Bristol: John Force preview

FORCE NEEDS TO BE 'SUPERMAN' IN COUNTDOWN TO CHAMPIONSHIP Castrol GTX® Driver Battling Through Worst Start of His Career BRISTOL, Tenn. -- In his first appearance at Bruton Smith's re-configured Bristol Dragway, John Force was both the ...

FORCE NEEDS TO BE 'SUPERMAN' IN COUNTDOWN TO CHAMPIONSHIP
Castrol GTX® Driver Battling Through Worst Start of His Career

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- In his first appearance at Bruton Smith's re-configured Bristol Dragway, John Force was both the figurative and literal personification of Superman, the DC Comics superhero.

Driving a Superman version of his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang and wearing a red-and-blue, not-yet-sullied firesuit prominently emblazoned with Superman's "S," Force dominated at 1999's inaugural Winston Showdown.

After qualifying No. 1, he drove his Castrol-backed Ford Funny Car past five Top Fuel dragsters in a handicapped competition for which he earned the biggest single event payday of his career: $210,000.

However, since the NHRA POWERade Series debuted at Bristol Dragway in 2001, Force's "super powers" have been largely non-existent.

Oh, he did win the O'Reilly Thunder Valley Nationals in 2004 and, yes, he was the Funny Car runner-up a year ago, but in the other four races, he couldn't even manage a winning record (3-4).

For some, winning one of six starts at any venue would be considered spectacular, but not when you are drag racing's biggest winner, a driver who has won 25 per cent not of all the races he has started, but all the races for which he has tried to qualify in a 30-year NHRA career (122 of 486).

Off to the absolute worst start of his career, Force will need a super-human performance if he hopes to turn his season around and put himself and his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford back in the race for the 2007 championship.

Entering this week's seventh annual Thunder Valley Nationals, the 58-year-old icon is 15th in driver points, 466 points behind pacesetting Ron Capps and 368 down to son-in-law and Ford teammate Robert Hight. He even trails daughter Ashley, a Funny Car rookie.

Not since 1982 has he been as far behind in points as he was at the start of the current eight races-in-nine weeks endurance contest. That's the year he finished 20th in points because he raced in only three of 12 events.

That's the bad news. The good news is that this year the 14-time NHRA Funny Car Champion, winner of a record 122 tour events, doesn't have to catch either Capps or Hight.

In the NHRA's new Countdown to the Championship format, the points earned in the season's first 17 races only serve to set the lineup for a six-race shootout to determine the winner of the $500,000 POWERade bonus.

That means that Force's real target this week isn't Capps, who's ahead by the equivalent of 24 racing rounds, but Jack Beckman, the driver who currently occupies the eighth and final transfer position in the Countdown. Beckman leads Force by a far more manageable 120 points.

Nevertheless, the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection now knows that he'll need help to get into position to win an unprecedented 15th championship.

After all, only six races remain before the points are re-adjusted for the Top 8 drivers and Force not only has to make up 20 points a race on No. 8, he also has to step over a pretty good crop of drivers who are between him and his goal including Tommy Johnson Jr., Jeff Arend, Del Worsham, Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson, and Kenny Bernstein.

     "I don't know how we got this bad," Force said.  "Robert and Ashley are both doing
good.  They're up in the Countdown.  We're trying to get there but it's been tough.  I still
step on the pedal the same way.  I haven't forgotten how to drive and I haven't forgotten
how to win.  We'll turn it around.  I promise you that."

That's bold talk from the usually self-deprecating champion. But talk is cheap. This week, he knows he has to back it up with a Superman-like performance.

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Jeff Arend , Robert Hight , Tommy Johnson Jr.