BRISTOL, Tenn. - John Force won last year's Winston Showdown playing Superman, wearing a prominent Superman logo on his firesuit while driving a Superman-themed Castrol GTXÃ‚Â® Ford Mustang Funny Car to an improbable victory that secured...
BRISTOL, Tenn. - John Force won last year's Winston Showdown playing Superman, wearing a prominent Superman logo on his firesuit while driving a Superman-themed Castrol GTXÂ® Ford Mustang Funny Car to an improbable victory that secured the biggest payday of his career: $200,000.
However, if he is to repeat this week (July 7-9) at Bristol Dragway, he'll have to do so without the benefit of super powers, even cosmetic ones.
The Superman car and accompanying firesuit have been retired to the nine-time champion's museum in Yorba Linda, Calif., and although he's won five of 11 races this year, Force finds himself NOT leading the midseason points for the first time in 11 years.
The last time the NHRA national record holder (4.788 seconds, 324.05 miles per hour) reached the July 4th holiday in any position other than No. 1 was 1989.
He has been second later in the year, most recently in 1998 when he trailed Ron Capps on Sept. 1 and most significantly in 1992 when he lost the Winston Championship to a fast-closing Cruz Pedregon, but not once in the '90s did he reach midseason as anything but the Funny Car leader.
The man who ended that streak and who hopes to halt another (Force's record seven straight series titles) is Jerry Toliver who, with 12 races remaining, has forged a 54-point advantage over the sport's most prolific winner (86 tour victories) by consistently advancing tot he semifinals or beyond.
However, before rumor mongers suggest that Force might be mortal, the eight-time Auto Racing All-American hopes to make a statement this week with the competitive debut of a new Castrol GTX Ford hailed as "Supercar."
Designed by Tim Gibson, an aeronautical engineer whose credits include work on the Pontiac body preferred by Toliver as a stint with Dan Gurney's All-American Racers IndyCar team, the new Ford has created a firestorm of controversy even though its debut twice has been postponed because of handling and horsepower problems.
Although the Mustang appears much wider than its predecessors, according to Gibson, it is closer to stock dimensions than any other Funny Car in this week's field.
"From an appearance standpoint, we were able to pick up a lot of stock Mustang dimensions," Gibson explained. "For example, the grill, headlights, the contour of the front end is stock. We made a template off a stock Mustang and made it absolutely stock.
"We have a lot of contouring on the side of the car at the rocker, down low, (that also was) pulled right off the stock Mustang. What was funny is everybody goes, â€˜well, that doesn't look right.' People were so used to seeing what was out there (that) when they saw one that picked up stock features, they thought it looked funny."
The one major element that could not be brought back to showroom specs, Gibson said, was the roofline.
"What has happened to Funny Cars is (technical officials) allowed the roof to get very narrow," Gibson said. "As a designer, you have to design it with the roof narrow because that's (how you get) the best aerodynamics. But it really makes the car look funny to have the roof that narrow. It's odd that they let (the racers) do that. The roof width is the only dimension (on the Mustang) that is really different from stock."
Of course, the feature that has attracted the most attention is the unusual mounting position for the parachutes. Instead of side-by-side in the center of the rear deck, the â€˜chutes on the new Ford are mounted under the taillights, one on either side.
Force is hoping his rivals get a very good look at the new parachute location, starting with Friday's qualifying.
DID YOU KNOW: John and Castrol teammate Tony Pedregon will participate Thursday in the second annual Food City Fan Fest autograph session from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m
John has enjoyed considerable success in NHRA bonus races. In addition to last year's Winston Showdown title, he won the 1990, 1995, 1996 and 1997 Winston Invitational at Rockingham, N.C., and won Big Bud Shootout titles in 1987, 1990, 1993 and 1996....John has been on tour the last week with his youngest daughters, Courtney and Brittany. They joined him for last Saturday's match race appearance at Norwalk, Ohio, and then drove with him to Bristol....John and Tony are among those who participate monthly in the Drivers Forum found at ESPN.com.