FORCE MAY HAVE AN EDGE IN RETURN TO RICHMOND 13-Time Champ Won Four Races RICHMOND, Va. -- A seemingly insignificant change to the schedule, one that after a six-year absence sends the NHRA touring pros back to Virginia Motorsports Park for this...
FORCE MAY HAVE AN EDGE
IN RETURN TO RICHMOND
13-Time Champ Won Four Races
RICHMOND, Va. -- A seemingly insignificant change to the schedule, one that after a six-year absence sends the NHRA touring pros back to Virginia Motorsports Park for this week's Torco Race Fuels Nationals, may be the determining factor in a fiercely-contested battle for the 2006 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship
That's because point leader John Force's performance history at VMS far outshines his so-so record in the race that previously occupied the early October time slot, the now defunct Ameriquest Nationals at Joliet, Ill.
Although he drove his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to national records of 4.665 seconds and 333.58 miles per hour in 2004, Force was winless in five starts in the Ameriquest Nationals.
That's in direct contrast to his record at VMS where, in six races contested from 1995-2000, he qualified No. 1 four times, won four times and NEVER failed to reach the semifinals. He was 20-2 at VMS, a winning percentage of 90.9.
No wonder the 13-time series champion is chomping at the bit in anticipation of the Friday start of qualifying.
"We always ran real good there," Force said, "but that was a long time ago. I hear it's changed a lot since then, so it's like we're starting all over. Everybody's the same. The first couple runs are going to be critical. That's all the time the crew chiefs are going to have to get it right before we get serious."
That element of the unknown, coupled with Force's sterling record at the track, will add more drama to a duel that suddenly involves more than two players. While Force leads Ron Capps by a single point, 2005 NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year Robert Hight has fought his way back into contention by reaching the finals in each of the last three events in the POWERade series.
Hight, driver of the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford, is Force's teammate, protege and son-in-law, married to his oldest daughter and father to his only grandchild.
"That's great," Force said of Hight's emergence as a late season contender. "Last year, it was me against the Dodges (of Capps and eventual champion Gary Scelzi). Maybe we can turn the tables this time with our two Fords against Cappsie). Do I care if Robert wins (the championship)? No. We're three cars but we're one team. As long as there's a Ford on top at the end, we've done our job for the sponsors."
That isn't to say that Force doesn't want to win a 14th title himself.
The 57-year-old veteran proved last week at Reading, Pa., that he has lost little of the skill that carried him to a record 121 tour victories and, in one stretch, to 10 consecutive series championships.
Uncharacteristically racing without the choice of lanes that goes to quicker car, Force won two rounds at Reading using his starting line skills to overcome a performance disadvantage. Although his day ended prematurely with a broken supercharger drive belt, Force did just enough to leapfrog Capps in a battle that began last February.
The two have been 1-2 since the second race of the season although Capps has owned the top spot after all but two events.
"It's gonna go right down to the end," Force predicted, "just like last year," when he lost a three-way duel with Capps and eventual winner Gary Scelzi.