FORCE TRIES TO BUILD ON POINTS LEAD IN PONTIAC PERFORMANCE NATIONALS 13-Time Champion Tries to Conquer Columbus Demons COLUMBUS, Ohio Having reclaimed the POWERade points lead with his victory last Sunday at Atlanta, Ga., John Force tries...
FORCE TRIES TO BUILD ON POINTS LEAD IN PONTIAC PERFORMANCE NATIONALS
13-Time Champion Tries to Conquer Columbus Demons
COLUMBUS, Ohio Having reclaimed the POWERade points lead with his victory last Sunday at Atlanta, Ga., John Force tries to put some distance between himself and the rest of the Funny Car field this week when he sends his Castrol GTX® Start Up® Ford Mustang into the 41st annual Pontiac Performance Nationals at National Trail Raceway.
Locked in the toughest points battle of his career, the 13-time series champion is hoping that the momentum of last week's win will carry him into a National Trail winners' circle he has visited only infrequently.
In fact, drag racing's biggest winner has been less productive in this event than in any other in the NHRA POWERade Series, winning just three times in 25 starts.
Significantly, just one of those victories has come in the last 14 seasons -- 2001.
That might be acceptable for almost any other driver in the sport, but not for an icon who has won more than a quarter of all the races in which he has appeared in a 30-year racing career (116 of 436).
While the 56-year-old veteran has won more than half the races he's run at Brainerd, Minn. (10 of 19), 40 per cent of those at Seattle, Wash. (seven of 17) and a third of those at Atlanta (seven of 22), Phoenix (eight of 21) and Houston (seven of 22), he's won just 12 per cent of the time at National Trail.
Still, by the time racing begins on Sunday, if he has been successful in extending his record-shattering qualifying streak to 354 consecutive NHRA events, Force will be the Funny Car favorite. That's a given at any race in the series.
"We've run good at Columbus," Force said, "maybe not as good as some other tracks, but you know, this is a new year. They've always run the race in June and now it's in May, so maybe that'll make a difference. It's like a new start."
For Force, everything old seems to be new again since he opted to focus his attention on the Next Generation, a plan to keep JFR operating at its present level even after its namesake climbs out of the car in 2011.
When Tony Pedregon left the team after driving the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford to the 2003 championship, Force ignored conventional wisdom and opted to put untested rookie Eric Medlen in the cockpit, pairing him with his crew chief/father, John.
The experiment produced a victory last August at Brainerd, Minn., which propelled Medlen to a fifth place finish in POWERade points. That, Force said, made it possible is year for him to put another novice, son-in-law Robert Hight, in the cockpit of the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford, in which he already has won once.
"If Eric had failed, we couldn't have given Robert his chance," Force said, "but with Eric's success, it was a lot easier to go back to the boardroom with Robert."
Of course, there also is a third member of Force's Next Generation driving corps, 22-year-old daughter Ashley, who is serving an apprenticeship this year -- and probably next -- in the Top Alcohol Dragster division. Another daughter, Brittany, is preparing for her competitive debut next month in a Lucas Sportsman Series event, and yet another, Courtney, is waiting in the wings.
Even Force's wife, Laurie, has gotten into the act, earning her Super Comp after attending Frank Hawley's Driving School.
"I said all those years that (I regretted that) NHRA took me my family away," said the 1996 Driver of the Year, "but it's okay (because) now they've given them back."