Brainerd: John Force preview

FORCE TRIES TO REVERSE TREND IN RETURN TO B.I.R. Funny Car Icon Bids for 12th Victory in Lucas Nationals BRAINERD, Minn. -- With his bid for a record 15th NHRA Funny Car championship hanging in the balance, John Force couldn't find himself...

FORCE TRIES TO REVERSE TREND IN RETURN TO B.I.R.
Funny Car Icon Bids for 12th Victory in Lucas Nationals

BRAINERD, Minn. -- With his bid for a record 15th NHRA Funny Car championship hanging in the balance, John Force couldn't find himself in a better place this week than Brainerd International Raceway.

In the simplest terms, no one in NHRA history has dominated at one racetrack like Force has at BIR, where he has driven a Castrol GTX0x00ae Funny Car to victory 11 times in 22 appearances.

The sport's biggest winner hopes to extend that dominance in this week's 27th Lucas Oil Nationals, a race that is critical to his bid to earn one of the 10 berths in the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Since winning the June 1 O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Topeka, Kan., extending to 22 the number of consecutive seasons in which he has won a tour event and climbing to third place in POWERade points, Force has been in free fall at the wheel of a Castrol GTX High Mileage0x2122 Ford Mustang.

The 126-time tour winner has won just two racing rounds in the last six events and, as a result, has fallen to eighth place. The upshot is that a Countdown position that once seemed to be a foregone conclusion, now is very much in jeopardy.

Force's assessment of the situation has been brutally honest.

"If I don't win some rounds, I'm not going to be in this Countdown," he said. "We didn't win a single round on the Western Swing (the three-race set composed of events in Denver, Colo., Seattle, Wash., and Sonoma, Calif.). We have to find out why and we have to fix it."

Only three races remain before the NHRA certifies the 10 drivers eligible to compete for its $500,000 championship. John Force Racing, Inc., could occupy as many as four of those positions but the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection concedes that, right now, others have the momentum and he and rookie teammate Mike Neff (ninth in current points) are just treading water.

"We need to make a move," he said. "The reality is we're running out of races. We have a car that's getting better and we've got history (at Brainerd), but they're not gonna give us (anything). We're gonna have to earn our spot. And so is Mike Neff."

Nevertheless, Force's record at BIR is an intimidating one. In 22 appearances, he has qualified no worse than No. 5, has gone to the finals 13 times and posted a 62-11 match record. That means that he's won 84.9 per cent of the time. Last year, in ending his longest victory drought BIR (four years), Force nudged future Hall-of-Famer Kenny Bernstein by .004 of a second.

Despite his recent struggles, the fact that Force even is in a race car is something of a minor miracle considering all the injuries he suffered last September in a crash at Dallas, Texas. After 27 days in the hospital and months of physical therapy, the former truck driver was back in his car at the season-opening Winternationals.

However, mere participation never was the goal of the 1996 Driver of the Year.

"At the end of the day, I want to be safe," he said, "but I still want to win. That's what it's all about."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , John Force , Mike Neff