FORCE BACK IN 'COMFORT ZONE' AS TOUR MOVES TO MINNESOTA Funny Car Standout a 10-Time Winner of Lucas Nationals BRAINERD, Minn. -- John Force was raised in Southern California, about as far removed from central Minnesota, both geographically...
FORCE BACK IN 'COMFORT ZONE' AS TOUR MOVES TO MINNESOTA
Funny Car Standout a 10-Time Winner of Lucas Nationals
BRAINERD, Minn. -- John Force was raised in Southern California, about as far removed from central Minnesota, both geographically and philosophically, as one could possibly imagine.
Nevertheless, there is nowhere on the NHRA POWERade drag racing tour that the 13-time Funny Car champion feels more comfortable than at Brainerd International Raceway, site this week of the 25th annual Lucas Oil Nationals.
Force has won the Lucas Nationals more often than he has any other event in the NHRA's 23-race series.
In 20 previous appearances, he has taken a Castrol GTX Funny Car to the final round 12 times. He's won 10 of the last 18 races, led the qualifying six times and never started from further back than No. 5.
He's won 57 rounds of racing and his 57-10 record represents the highest winning percentage (85.0) in Funny Car history (in an event in which a driver has made at least 10 starts).
However, if he is to extend that dominance, he'll have to master a new racing surface and then deal with an increasingly competitive field headed up by teammate and protege, Eric Medlen, who beat him in the final round last year en route to his second consecutive victory at BIR.
For Force, Brainerd represents an oasis in what has been a desert of disappointment this season.
Although he is second in points, 70 behind pacesetting Ron Capps, it's just the second time in 17 years that he has arrived in Minnesota with just a single tour victory to his credit. Still, he's managed to stay in the hunt for an unprecedented 14th individual championship by combining a win at Joliet, Ill., with five runner-up finishes in a new Castrol GTX Ford Mustang that began the season by streaking the quickest quarter mile in history at 4.664 seconds.
However, in the summer heat, in which Force invariably enjoyed an advantage in the past, he's been trumped by Capps and crew chief Ed McCulloch, who've won five times with the Brut Dodge.
Force knows what he has to do. He also knows that BIR is the place to do it.
"If we're going to win the championship, we're going to have to start winning races," said the 57-year-old drag racing icon. We've had our chances, but now we're running out of races (in which to make up the deficit)."
The last time Force reached this point in the season having won just one race was 1998. He went on to win the championship that year, one of the 10 consecutive titles he won from 1993 through 2002, even though he won two fewer races than either Capps or Cruz Pedregon.
That the 13-time Auto Racing All-America selection is even in contention for the title is a wonderment to many considering all the distractions to which he and his team have been subjected since the season began last February.
The biggest of those, of course, has been the filming of the real-life TV series Driving Force, which features Force and his three drag racing daughters, Ashley, Brittany and Courtney and airs Monday nights on A&E Network.
While the cameras will be dark this weekend, primarily because neither of the Force girls is competing at Brainerd, they have been present for much of the campaign, creating an atmosphere that many would consider impossible. For Force, it has been merely difficult.
Despite it all, the 120-time tour winner has been the only driver able to keep Capps from turning the championship chase into a runaway. The two have been 1-2 since the second race of the season with Capps' margin fluctuating between 15 and 122 points. Force's current deficit is the equivalent of four racing rounds. That's a margin he could make up in a single race, especially a race in which he has been as dominant as he has this one.