Charlotte: John Force preview

4-WIDE RACING HAS FORCE'S NAME ON IT 14-Time Champ Bidding for Historic Win at ZMax CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- On the eve of the NHRA's inauguaral 4-Wide Nationals at ZMax Dragway, drag racing icon John Force told his team that this week's ...

4-WIDE RACING HAS FORCE'S NAME ON IT
14-Time Champ Bidding for Historic Win at ZMax

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- On the eve of the NHRA's inauguaral 4-Wide Nationals at ZMax Dragway, drag racing icon John Force told his team that this week's four-lane competition isn't rocket science. The thing to remember, said the 14-time champion, is that just because everything's different, doesn't mean anything's changed.

As strange as that may sound, it contains a profound truth which is that no matter how advanced the technology, no matter how many opponents are lined up on either side, no matter what the configuration of the Christmas Tree starting system, the basic premise remains the same and that is to get one's car to the finish line ahead of all the others.

Over 35 years, Force has done that better than anyone in history, getting to the finish line first 1,047 times, which is one of the reasons the 60-year-old legend has been installed as the pre-race favorite in a suddenly resurgent Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang that celebrates his 25-year association with BP/Castrol.

Force also gets a nod for being part of last fall's four-wide experiment at ZMax in which he lost out to then teammate Mike Neff, who now is part of the 127-time tour winners' mechanical brain trust along with Hall of Fame crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly.

Throw in Force's penchant for winning the sport's big events (the 50th Anniversary NHRA Nationals, the 50th annual Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals, the inaugural Winston Showdown in which Funny Cars and Top Fuel dragsters competed against one another) and his new willingness to embrace change and 4-Wide has "Force" written all over it.

"Two of my teams did run in the exhibition last year," Force said, "Mike Neff finished number one and I was the runner-up, so if anyone knows anything about the four-lane, we do. Could be a little advantage. It will be exciting. It's different."

Force told his teammates, reigning series champion Robert "Top Gun" Hight and daughter Ashley Force Hood, not to over-think the new format, but to focus instead on just having fun. He plans to do the same.

"We haven't had much fun the last three years," Force said, referring not just to seasons in which he failed to reclaim the championship that was his 14 times in 17 years (1990-2006) but in which his team had to deal with the tragic death of rising star Eric Medlen in one accident and with Force's own mortality in another.

Nevertheless, after lending his influence to the re-design of the basic Funny Car chassis, after rebuilding his broken body to the point that he now believes he is in "the best shape of my career" and after suffering through a 2009 season in which he failed to win an NHRA tour event for the first time in 23 years, Force rolls into ZMax in a familiar position -- atop the Full Throttle Funny Car standings.

The upshot is that he is back in contention for what could be a 15th individual Funny Car Championship, something that didn't seem possible just three months ago.

He owes his current resurgence to his unexpected willingness to embrace change. He's added a crew chief (Neff), replaced all but one member of last year's crew and swapped last year's chassis for the new three-rail model built in-house at the JFR facility in Brownsburg, Ind.

With the new chassis, a new 2010 Ford Mustang body and power from a BOSS 500 Ford nitro motor (also developed at JFR), Force's current mount bears little resemblance to the one he last drove to a title in 2006.

Nevertheless, the most provocative move was aligning Neff with Coil and Fedderly, a move only made possible when economic issues compelled Force to park the car that Neff drove to victory in last November's Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Caif.

"We had to shuffle the cards a little bit," Force said. "Because of economics, we couldn't run the fourth car this year. (So) we just put a young guy in with the older generation and they've given me a good hot rod."

-source: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Ashley Force , Eric Medlen , Austin Coil , Mike Neff