FORCE HOPING TO REVERSE FIRST ROUND MISFORTUNES IN RETURN TO HIGH TRACTION HEARTLAND PARK-TOPEKA TOPEKA, Kan. -- If there is one track on which John Force feels totally confident, it's the high-traction quarter mile at Heartland...
FORCE HOPING TO REVERSE FIRST ROUND MISFORTUNES IN RETURN TO HIGH TRACTION HEARTLAND PARK-TOPEKA
TOPEKA, Kan. -- If there is one track on which John Force feels totally confident, it's the high-traction quarter mile at Heartland Park-Topeka, site of this week's (Oct. 1-3) 11th annual Advance Auto Parts Nationals, 18th of 22 races comprising the NHRA's Winston Drag Racing Series.
Winner of 78 NHRA national events, 73 of them this decade, Force has put a Castrol GTX Funny Car on the pole eight times at the Kansas track, reached the finals eight times, won five times and posted a 41-10 record in individual competition.
He is the track record holder at 4.889 seconds; the event record holder at 4.892.
However, the most significant statistic, at least from Force's perspective, is that in 15 starts at Heartland Park, five in the spring and 10 in the fall, NEVER has he lost a race in the first round.
Why is that so significant? Because the first round suddenly has become a bugaboo for the eight-time Winston Champion.
Although he comes into Topeka with a commanding lead in the race for the 1999 Winston Championship, three times in the last four events he has been a spectator after the first round. Moreover, he was ousted in round one in each of his last two events, the first time that has occurred since 1989.
It's been a frustrating turn for the 50-year-old champion who, in the last 10 seasons, has averaged less than two first round losses per season. In 1996, when he was named Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing, he didn't lose a single race in the first round.
The problem has been a condition in which the engine doesn't fire on all eight cylinders. In drag racing parlance: dropped cylinders. In Force-speak, "we can't keep the candles lit. It runs on the bottom (at the starting line) and drops a hole at the top (finish line). You think you fix it and then it drops a hole at the hit of the throttle. We've been testing, trying to fix it."
Indeed, Force & Co. have been very good for track rental revenue this year. The team stayed over after losing in the first round of the Labor Day U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., and again after failing to advance two weeks ago in the Keystone Nationals at Reading, Pa.
Although perplexed by the continuing problem with dropped cylinders on both his Castrol Ford and the Castrol SYNTEC Mustang of teammate Tony Pedregon, who's closest to him in driver points, Force is looking forward to his return to Heartland Park.
"(The track's) been good to us," he said, "even though that's where Chuck Etchells picked my pocket in 93 when he became the first (Funny Car driver) to break 5.00 seconds and even though it's where Jim Epler beat me to 300 (mph)."
Milestones notwithstanding, Force won 80 per cent of the time at Heartland Park and, right now, winning is his priority, especially with a seventh straight Winston Championship still not mathematically secured.
Advance Auto Parts Nationals Oct. 1-3, 1999 Heartland Park-Topeka Topeka, Kansas
Number Heartland Park starts: 15 Times No. 1 qualifier at Heartland Park: 8 Heartland Park final rounds: 8 Heartland victories: 5 (1993,94,96 in spring race; 1996,1997 in fall race) Most recent win: Sept. 28 , 1997 Won-Lost Record (all Heartland events): 41-10 Best performances: 4.889 secs, July 5, 1996 (track record) 4.892 secs, Sept. 26, 1996 (event record) 313.15 mph, Sept. 28, 1997
DID YOU KNOW:
John has qualified for 225 consecutive events dating back to the 1987 Winston Finals at Pomona, Calif....John is tied with Pro Stock driver Warren Johnson in the race to break Bob Glidden's career record of 85 NHRA tour victories. Both have 78 wins....John has won at least one NHRA event for 13 consecutive seasons and has won three or more races for eight straight years, a record unparalleled in the sport... only 12 times in NHRA racing history has a driver won eight races in a season. John has reached that milestone four times....Since 1992, John has led the Funny Car points 2,217 days and hasn't been out of the lead for more than six straight races.