Baytown: John Force preview

FORCE FOCUSES ON POINTS LEAD AT O'REILLY SPRING NATIONALS 13-Time Series Champ Trails Bazemore HOUSTON, Texas -- Appropriately, John Force, drag racing's biggest winner and most enthusiastic storyteller, has a NASA twist on his appearance...

13-Time Series Champ Trails Bazemore

HOUSTON, Texas -- Appropriately, John Force, drag racing's biggest winner and most enthusiastic storyteller, has a NASA twist on his appearance this week at Houston Raceway Park, the track on which he will try to win the O'Reilly Spring Nationals for the seventh time in 18 seasons this Sunday.

Asked how it feels to accelerate from zero to 330 miles per hour in just 4.6 seconds, the 13-time NHRA Funny Car Champion said that the experience has been compared to the launch of the space shuttle, "but I've never been on the space shuttle, so I don't really know.

     "What I know is you get four, five, six G's when you hit the gas.  It pushes you back
against the seat and holds you there.  Then, when you hit the parachutes, you get a
negative four G's.  Your eyes try to bug out.

"It starts the minute they buckle me in," acknowledged the driver of the Castrol GTX® Start Up® Ford Mustang, the world's quickest and fastest full-bodied race car.

"I'm on the radio and it's like, 'Houston, we're ready for takeoff.' I'm talking to Eric (driver of the companion Castrol SYNTEC® Ford) and Robert (rookie driver of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford) and Coil and Bernie (crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly).

     "We're joking, kidding and then, right in the middle of the conversation, they fire
the motor and it's time to blast off.  There's no describing it.  It's a rush.  It's the reason
I'm still racing at 55.  Even if it's just for a few seconds, I love driving my race car."

Force has driven his cars further than anyone else in the sport: 2,892 quarter miles, 1,204 of them in competition. That's 723 miles, less than two races in NASCAR terms, but an eternity for a drag racer.

If he can add just two more miles to his total this weekend, he likely will leave Houston with the points lead in an ongoing bid for his 14th championship in 16 seasons and the team's 13th straight title dating back to 1992.

The former truck driver is anxious to get back on a track on which he has enjoyed some of the biggest moments of his career.

It was at Houston in 1999 that he became the first to set the NHRA national record at a time quicker than 4.80 seconds (4.788) and it was at HRP in 2002 that he won for the 100th time on the NHRA POWERade tour.

The only drag racer to have earned triple digit victories, he is second all-time behind only Richard Petty, who won 200 times in his NASCAR career. However, only 36 of those wins came in the modern era (since 1975) and they were the product of 530 starts. Force, by contrast, has won 115 times in 422 career starts and has shown no sign of slowing down.

In fact, the 12-time Auto Racing All-America selection already has won once this season (at Phoenix, Ariz.), extending to 19 the number of consecutive campaigns in which he has earned a tour victory.

As a result, he comes into the season's fourth event trailing Whit Bazemore by a scant nine points, the equivalent of a single round of racing.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that he is in a car that has gone quicker (4.665 seconds) and faster (333.58 mph) than any other in history and despite his 16-year dominance of the Funny Car division, Force is taking nothing for granted.

"It's so competitive out there that any car can take you out on any day," he said. "Used to, you'd get an easy round or two, but not anymore. You got Bazemore, you got Gary Scelzi and Ron Capps. You got the Worsham kid (Del, runner-up for the 2004 championship), (Tim) Wilkerson, Tommy Johnson Jr., Cruz and Tony (the Pedregon brothers), Phil Burkart, 'Big Jim' Dunn's car (driven by Tony Bartone) and guys like (Jeff) Arend and (Bob) Gilbertson.

"They all can run the numbers, just like me and Eric and Robert. So it's a battle and it's going to be a battle all year."

* * * *

Did You Know? This week, John can extend to 350 the number of consecutive events for which he has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car. That record-breaking streak began with the first race of 1988. It is longer by 47 races than the previous best and dwarfs the second longest active streak (104 races for Pro Stock Motorcycle driver Angelle Sampey)....John was the 1996 Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing, the same honor afforded Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson for his 2004 performance....asked about the backflips that NASCAR's newest star, Carl Edwards, executes after each victory, John said, "I'm 55, I can't do a backflip but maybe I could do a belly flop."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Bartone , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Greg Anderson , Richard Petty , Carl Edwards , Phil Burkart , Angelle Sampey , Tommy Johnson Jr.