FORCE DEFENDS FUNNY CAR TITLE IN RETURN TO PONTIAC NATIONALS 13-Time Series Champ Tries to Close Gap on Capps COLUMBUS, Ohio -- "Columbus is exciting because if you run 330 (miles per hour), you've got a good chance of getting T-boned at...
FORCE DEFENDS FUNNY CAR TITLE
IN RETURN TO PONTIAC NATIONALS
13-Time Series Champ Tries to Close Gap on Capps
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- "Columbus is exciting because if you run 330 (miles per hour), you've got a good chance of getting T-boned at the intersection," John Force said of National Trail Raceway where, on Friday, he opens defense of the Funny Car championship he earned in last year's Pontiac Performance Nationals.
"You've got to cut a light and then you have to worry about making the other light (at the far end)," he said, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Trail's notoriously short shutdown area, one that several years ago sent racers slow to decelerate barreling off the end, across an active roadway and into a farmer's field.
Despite Force's characterization, that intersection never was controlled by a traffic light and, after the NHRA bought the track in 1996, it addressed all the pertinent safety issues. Today, National Trail still is considered one of the most challenging tracks in the POWERade Series, but for reasons other than its length.
"Seriously, it's a real tricky racetrack," Force said. "Because of the heat and the humidity, it's tough for these cars to get hooked up, but I think that plays to our advantage. (Crew chief Austin) Coil and I are old match racers, so we've been down tracks like Columbus hundreds of times."
Force, who once struggled on the Ohio track, winning just twice in his first 21 appearances, finally has found his groove, taking a Castrol GTX® Ford to the final round three of the last five years with two victories. In addition to his final round triumph over reigning series champion Gary Scelzi a year ago, he beat Del Worsham to win in 2001. He was runner-up to then teammate Tony Pedregon in 2003.
"It's like a home race," Force said, "because of (our long association with) Mac Tools. All the higher-ups (from Mac Tools, which is headquartered in Columbus) come out to see their teams: the Kalittas, the Bernsteins and the Forces."
Drag racing's biggest winner with 13 individual championships and 119 tour victories, Force rolls into town still seeking his first win of 2006.
"We have three race cars that seem to be quicker than the field," Force said, "but right now they just don't have the consistency. The fact that we've been (quickest at) every race shows we're thundering with the new Mustang. We just haven't had any racing luck."
Indeed, Force has led the qualifying at four of the seven events already contested. Teammates Eric Medlen and Robert Hight have starting from No. 1 at the other three. Not only that, Force put up the quickest quarter mile time in history (4.664 seconds) at the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.
"The bottom line is we've been winning the battles but losing the wars," Force said, "and that's why Cappsie (Ron Capps) is in the points lead."
If there is an upside to a season in which he remains winless, it's that the 13-time Auto Racing All-America selection has avoided the pitfalls that cost him the championship a year ago.
Although he won two more races than anyone else in the Funny Car division last season (five), Force wound up third in POWERade points behind Gary Scelzi and Capps. The reason?
"You just can't lose 10 first round (races) and expect to win the championship," he said. "Ten first round losses. That's unacceptable."
Despite his uncharacteristic first round performance, Force still was in position to win the title at the season's final race but couldn't get the job done.
This year, he's been far more focused. In fact, he has yet to lose an opening round match and while he still is seeking a win that would extend to 20 the number of consecutive years in which he has reached the winners' circle, he has been to the finals three times in seven starts.