Topeka: John Force Racing final report

FORCE GETS BACK INTO WINNERS' CIRCLE AT HEARTLAND PARK-TOPEKA TOPEKA, Kansas -- Defying all odds and stamping himself as a legitimate contender for yet another NHRA Funny Car Championship, drag racing icon John Force beat POWERade points...

FORCE GETS BACK INTO WINNERS' CIRCLE AT HEARTLAND PARK-TOPEKA

TOPEKA, Kansas -- Defying all odds and stamping himself as a legitimate contender for yet another NHRA Funny Car Championship, drag racing icon John Force beat POWERade points leader Tim Wilkerson in the final round to win the 20th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals at Heartland Park-Topeka.

Just 252 days after a 320 mile-an-hour crash in Dallas, Texas, Force needed just 4.996 seconds to earn his first victory of the 2008 season; his ninth at Heartland Park.

That performance pushed the 59-year-old legend into third place in the Funny Car driver standings behind only Wilkerson and another Force, Ashley, his 25-year-old daughter. It was Force's first win since Aug. 12, 2007 when he prevailed in the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, Minn.

Force credited crew chief Austin Coil with keeping him focused when he began to question his own abilities.

"It's huge for me mentally," Force said. "Coil and I even argued, 'maybe we should put (Phil) Burkart back in the car', I said, 'and let the guys win some races and prove the car and maybe that'll give me time to heal more.

"And Coil held me to a verbal contract we had. He said 'you always told me Force that if we go down, we go down together. If I suck, you're staying with me and if you suck, I'm staying with you.' So he said there ain't nobody else driving this car but you unless you just ain't got the strength to get back in it.

"You watch these kids work around the clock (on the race car) and you think it just ain't fair," Force said. "if you can't deliver as a driver, it's not fair to them (to stay in the seat) just 'cause I own it."

Force beat his daughter in round one before dispatching former teammate Gary Densham and long-time rival Ron Capps to reach his 202nd career final. In the money round, he left first (.062 to .091 for Wilkerson) and never looked back.

"At the end of the day, winning is what it's all about," Force said. "I know every driver says that, but when you've won like me, you begin to take it for granted. And then I got slapped (when he crashed) and I don't take it for granted no more. I told Ashley today, 'I'm gonna go after you baby.'"

Force becomes the third different FR driver to win this year, following son-in-law Robert Hight, who won at Pomona, Calif., and Ashley, who beat him in the final round at Atlanta, Ga.

"Maybe we're just lucky here," Force said of his success at HPT, a track on which he's raced in 14 finals and won nine times, "but Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) were on their game. We swapped motors after the warmup (before the final). We fired it up, it backfired. Fired it up again, it backfired. We changed the mags. The cam was wrong in it. The timers were all screwed up.

"I couldn't do anything about that so I told them to go to work and I was gonna go to Eric. Eric Medlen always gets my heart right. He's always with me. I know I'm beginning to sound like an ol' preacher, but you been through my stuff, you get religion."

* * * *

JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang

Notable: First win since he was seriously injured last September in a crash at Dallas, Texas.

Quotable: "This is the best win in my career. The best. They keep wanting to give me awards. They call me a legend well, to me, that means retire. So, I don't want no awards. Keep all your awards and give me these NHRA trophies. (Drag racing legend Don) Garlits said one of these days they're gonna put me in his Hall of Fame. I said that means I gotta quit? I don't wanna quit. So this is my best race right here in Topeka because I get to race for another championship. I get to race -- and that's all I care about."."

ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang

Notable: Lost to her dad for the second time in four career meetings but retained her hold on second place in POWERade points.

Quotable: "I thought I'd won. I thought I heard Bernie say something about tire smoke and I knew that I hadn't smoked the tires. I got out and told the guys 'good job.' I'm just glad it was a good, close race and that the car went A to B and then for dad to win, that was the best."

ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang

Notable: Failed to reach the semifinals for the first time in four trips to Heartland Park.

Quotable: "It was perfect. It was going to haul ass. It was gonna run 4.80 flat. And two rods broke. It was one of two things. Either there was debris in the crankshaft or it was out of round. Anyway, at 180 feet out, it broke two rods instantly. It didn't drop any cylinders to that point. It was right along with the 4.80 run we made at Bristol. It was going to be low ET of the whole deal. We just found another way (to lose). It's frustrating."

MIKE NEFF, 41, Old Spice Ford Mustang

Notable: First DNQ of brief pro career.

Quotable: "We're going through everything right now. We don't have an answer yet of why it's putting cylinders out (but) we'll get them in Chicago. We'll have 'er fixed by then.JBetween me and Medlen, we'll get it figured out."

JBRITTANY FORCE, 21, BrandSource dragster

Quotable: "I think everything went really good. One of the things I need to just focus on is continuing to do my job and the car will come around. I was really excited to see that I improved on my reaction times in the first round and ultimately my ability to drive the car has improved despite the small absence between races."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Densham , Tim Wilkerson , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , Austin Coil