FOR FORCE, ALL THAT'S OLD IS NEW AGAIN 14-Time Champion Determined to Recapture Past Form POMONA, Calif. -- Declaring himself in the best physical condition of his career, John Force this week begins his 25th season with principal ...
FOR FORCE, ALL THAT'S
OLD IS NEW AGAIN
14-Time Champion Determined to Recapture Past Form
POMONA, Calif. -- Declaring himself in the best physical condition of his career, John Force this week begins his 25th season with principal sponsor Castrol determined to prove to sponsors, fans and especially rivals that, at age 60, he still has what it takes to succeed at the top levels of his sport.
"I'm feeling better than ever right now," said the man who, little more than two years ago, was lying in a Dallas hospital recovering from injuries suffered in a 300 mile-an-hour crash, pondering the possibility of never again driving a race car.
"I still go to the gym every night," he said of a physical therapy program that addresses injuries incurred in the worst accident of his 33-year NHRA career. "I'm in the best shape of my life, I still love driving my hot rod and nobody's been down more racetracks than me. That has to count for something."
The 14-time champion gets his first opportunity to make good on a pledge " to prove to these young kids that I still have a lot of wins left in me" when he climbs behind the wheel of a special edition Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang for this week's season-opening 50th annual Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway.
A four-time Winternationals champion, Force is coming off a 2009 season in which he was winless for the first time in 23 years. Not only did he not win, he was the only Top 10 Funny Car driver who didn't appear in at least one final round last year, something that hadn't happened since 1985. The upshot is that he will start the season cast in the unfamiliar role of underdog. It is a challenge he relishes.
In reality, Force's driving skills weren't the issue in a largely forgettable 2009 season during which his only meaningful accomplishment was earning a Top 10 finish for the 25th consecutive year. The problem was the car itself, a 310 mile-an-hour hybrid that never came close to achieving the dominant performance of its predecessors.
As a result, virtually everything is new this year from the chassis (built in-house at JFR's Brownsburg facility) to the motor (an 8,000 horsepower BOSS 500 built collaboratively with Ford) to the body (an aerodynamically superior 2010 Mustang) to the paint (special green-and-silver metallic recognizing Force's 25 years with Castrol).
Significantly, there also is a new crew chief dynamic.
Austin Coil, winner of more races (133) and more championships (16) than anyone else in history and the architect of a JFR dynasty that has won 16 of the last 20 NHRA championships, has been paired with crew chief turned-driver-turned crew chief Mike Neff in an exciting new partnership that has re-energized Force and his team.
Nevertheless, the challenge is a daunting one.
Force has won just one race since his September, 2007, crash and he hasn't won at all since the NHRA shortened the course from a quarter mile to 1,000 feet in July of 2008 to address issues of speed and safety.
Moreover, it's been more than three years since the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection has started a race from the front of the pack. Still, it would be ludicrous to discount the man who in 1996 became the first drag racer ever named Driver of the Year for all of American motorsports.
Drawing inspiration from Brett Favre, Mariano Rivera and other professional athletes who have defied the constraints of aging, the one-time truck driver believes he can become just the second driver in the sport's history to win a tour event beyond the age of 60 and the first at that age to win a title.
"In drag racing, 60 is the new 40," Force said. "I know I can still drive. I still love it and I haven't been this excited about a season in a long time.
At age 40, Favre led the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC title game while Rivera, the New York Yankees closer, at age 39 was named Pro Athlete of the Year by The Sporting News.