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HALL OF FAME HONOR ASIDE, FORCE GOES BACK TO WORK Funny Car Icon Eyes Countdown Spot at Maple Grove READING, Pa. -- On Wednesday, John Force was introduced to an esteemed audience at the Fillmore Auditorium in Detroit as the newest drag racing...

HALL OF FAME HONOR ASIDE, FORCE GOES BACK TO WORK
Funny Car Icon Eyes Countdown Spot at Maple Grove

READING, Pa. -- On Wednesday, John Force was introduced to an esteemed audience at the Fillmore Auditorium in Detroit as the newest drag racing member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

Afterward, the 59-year-old icon, who this season is back at the wheel of his Castrol GTX0x00ae High Mileage0x2122 Ford Mustang after suffering career-threatening injuries, cautioned rivals against reading too much into the honor.

"I'm not retiring, if that's what they think," Force said as he prepared to compete in this week's 24th annual Toyo Tires Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway. "I always thought that when they put you in the Hall of Fame, you were either retired or worse. But, at the end of the day, I didn't go through all this therapy just so I could retire.

"I still want to win," he said, "and if (crew chiefs Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) can figure out this race car, I think we can. Hopefully, we can get in the Countdown and, if you get in, you've got a shot."

To get in, Force simply needs to do what he did last year when he earned runner-up honors in an event that, because of rain, wasn't completed until Wednesday. There are other scenarios that would achieve the same goal, but Force doesn't want to merely tip-toe into the playoffs. That simply is not his style.

"We need to start hurting someone's feelings besides our own," Force said. "We need the eye of the tiger."

There's no doubt that Force still can win at drag racing's top levels. He did so a little more than two months ago when he won the O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Topeka, Kan., thereby extending to 22 the number of consecutive years in which he has won at least one NHRA tour event.

Since that emotional victory, however, his car, inexplicably, has lacked it's usual consistency. As a result, he's won just four total rounds in the last seven events, a performance that has him in seventh place in POWERade points with only two races remaining before the points are adjusted and the slate of contenders is pared to 10.

"I said last week (before the race at Brainerd, Minn.) that if we didn't win some rounds, we weren't going to be in the Countdown," Force said. "Well, we got to the semifinals and that gave us a little breathing room. I'm excited. Our old Mustang, she's starting to talk. I'm not 100 per cent, but things are getting better."

Despite his recent struggles, the fact that Force even is in a race car is something of a minor miracle considering all the injuries he suffered last fall when his Mustang was in collision with the Dodge of future Hall of Famer Kenny Bernstein.

After six hours of reconstructive surgery and 27 days at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas followed by months of physical therapy, the former truck driver was back in his car, as promised, for the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif. But, for the 14-time Auto Racing All-American, it's not about simply mashing the gas again. It's about competing.

"At the end of the day, I want to be safe," he said, "but I still want to win. That's what it's all about."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , John Force