FORCE TRIES TO RECLAIM 'MAGIC IN RETURN TO ATLANTA DRAGWAY 13-Time Champ Eyes POWERade Points Lead ATLANTA, Ga. -- John Force once owned Atlanta Dragway, perhaps not in a literal sense, but certainly in a figurative one. From 1992 through...
FORCE TRIES TO RECLAIM 'MAGIC IN RETURN TO ATLANTA DRAGWAY
13-Time Champ Eyes POWERade Points Lead
ATLANTA, Ga. -- John Force once owned Atlanta Dragway, perhaps not in a literal sense, but certainly in a figurative one. From 1992 through 2000, the 13-time NHRA Funny Car Champion was a finalist in nine consecutive trips to the north Georgia track, winning six times; four times in succession.
"We had magic," acknowledged the 11-time Auto Racing All-America selection and 1996 Driver of the Year.
It's a "magic" the sport's most prolific winner hopes to recapture this week when he sends his Castrol GTX® Start Up® Ford into the 25th annual Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals trailing arch rival Whit Bazemore by 58 points in the race for the 2005 POWERade Championship.
Although he has appeared in more final rounds in the Southern Nationals than in any other event in the series (12), Force hasn't won here since 2000 and has lost in the first round in two of his last four starts.
Still, Atlanta Dragway remains a racetrack on which the drag racing icon expects to do well, especially with a Mustang that set the current NHRA records for quarter mile time (4.665 seconds) and speed (333.58 miles per hour).
Those numbers, as impressive as they are, haven't been much help to the 115- time tour winner this season. Hot, unforgiving racetracks and what he has called "the most competitive field of Funny Cars in history" have sent Force home in the first round at each of the last two events in the 23-race series.
As a result, Atlanta will provide yet another opportunity for him to win his 900th round of racing, another unprecedented accomplishment. He comes in having won 899 of 1209 two-car heat races in a career than spans 30 years, the last 20 with Castrol GTX as his primary sponsor.
Force also is expected to extend another remarkable streak this week. If he puts his Mustang in the 16-car starting lineup, it will extend to 353 the number of consecutive NHRA tour events for which he has qualified a Castrol Funny Car.
Many in the sport, including long-time announcer and television commentator Bob Frey, consider that qualifying record to be the one Force standard that never will be broken.
From Force's point of view, however, it's just an afterthought.
"Sponsors aren't going to open their checkbooks because you tell them you've qualified for x-number of races in-a-row," he said. "Bottom line, qualifying just puts you in position to do your job, which is to win races and win championships.
"We've had close calls," Force said, "times when we came down to the last session and weren't in the show. So, we've been good with (crew chiefs) Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly, but we've also been lucky.
"But there's gonna be a time when we don't qualify and there's gonna be a time when we don't win. That's why we're training these kids (Eric Medlen, driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford, Robert Hight, rookie pilot of the Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang, and Ashley Force, driver of the Castrol/Hot Wheels A/Fuel dragster for Jerry Darien and Ken Meadows)."
Nevertheless, Force isn't quite ready to turn things over to the next generation.
"I'm signed up with Castrol for five more years (through 2010)," he said. "As long as I have my health and my vision, there's no reason to think about getting out of the car. It's not like we're driving around out there for four hours, like NASCAR. It's a five- second sport. And, bottom line, I'm just starting to have fun."