Topeka John Force Funny Car Preview

FORCE ISN'T BACKING DOWN FROM FUNNY CAR CHALLENGERS TOPEKA, Kan. -- John Force has never been one to step away from a challenge. Following a popular victory at the prestigious U.S. Nationals and runner-up finish at ...

FORCE ISN'T BACKING DOWN FROM FUNNY CAR CHALLENGERS

TOPEKA, Kan. -- John Force has never been one to step away from a challenge.

Following a popular victory at the prestigious U.S. Nationals and runner-up finish at Pennsylvania's Pioneer Keystone Nationals, the seven-time NHRA Winston Funny Car champion issued a personalized challenge to any of his competitors that can knock him from the perch he has enjoyed for the last decade.

Force, of Yorba Linda, Calif., is holding tight to a slim 89 point lead over closest challenger Ron Capps. Chuck Etchells, Cruz Pedregon, Tony Pedregon and Whit Bazemore are well within striking distance of Force's lead as teams prepare for the 10th annual Parts America Nationals, Oct. 1-4 at Heartland Park Topeka. The $1.8 million race is the 18th of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

"Everybody is right there," Force said. "We're just going to keep working at it and take our best shot. All the guys chasing me are really serious. But I got together with all of 'em and we agreed to race and let the best man win. I told 'em that if somebody can beat me I would buy 'em a beer."

While the jesture sounds a bit cocky, it's not. It's just Force's unique way of recognizing a driver who has managed to put together the total package.

If car owner Don 'The Snake' Prudhomme has his way, Force will be buying a cool frosty one for Ron Capps at the end of the season. Capps held the Winston lead entering the U.S. Nationals and has four victories in the Copenhagen Chevrolet Camaro. Although he's struggled a bit lately, Force sees Capps has his biggest enemy in the championship hunt.

"Capps is really on his game," Force said. "Prudhomme has him in the right frame of mind. That team is clicking on all cylinders right now. I wish I had a coach like Prudhomme when I was coming up. I spent 15 years burning cars to the ground before I figured it out. I know what it's like because when Austin (Coil, co-crew chief) came on board he really taught me what it takes to win. You have to get confident and learn how to win. Capps is pretty lucky to be in that situation, and so is Prudhomme because Capps is a good young driver. We really have to watch that kid."

But Force knows he can't center his total attention around one team. Not when it's this tight.

"Everybody is really focused," Force said. "For the first time since 1992 this is a real close race and it's more exciting than it's every been. One minute these guys are cussin' me and the next minute they're telling me they love me. Talk about psychological warfare. Al Hofmann is even telling me he loves me these days. I'm thinking these guys are up to something. I don't know what it is, but I'm going to be ready for anything."

At Heartland Park, Force hopes to get his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang ready for record-setting performances.

"We know how to run 4.80s," Force said. "And we've got the fastest hot rod on the planet right now, so that's why we're excited about the tracks that are coming up. That's why I'm going into Topeka a little early. I'm going to keep an eye on the atmosphere at Heartland Park and call Coil and tell him what the weather is doing and what kind of conditions we need to be prepared for. At this stage of the game with things so tight you do whatever you can to gain an advantage. It's just like in qualifying. I was No. 1 at Maple Grove and we really needed that. It's only eight points, but that's eight more points. When things get this tight every point counts. I wouldn't want to be sitting at the Winston Finals wishing I would have earned one or two more points in Pennsylvania."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Chuck Etchells , Cruz Pedregon