Seattle: John Force preview

SHORT TRACK, SHORT ODDS FOR FORCE'S FORD MUSTANG Funny Car Icon Back at One of Favorite Locations SEATTLE, Wash. -- For John Force, short could be sweet this week when he rolls his Castrol GTX0x00ae High Mileage0x2122 Ford Mustang onto ...

SHORT TRACK, SHORT ODDS FOR FORCE'S FORD MUSTANG
Funny Car Icon Back at One of Favorite Locations

SEATTLE, Wash. -- For John Force, short could be sweet this week when he rolls his Castrol GTX0x00ae High Mileage0x2122 Ford Mustang onto a Pacific Raceways track on which he has won more often than any other driver -- seven times in the last 17 years.

For the 14-time Funny Car champion, it makes no difference whether he's racing at the standard 1,320-foot distance or on the temporary 1,000 foot course mandated by the NHRA in the wake of the accident earlier this month that claimed the life of two-time former World Champion Scott Kalitta.

In either configuration, the 59-year-old icon figures to be a factor in this week's 21st annual Schuck's Nationals AND in the $500,000 POWERade championship to be decided in a six-race Countdown beginning Sept. 14 at Charlotte, N.C.

While his team continues to focus on the safety initiatives undertaken in the wake of the death of teammate and protege Eric Medlen in March, 2007, and in the aftermath of his own crash last September in Dallas, Texas, Force has voiced his support for the interim steps taken by the NHRA to give investigators time to examine all the data from Kalitta's crash in Englishtown, N.J.

"Is 1,000 feet the final answer? I don't know," Force said, "but give (NHRA president) Tom Compton credit for making a tough decision. We have to fix these problems and we still have to give the fans a show. NHRA, with the PRO (Professional Racecar Owners), they're trying to find a balance."

Presently sixth in the POWERade driver standings, Force has begun to regain the form that has made him the most prolific winner in the history of the sport.

Despite suffering injuries that included a compound fracture of the left ankle and broken bones in every other appendage, Force was back in his hot rod to start the season and on June 1, returned to the winners' circle in the O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Topeka, Kan.

That extended to 22 the number of consecutive seasons in which Force has claimed at least one tour victory and it proved to the veteran that he still could be competitive in a sport he loves.

"Mentally, it was a huge win," Force said, "because, I gotta be honest, I was questioning whether I could do it.

"I told (crew chief Austin) Coil, if you can't deliver as a driver, it's not fair to these young kids to stay in the seat just because you own the car. They work too hard for that."

Now the question is, can he win another championship?

"(Points leader) Tim Wilkerson and his team have been running great," acknowledged the 126-time tour winner. "He's been on a roll, but I actually feel pretty good because my race cars (his Mustang and similar Fords for daughter Ashley; son-in-law Robert Hight and rookie Mike Neff) are coming around."

Because his team has had to scrap its usual test program because of an NHRA test ban designed to conserve nitromethane fuel, Force feels that it's still playing catch-up especially with a new car and new tire.

Nevertheless, "everybody is in the same boat," he said. "It's a an equal playing field and I have faith that we can (still) win this championship."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Scott Kalitta , Tim Wilkerson , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , Mike Neff