Reading: John Force preview

Force sidesteps talk of title as NHRA tour moves to Reading. READING, Pa. Even though he has driven his Castrol GTX0x00ae Ford to victory in four of the last six races in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, even though he leads the current ...

Force sidesteps talk of title as NHRA tour moves to Reading.

READING, Pa. Even though he has driven his Castrol GTX0x00ae Ford to victory in four of the last six races in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, even though he leads the current driver standings by a commanding 199 points and even though he is the defending champion in this week's (Sept. 13-15) 18th Lucas Oil Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, don't ask John Force what he's going to do with the $400,000 bonus that goes to the 2002 NHRA Funny Car Champion.

To do so invites manifestations of the champion's well-documented paranoia.

"That's what they asked me in 1992," Force will rant, "and you know what happened then? Cruz (Pedregon) won five races in a row and we lost the title. Hadn't been for that, we'd be going for 13 (championships)-in-a-row instead of 10.

"So don't even ask me. There are too many good race teams out there and too many races (remaining on the calendar). Ask me when we get to Pomona (Calif., for the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California Finals)."

Or ask him after Sunday's eliminations.

After all, this is the 13th straight year that the 53-year-old Californian has come to Maple Grove with the points lead. Only once did he leave without it the aforementioned 1992.

Of course, there's no way Force can lose the lead this week regardless of what occurs His current advantage is equal to 10 rounds of racing. Even if he didn't make the 16-car lineup at Maple Grove something that hasn't happened in an NHRA event since Oct. 31, 1987 (294 races ago), the sport's best-known personality would leave Pennsylvania with no less than a 71-point lead.

Of course, few expect Force to struggle on a track which last fall yielded him a national record (4.731 seconds).

Moreover, having just claimed the 104th victory of his career, Force can tie NASCAR legend David Pearson for second place on auto racing's all-time list with a victory in Sunday's finals, a victory that would extend his current POWERade winning streak to four straight races.

That said, his history at Maple Grove Raceway has been a mixed bag.

Although he won the Keystone Nationals a year ago and has reached the winners' circle six times in his career, he also suffered consecutive first round losses in 1999 and 2000.

Furthermore, his anxiety this year has been heightened by the quality of the competition. Six different drivers have won already this season and four have earned multiple victories including Force's teammates Tony Pedregon, driver of the Castrol SYNTEC Mustang, and Gary Densham, driver of the Team Castrol/Auto Club of Southern California Mustang, along Del Worsham and Whit Bazemore.

Nevertheless, despite both old challenges and new, the 1996 Driver of the Year is back in his customary position at the head of the pack, thanks primarily to three narrow victories -- .010 of a second over Tommy Johnson Jr. two weeks ago at Indianapolis, .003 of a second over Ron Capps at Sonoma, Calif., and .050 over Scotty Cannon at Madison, Ill. (the margin by which a totally dominant Cannon jumped the start in the final round).

"We're not dominating," Force said, "but we're not beating ourselves. The problem," he mused, "is that I don't even have the fastest Ford in my own compound. Tony and Densh both are faster and neither one has cut me any of slack all year. They don't like to lose any more than I do. "

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , John Force , Gary Densham , Scotty Cannon , David Pearson