FORGET MILESTONES, FORCE WANTS A WIN 14-Time Funny Car Champ Tries to Complete Comeback BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Now that he's driven in his 500th NHRA race, won his 1,000th round, made his 201st final round appearance and celebrated his 59th ...
FORGET MILESTONES, FORCE WANTS A WIN
14-Time Funny Car Champ Tries to Complete Comeback
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Now that he's driven in his 500th NHRA race, won his 1,000th round, made his 201st final round appearance and celebrated his 59th birthday, all within the last three weeks, John Force acknowledged Wednesday that he may be ready to take the final step in his recovery from career-threatening injuries suffered last fall in a 320 mile-an-hour crash.
"Every race I'm feeling more comfortable in the car," proclaimed the 14-time series champion. "The car's gotten better. I'm better. I think we're ready to win again."
Such an assertion can't be good news for those likely to pull their Funny Cars alongside Force's Castrol GTX® High Mileage™ Ford Mustang at this week's eighth annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
With injuries to his hands, feet and legs that would have been difficult for even a younger man to overcome, the sport's biggest winner was confronted with a situation some believed finally would push him into retirement after 30 years on the NHRA pro tour.
Instead, the 125-time tour winner vowed to be racing again -- and not just eventually, but by the 2008 season.
"I'm not going anywhere," he said. "I'm just starting to have fun again. My kids are all out here with me (youngest daughters Brittany, 21, and Courtney, 19, have graduated to the Top Alcohol Dragster division), my ol' hot rod is running good again. I'm having fun. Besides, what would I do? I love this sport. I love what I do and I'm going to do it as long as I can."
True to his word, after four months of intense rehabilitation, the last three with Robert Ortmayer, who customized physical therapy to Force's specific needs as a race car driver, he climbed back in his Mustang for the first time during winter tests in Phoenix.
Then, at the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., he qualified fifth and reached the semifinals before losing to teammate Robert Hight.
As a result, he rolls into Bristol Dragway where he won last year's Thunder Valley Nationals, fifth in POWERade points behind daughter Ashley and Hight but ahead of such luminaries as reigning series champion Tony Pedregon, former champion Gary Scelzi, Ron Capps, Del Worsham and Jack Beckman.
In winning last year's race, Force completely turned around a season that began with a DNQ and a bevy of first round losses. After his second career win at Bristol, he won at Sonoma, Calif., and Brainerd, Minn., and was poised to make a run at his 15th individual championship when he crashed heavily in Dallas, Texas, sending him to the sidelines for the season's last three events.
"Winning all those rounds even impressed me," Force said of his latest accomplishment, "but you try not to think about the records. We just go out every race and do what we do. It's like I told Ashley, you can't let records and the points get in your head cause it'll mess you up.'
"We just focus on winning because that's what Castrol, Ford, the Auto Club and Old Spice pay us to do."