Columbus: John Force preview

Force's Ford seeks repeat at Pontiac Excitement Nationals. COLUMBUS, Ohio John Force usually doesn't look forward to the Pontiac Excitement Nationals, an event in which he has struggled like he has at none other on the 23-race NHRA pro ...

Force's Ford seeks repeat at Pontiac Excitement Nationals.

COLUMBUS, Ohio John Force usually doesn't look forward to the Pontiac Excitement Nationals, an event in which he has struggled like he has at none other on the 23-race NHRA pro tour.

However, this week's (June 14-16) 38th renewal, is an exception. The 11-time series champion actually is enthusiastic about his return to National Trail Raceway, a track on which his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang hasn't started from the "pole" since 1996, the year he was named "Driver of the Year" for all of American motor racing after winning 13 of 19 races.

The source of the veteran's new affection for a track on which he has been eliminated in the first round five times in the last 15 years?

For one thing, this is the first time he'll spend Father's Day racing alongside his daughter, Ashley, a 19-year-old rookie competing this year in the Super Comp division.

"Racing with my daughter on Father's Day, what could be better?" asked the 11-time Auto Racing All-America selection.

The answer, of course, is racing with his daughter as the defending champion at National Trail, a role in which he has been cast only three times in his record-breaking career.

Three victories in a single event may be cause for celebration in rival camps, but at John Force Racing, it's almost an embarrassment. In fact, three wins in 22 races constitutes the champion's worst starts-to-wins ratio in any NHRA event with at least a five-year history.

It also is the track on which Force's current streak of consecutive starts (287 straight and counting) almost ended just two years ago when steering problems (the result of a change to a new Mustang body), led to a No. 15 qualifying position.

"We've won here the last two years," Force said. "Tony (Pedregon, driver of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford) won two years ago, I won last year and (Crew Chief Austin) Coil won here with (Frank) Hawley back when they were running the Chi-Town Hustler.

"It's a track where it's usually hot and we generally like the heat, so I don't think there's a problem."

Still, while the 53-year-old veteran has won 74.7 per cent of all the races in which he has been involved over the last 25 seasons (775-260), his winning percentage at National Trail is a comparatively weak 62.7 (32-19).

He'll try this week to pad those stats and reclaim the points lead from teammate Gary Densham. One of five different drivers to have won two races this season, Force earned his 100th career title when he won at Houston in March.

He hasn't won since, but, history notwithstanding, he likes his chances this week.

"We learned some things testing last week at Chicago that should help us," he said. "With the Funny Car group out here right now, you need every advantage. People keep asking, 'what's wrong?' There's nothing wrong just a lot of good race teams out there right now."

FORCE at Pontiac Excitement Nationals...

*Defending event champion after beating Del Worsham in the 2001 final.

*Has qualified his Castrol GTX Ford No. 1 just four times in 22 career appearances at National Trail Raceway and hasn't started from the pole since 1996.

*Although he has qualified outside the quick eight only 32 times in his career, he's qualified ninth or worse five times in the Pontiac Excitement Nationals and, in 2000, came as close to not making the field as he has in the last 13 seasons when he started 15th.

FORCE Highlights...

*With NASCAR legends Richard Petty and David Pearson, is one of only three drivers to have won 100 career events in a major motorsports series.

*NHRA national record holder at 4.731 seconds.

*1996 Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing.

*Is seeking his 10th straight championship and 12th overall.

*For the third straight year is a finalist for "Best Driver" at the ESPN ESPY Awards to be presented July 10th at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

DID YOU KNOW? WJohn this week will try to extend to 288 the number of consecutive NHRA national events for which he has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car. The last time he failed to make the 16-car lineup was, appropriately enough, on Halloween October, 31,1987 at the Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif. Ronald Reagan was president at the time; the Minnesota Twins were the champions of baseball and Julius Erving still was playing basketball...John has won at least one NHRA national event in each of the last 16 seasons....John has been a member of the last 10 Auto Racing All-America Teams selected by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , John Force , Gary Densham , Richard Petty , David Pearson