Bristol: Force aiming to clear hurdle

BRISTOL, Tenn. - Did you know that the only track on the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series schedule that John Force has yet to claim a victory at is Bristol Dragway? Well, technically Force has not won a professional race there. Force Racing crew...

BRISTOL, Tenn. - Did you know that the only track on the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series schedule that John Force has yet to claim a victory at is Bristol Dragway?

Well, technically Force has not won a professional race there. Force Racing crew chief Austin Coil points out the fact that the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang team has earned a victory in northeastern Tennessee.

"We won the first NHRA Showdown when we beat a Top Fuel car (driven by Bob Vandergriff) in 1999," Coil said. "We have not won a national event there yet, but we have claimed a victory at that track.

"Bristol is a difficult race track. The NHRA's method of preparing the tracks this season is noticeably better than what we dealt with last year. I expect Bristol to go off better this year. I don't think it will be the crapshoot it has been for us in the past."

Since Coil and Force teamed up in 1985, the longest it has ever taken the Funny Car powerhouse to get to winner's circle at a track on the current NHRA schedule was 10 events - at Phoenix. Force can add one more statistic to his record book in just his third attempt during the third annual Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, April 25-27. Larry Dixon, Whit Bazemore and Warren Johnson are the defending winners in their respective categories for the $1.2 million race, the sixth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Team Force Racing has been in the winner's circle this season, but Force himself has not. Tony Pedregon and Gary Densham drive Force-owned Ford Mustangs, and have each earned one win in the first three national events of the season. Coil thinks that will change, and all three Mustangs will have a victory sooner than later.

"We seem to have had the worst luck imaginable this year," Coil said. "But I can tell you that we were bad to the bone Monday after Gainesville. We tried some things during testing in Gainesville after the race that left me feeling very encouraged. I am very confident that you will find Force's car in winner's circle within the next three races."

Force would like nothing better than to add a Bristol victory to his lengthy resume.

"I always like racing on (Bristol owner) Bruton Smith's tracks," Force said. "All of them are state-of-the-art. But I really like Bristol because of the history and because we were able to win that first Funny Car versus Top Fuel event."

After the first three events of the 2003 season, Force remains outside the top 10 in the Funny Car point standings - his worst start to a season since 1989. Since earning his first of 12 Funny Car championships in 1990, the longest Force has not held the category points lead is seven events. Force took over the point standings after the eighth race of the season in 1990, never looking back and earning his first title. In 2000, Jerry Toliver held the No. 1 spot in the category for the first seven events before relinquishing the top spot and the championship to Force.

"Not being in the top 10 is embarrassing," Coil said. "But I have complete confidence that we are all willing and able to perform how our fans expect us to. I don't know if it is unfair, but the better you do, the more people have the right to expect more from you. We are one of the biggest Funny Car teams out here and we have at least as much budget as everyone else. We have more experience for certain. We should do better than most, I think.

"Maybe at the end of last season we cashed in all of our luck chips out of our great bank of luck. You have to pay those back from time to time and we've done that so far this season. I think we have some more luck chips in the bank now and we'll be OK from now on."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Densham , Jerry Toliver , Bob Vandergriff , Austin Coil