"I think we have a car that can set the record (at Phoenix)." -- John Force on his new 2006 Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car.