Topeka: John Force preview

FORCE SUDDENLY A FAN OF NHRA'S NEW FORMAT Champ Struggling to Find His Way Into Top Eight TOPEKA, Kan. -- John Force will admit that at the outset he wasn't one of the most enthusiastic backers of the Countdown to the Championship, the new...

FORCE SUDDENLY A FAN OF NHRA'S NEW FORMAT
Champ Struggling to Find His Way Into Top Eight

TOPEKA, Kan. -- John Force will admit that at the outset he wasn't one of the most enthusiastic backers of the Countdown to the Championship, the new format that this season will crown NHRA POWERade Champions in the Funny Car, Top Fuel, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle categories.

However, circumstances change and, with them, so do opinions.

As a result, when the NHRA tour moves this week to Heartland Park-Topeka for the 19th O'Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals, it would be difficult to find a bigger supporter of the "Countdown" than Force.

That's because the 58-year-old drag racing icon, winner of a record 122 tour events, is mired deeper in the Funny Car driver standings this year than he has been in the last 25 seasons.

Entering this week's race, ninth of the 17 that will pare the contenders for the $500,000 championship from more than 20 to just eight, he and his Castrol GTX® High Mileage Ford Mustang are 18th, 451 points behind pacesetting Ron Capps and the Brut Dodge and 330 behind teammate, protege and son-in-law Robert Hight and the Team Castrol/Auto Club of Southern California Mustang.

In any other season, those deficits, even this early in the campaign, would have taken the 14-time NHRA Funny Car champion out of contention but not this year.

In fact, Force isn't even thinking about Capps.Right now, his focus is squarely on rival Del Worsham, who currently occupies the eighth and final transfer position into the Countdown, and his own daughter, Ashley, who is seventh, 11 positions ahead of him in the Castrol GTX Mustang.

"No one thought we would have done this bad, losing all these first rounds and not even qualifying at Las Vegas (ending a record streak of 395 consecutive starts)," Force said, "but I ain't hit my head and (crew chiefs Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) ain't hit their heads.We haven't forgotten how to do this.We're just in a funk right now and fighting to get out of it.

"You don't just turn on a switch one morning and John Force wakes up and he's back in the championship chase," said the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection. "It takes teamwork and it takes time.

"Thank God for Robert and Ashley, but the (Countdown) gives me time and it's the only shot I got (at a record 15th series title)."

Not since 1982 has Force been as far behind in points as he was at the start of the current eight races-in-nine weeks endurance contest.That year he finished 20th in the standings because he raced in only a quarter of the events in the series.

That champ's worst start in 31 NHRA seasons has included four first round losses and the aforementioned qualifying failure at the SummitRacing.com Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.In fact, it wasn't until the season's seventh race (the O'Reilly Midwest Nationals at Madison, Ill.) that he got his first round win.

That said, the one-time Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing (1996) finds himself this week at a track on which he has been astoundingly successful, one on which he NEVER has lost a first round race and on which he has reached the semifinals 19 times in 23 starts.

"We just need to get back to racing," Force said."We know we're going into a long stretch with eight races in nine weeks, but that's good for me because it keeps my head in the race.We just need to go some rounds and we'll be okay."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Robert Hight