Bristol: John Force preview

SENSITIVE' FORCE SEEKS BRISTOL BREAKTHROUGH 14-Time Champion Aims for First 2009 Victory BRISTOL, Tenn. - John Force showed off his sensitive side in a television ad for the ninth annual Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. In it,...

SENSITIVE' FORCE SEEKS BRISTOL BREAKTHROUGH
14-Time Champion Aims for First 2009 Victory

BRISTOL, Tenn. - John Force showed off his sensitive side in a television ad for the ninth annual Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. In it, the 14-time NHRA Funny Car champion picked daisies, pondered the meaning of life and tumbled down the hillside, Jack-and-Jill-style.

That's not the John Force rivals likely will see this weekend, though.

"We need to hurt some feelings," said the 126-time tour winner, "and I don't mean our own. It's a long season, but we need to start showing that we can still compete.

"What did Waylon say in that song?," Force asked, an obvious reference to the late country-and-western singer, Waylon Jennings. "We may be used, but we ain't used up. Yeah, that's it. We ain't used up. We've still got something for em."

At age 60, Force definitely has been used and abused, but don't think the 14-time Auto Racing All-America selection can't still drive the wheels off the Castrol GTX? High Mileage Ford Mustang that holds the key to his latest NHRA title bid.

Although he suffered crippling injuries in a crash little more than a year-and-a-half ago, Force's problems the last 18 months have been more mechanical than physical. Physically, he may be in better shape than he was before the accident. His weight is down, his strength is up, he's quit drinking and, for the first time in his racing life, he has embarked on a regular exercise regimen.

On the other hand, the Mustang he'll drive this week bears little resemblance to the one he crashed at the Texas Motorplex (Sept. 23, 2007) and, even though he and.his crew chiefs championed the design, his own team has experienced difficulty in adapting to the new technology.

Not only is the chassis heavier, the result of more bracing and padding and the addition of a third side rail the runs above the driver's shoulder, the BOSS 500 engine that sits between the frame rails is a new in-house design and the clutch that applies the power to the race track also is new.

All of those simultaneous changes have wreaked havoc with a team that once so completely dominated the series that it won 10 consecutive titles.

"(Co-crew chiefs Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) are figuring it out," Force said. "We've got a race car that's good enough to win, but as competitive as it is, everything's gotta be just right. The days of having an easy round or two are over. You need to bring your best every time you go up there.

"There are 14 or 15 cars that can win," he continued. "We've got four of them with Robert Hight, Mike Neff, me and Ashley (Force Hood, his 26-year-old daughter). Ashley's got the best car right now but I think we're getting better."

If that's true, then maybe drag racing's biggest winner can add to his legend this week with what would be his first win at the 1,000 foot distance at which Funny Car and Top Fuel races have been contested in the year since two-time world champion Scott Kalitta lost his life in a crash at Englishtown, N.J.

"The focus is still on safety," Force said, "but I think we're starting to have a race car. I'm excited."

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Scott Kalitta , Robert Hight , Mike Neff