JOLIET, Ill. -- John Force, a man on the verge of becoming the most prolific winner in the history of the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series, contends that fear is every driver's biggest obstacle in a sport in which vehicles routinely reach...
JOLIET, Ill. -- John Force, a man on the verge of becoming the most prolific winner in the history of the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series, contends that fear is every driver's biggest obstacle in a sport in which vehicles routinely reach speeds near 320 miles per hour.
Having crashed at 260 miles-an-hour, put a car on its roof at 200 and been on fire at even higher speeds, the nine-time Winston Funny Car Champion has had his share of personal nightmares.
However, it was the fear of success that was most difficult for the 85-time tour winner to overcome. He was a runner-up nine times before winning his first race and, for a time, thought he'd never reach the winner's circle.
Now, riding a three-race winning streak that has tied him with Bob Glidden for most NHRA tour victories in a career, Force can rewrite history this week (June 2-4) by winning the Prestone Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.
He would never have been in such a position, however, had he not first faced his fears -- and overcome them.
"Fear isn't a bad thing," Force said, "as long as you don't let it control you. Fear gives you that adrenalin rush that lets you do things you didn't think you could -- like getting that .467 light (reaction time) last week in Texas. Fear can motivate you, but if you let it take control, that's when you go brain dead and forget how to drive.
"You get to the semifinals, the finals, somewhere where you know you have a chance to win and you start hearing voices, you hear things in the engine, you look at the Christmas Tree and Freddy Krueger's staring back at you. That's fear taking over.
"The Christmas Tree is my best buddy. When that top light comes on and that second light, I just smile and I say 'you gonna give me a red today? Or are you just going to let me win?' Some guys, the Christmas Tree gets in their head and they're just junk."
It's been a long time since Force was "junk." Since earning a breakthrough win in the 1987 NHRA Grandnational at Montreal, the 51-year-old veteran has won one of every three races contested (85 of 247) in the sport's premier series.
He's dominated for more than a decade during which time he's won nine of 10 Winston Championships, been named to eight Auto Racing All-America teams (by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association), been selected Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing (1996) and earned the Ollie Award for career contributions to the sport.
So he's ready to hang it up, right? Not so fast, pilgrim.
"I've got at least five good years," he said, "and then I want to become a car owner like (Don) Prudhomme. I still want to drive a (Top Fuel) dragster, just for fun. And I want to see Tony Pedregon win the championship. I want to turn him loose in Funny Car 'cause he's a helluva driver and he deserves his chance.
"But right how, I'm just trying to do whatever I've been doing for 10 years, trying to win another race or two, another championship or two."
Five more years? For rivals, that has to be scariest prospect of all.
<pre> John Force at...... Route 66 Raceway Joliet, Illinois Starts: 2 No. 1 qualifier: 1 (1999) Final rounds: 1 (1999) Wins: 0 Won-Lost Record: 3-2 Best Performances: *4.856 seconds, June 4, 1999 *313.44 mph, June 4, 1999 *track record
</pre> LAST YEAR -- John beat Scott Weiss, Frank Pedregon and Randy Anderson before losing to Tim Wilkerson.
DID YOU KNOW:
John has qualified for 238 consecutive events dating back to the 1987 World Finals....John has won five or more races in a season eight times. He's won at least one NHRA event for 14 consecutive years and three or more for 11 straight campaigns....when he beat Al Hofmann in the first round of last week's Castrol Nationals at the Texas Motorplex, it was his 40th round win secured at Hofmann's expense....John has lost most often to Mark Oswald, to whom he succumbed 25 times in 49 career meetings....the return to Route 66 Raceway constitutes a homecoming for Crew Chief Austin Coil, who grew up in Chicago and made his drag racing reputation with the Chi-Town Hustler Funny Car which already had a national reputation before Frank Hawley drove it to back-to-back NHRA championships in 1982 and 1983.
The Race on TV: 2 hours of qualifying highlights, 8 pm (ET), June 3; 2 hours of race day coverage, 5 pm (ET), Sunday, June 4.
Schedule: Pro qualifying, 3:45 and 7:45 pm (ET) Friday; 12 noon and 5 pm (ET) Saturday; Finals at 11 am (ET) Sunday.