FORCE BIDS FOR THIRD STRAIGHT WIN AS TOUR MOVES TO HEARTLAND PARK 13-Time Champion's Surge Puts Him in Points Lead TOPEKA, Kan. -- A resurgent John Force returns this week to one of his favorite race tracks with an opportunity to add to a...
FORCE BIDS FOR THIRD STRAIGHT WIN AS TOUR MOVES TO HEARTLAND PARK
13-Time Champion's Surge Puts Him in Points Lead
TOPEKA, Kan. -- A resurgent John Force returns this week to one of his favorite race tracks with an opportunity to add to a growing legacy.
Entering this week's 17th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals at Heartland Park-Topeka, the 56-year-old drag racing icon is one victory away from guiding his Castrol GTX® Start Up® Ford Mustang to a three wins-in-three weeks blitz that has restored him to his customary position atop the NHRA POWERade standings.
The 13-time NHRA Funny Car Champion won two weeks ago at Atlanta, Ga., by stopping rookie teammate Robert Hight in a final round decided by .002 of a second. He doubled-up last week at Columbus, Ohio, by beating Gary Scelzi to the finish by .008 of a second.
If he wins again this week on a Heartland Park track on which he has claimed seven of his 117 tour titles, he would become the first professional driver, regardless of category, to win three races-in-three weeks, twice.
He accomplished that feat initially in 1994 when he won the mid-summer Western Swing that encompasses consecutive races in Denver, Colo., Seattle, Wash., and Sonoma, Calif. Only four other drivers have won at those particular venues in the same season Joe Amato, Cory McClenathan and Larry Dixon in Top Fuel; and Greg Anderson in Pro Stock.
The only driver to win three-in-a-row outside the Western Swing was Tony Pedregon who, en route to winning the 2003 championship in one of Force's other cars, the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford, won in successive weeks at Reading, Pa., Memphis, Tenn., and Joliet, Ill.
While the three-in-a-row grind is tough on parts and even tougher on personnel, Force believes that it benefits drivers because they can stay in a rhythm.
"The worst thing (for a driver) is time off between races," Force said, "because when you come back you have to re-train yourself to focus. When you're racing regular(ly), you don't have to think. You're in a routine and you just go up there and do the job."
That doesn't mean that Force wants to race EVERY weekend.
"I've got the easy job," said the 12-time Auto Racing All-America selection, "but the guys on the crew, it wears on them. We're not like NASCAR. The guys that work on the cars are the same guys that drive the rigs to the next race and set up camp. Three-in-a-row is almost too hard for them.
"But I really feel bad for some of the smaller teams. Because of Castrol, we've got the budget to get through three straight races. We've got the parts. We've got the people. Plus, we've got a team that works together so as soon as one car goes out, the crews move over to help out on the cars that are left (in competition)."
Force's sudden resurgence has silenced recent suggestions that the 1996 Driver of the Year might be focusing too much on developing a pool of young drivers and not enough on his bid for a record 14th individual title.
"I've got a new contract with Castrol that gives me five years to develop the next generation," Force said. "Bottom line, I still love driving my hot rod and when you race every week against a champion like Gary Scelzi, that'll keep you young."
The Force-Scelzi rivalry has become one of the hottest on the circuit. Scelzi won four of the first five meetings, but Force's victory last week brought him to within one win of evening the series between the two drag racing heavyweights.