Richmond: John Force preview

TRAILING IN POINTS, FORCE NOT YET READY TO CONCEDE 14-Time Champ Tries to Make a Move at Virginia Nationals RICHMOND, Va. -- Hovering just beyond the 100-point deficit presumed to be the cutoff for those realistically contesting the 2008...

TRAILING IN POINTS, FORCE NOT YET READY TO CONCEDE
14-Time Champ Tries to Make a Move at Virginia Nationals

RICHMOND, Va. -- Hovering just beyond the 100-point deficit presumed to be the cutoff for those realistically contesting the 2008 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship, John Force still isn't ready to acquiesce to those who believe his bid for an unprecedented 15th series championship already is over.

"I still believe in magic," acknowledged the driver of the Castrol GTX® High Mileage^Ù Ford Mustang, "(and) as long as there's a chance, any chance, then it ain't over. We'll see what happens at Richmond (in this week's NHRA Virginia Nationals, beginning Friday at Virginia Motorsports Park)."

Magic notwithstanding, Force knows that the Richmond race, one he has won four times in seven tries, represents his last chance to claim the championship as a driver and avoid a second straight year without a title.

It's been almost 20 years since the 126-time tour winner lost the championship in consecutive seasons (1988-1989) and despite a year of struggle following his September, 2007, he took issue with ESPN TV commentators two weeks ago when they suggested that only the top five drivers in the adjusted Funny Car points still had a legitimate shot at the title.

"How can they say that?," Force asked. "They said Ashley was out of it before we even raced at Memphis (at the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals, a race in which his daughter went to the final round before losing to season-long leader Tim Wilkerson). That's just taking away the dream for a lot of these drivers and sponsors.

"You're telling them there's no reason (to keep going). Well, I don't believe it. Look at the Showdown (the U.S. Smokeless Showdown, the eight-driver Funny Car bonus race contested each year at Indianapolis, Ind.). They said there was no way I could make that, either, but I did. Now they're saying, you don't have a chance if you're not in the Top 5?"

Indeed, Force was on the outside, looking in, going into the final qualifying race for the Showdown. He needed to pass three drivers to make the field. Against all the odds, he did just that, thereby extending his record for consecutive appearances in that special event to a record 24.

Force may believe in magic, but he also once again believes in his race car. After failing to qualify four times, the most in a single season in his 31-year career, the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection again has a Ford Mustang capable of best- of-the-even performance.

The installation of a new clutch system perfected by Jimmy Prock, crew chief on teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight's Auto Club Ford, has transformed Force into, well, a revitalized force. Unfortunately, the change probably came a race too late, which is why the 59-year-old icon is in seventh place.

Of course, that he even is competing is remarkable considering the injuries he suffered little more than a year ago in a crash at the Texas Motorplex. After six hours of reconstructive surgery and a 27-day stay at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Force made good on his pledge to be back in the car for the current season. For most, that would have been enough, but Force still wants to win -- and he still believes he can.

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Tim Wilkerson , Robert Hight