Atlanta; John Force flexes Ford muscle in preparation

COMMERCE, Ga. -- When it was reported in 1897 that the American writer and humorist, Mark Twain, had died in Europe, the Associated Press received the following cable from London: "The reports or my death are greatly exaggerated. -- Mark ...

COMMERCE, Ga. -- When it was reported in 1897 that the American writer and humorist, Mark Twain, had died in Europe, the Associated Press received the following cable from London: "The reports or my death are greatly exaggerated. -- Mark Twain."

Winston Funny Car Champion John Force, whose one-liners could rival Twain's, might have used the same quip to respond to those who, two weeks ago, had laid his competitive career to rest after he drove his Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang to victory in "only" one of the season's first five races.

Instead, Force decided to let his race car respond, which it did in a wire-to-wire win last Sunday in the Moto1.net Nationals at Richmond, Va.

That victory, the 83rd of Force's career and the fourth in six appearances at Virginia Motorsports Park, put the nine-time champion in a celebratory mood as he prepared this week to return to Atlanta Dragway, the track on which he has raced for more Funny Car championships than any other (10).

"We're a long way from being dead and the season's a long way from being over," Force said. "We may not dominate like we did last year, but we're not going to just roll over the first time somebody challenges us, either. This team has a lot of pride."

It will try to build on that pride in the 10th annual Advance Auto Parts Southern Nationals (May 5-7), an event in which Force has raced for the Funny Car title each of the last eight seasons. A year ago, he beat Whit Bazemore by .001 of a second to win for the fifth time at Atlanta Dragway.

If the team is to celebrate Force's 51st birthday (May 4) with yet another victory, it will need to duplicate a Richmond effort that included both performance and driving prowess. Although Force qualified his Mustang on the pole and recorded the quickest quarter mile time of the season (4.826 seconds), it was no cakewalk to the title.

"We didn't win just on performance," acknowledged co-Crew Chief Bernie Fedderly who, with Austin Coil, has directed Force to seven straight championships. "There were a couple of rounds, including the final, where (Force) had to really drive and he did a great job of pulling it off."

In fact, in a final round duel with Ron Capps, Force first had to recover from a loss of traction and then had to avoid disqualification by driving his 7,000 horsepower hybrid away from the center line. His winning time (5.913 seconds at 236.01 miles per hour) was no where close to his national record numbers (4.788 seconds, 324.05 mph), but it was good enough to win.

Facing similar weather and track conditions this week, Force would settle for the same result.

"A win is a win," Force said. "None of them are easy. Sometimes you've got the power and you can make it stick. Sometimes you're out there just trying to survive and you turn the (win) light on. You don't get less money for one than the other and it still goes in there as a win."

John Force at......

Atlanta Dragway Commerce, Georgia

Starts: 16 Times No. 1 qualifier: 5 (1991, 1994-97) Final round appearances: 10 Wins: 5 (1992-95, 1999) Won-Lost Record: 42-11 Best Performances: 4.921 seconds, April 18, 1998 312.06 mph, April 18, 1998

LAST YEAR -- After qualifying third, John reached the final round for the eighth straight year by beating Frank Pedregon, Del Worsham and Tony Pedregon. In the final, he beat Whit Bazemore by .001 of a second.

DID YOU KNOW:

John has qualified for 236 consecutive events dating back to the 1987 World Finals....

John needs just two more victories to tie Bob Glidden's career record of 85 tour wins....

In 1996, John became the first (and only) drag racer named Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing....

John is the only driver named to the Auto Racing All-America Team seven straight times by the members of AARWBA....

John has reached the finals more often at Atlanta than at any other track on the tour -- 10 times.....

Although he is 3-1 against current points leader Jerry Toliver, Force was 0-2 against the WWF driver's current Crew Chief, Dale Armstrong, and was 7-13 against Kenny Bernstein in the years Armstrong turned the wrenches for the Bud King team.

SCHEDULE: Qualifying, 1:45 and 5:45 pm (ET) Friday; 10:45 am and 4 pm S(ET) aturday. Eliminations at 10:30 am Sunday.

The Race on TV: 90 minutes of same day coverage at 4:30 pm (ET), Sunday, TNN

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Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Bob Glidden , Jerry Toliver , Austin Coil