Topeka: John Force preview

FORCE FORGES FORWARD IN BID FOR TOPEKA TITLE 14-Time Funny Car Champ Tries to Complete Comeback TOPEKA, Kan. -- John Force has done it all in drag racing. Now he's trying to do it all again. At age 59, the sport's all-time winner basically is...

FORCE FORGES FORWARD IN BID FOR TOPEKA TITLE
14-Time Funny Car Champ Tries to Complete Comeback

TOPEKA, Kan. -- John Force has done it all in drag racing. Now he's trying to do it all again. At age 59, the sport's all-time winner basically is starting over and, as a result, is seeking a breakthrough victory in this week's 19th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals at Heartland Park-Topeka.

It's been almost eight months since the crash at Dallas, Texas, that left him with a compound fracture of the left ankle, multiple broken bones in his fingers and toes, a badly dislocated left wrist and a deep laceration in his right knee compounded by tendon and ligament damage.

The fact that the 14-time champion is even able to climb into his 330 mile-an-hour Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang is remarkable that he is fifth in the current POWERade point standings is amazing.

Nevertheless, the man himself is not impressed. In fact, Force won't consider his comeback complete until he again celebrates with his crew in the winners' circle which, after some particularly intense physical therapy, could be as early as this weekend.

On few other tracks has the 125-time tour winner been as productive as he has been at Heartland Park. He's gone to the finals in more than half of his career appearances at the Kansas track (13 times in 23 races) and never, ever has failed to qualify a Castrol GTX Funny Car in the top half of the field.

"Every race I'm feeling better in the car," proclaimed the 14-time series champion whose eight Topeka victories include three in the now defunct spring race (1993-94 and 1996)..

Such an assertion can't be good news for his long-suffering rivals in the NHRA POWERade Series although he acknowledges that the Funny Car class right now is more competitive than at any other time that he can recall.

"It's not just (points leader Tim) Wilkerson, Tony (reigning series champion Tony Pedregon), (former champion Gary) Scelzi and (Ron) Capps," Force said. "I'm having trouble beating my own teammates.

"My daughter Ashley beat me in the finals at Atlanta when I had a chance to win 1,000 rounds in my first 500 races. I wanted to do that because it was history, but I'm really proud of Ashley. My son-in-law Robert Hight has been close to winning (the championship) the last two years and Mike Neff (driver of the Old Spice Mustang) is proving to be a natural."

Still, it would be ludicrous to count out drag racing's all-time winner insomuch as 14 times in the last 18 seasons he and crew chiefs Austin Copil and Bernie Fedderly have found a way to win the championship, often in dramatic fashion.

Even last season, one in which he struggled with the death of protege Eric Medlen in a testing accident, in which he saw his record qualifying streak of 395 consecutive events come to an end and in which he didn't win a single racing round in the first six races, Force still was in contention (fourth) until his car came apart at Dallas, Texas, and crashed into the Dodge of Kenny Bernstein..

"We're focused on winning races and winning the championship," Force said. "That's what Castrol and Ford and all the other sponsors pay us to do and I'm gonna keep doing it as long as I can. I'm not going anywhere because I'm having fun again."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , Mike Neff