CHAMP FORCE STARTING OVER' AFTER IRON MAN STREAK ENDS Drag Racing's Biggest Winner Underdog' at Atlanta Dragway ATLANTA, Ga. -- Now that his qualifying streak has ended at 395 consecutive events; now that he no longer is the NHRA national...
CHAMP FORCE STARTING OVER' AFTER IRON MAN STREAK ENDS
Drag Racing's Biggest Winner Underdog' at Atlanta Dragway
ATLANTA, Ga. -- Now that his qualifying streak has ended at 395 consecutive events; now that he no longer is the NHRA national record holder for quarter mile time and speed; and now that he's fallen further back in the point standings than he's been in his entire professional career, John Force has his rivals right where he wants them.
"The pressure's off," observed drag racing's most prolific winner. "We're so far back (20th in POWERade Funny Car driver points) nobody expects us to do anything. It's like starting over."
Force, who's won a record 122 NHRA tour events and earned Auto Racing All- America recognition 14 of the last 17 seasons, apparently doesn't think it's such a bad thing to begin again, which essentially is what he will do this week when he rolls his Castrol GTX®High Mileage™Ford Mustang to the starting line for the 27th annual Summit Racing Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.
"People don't understand that when I was growing up, I lost at everything I did," said the 14-time and reigning NHRA Champion. "I was the starting quarterback at Bell Gardens (Calif.) High School and for three years we lost every game we played. My first 10 years drag racing, I never won anything. I was a runner-up nine times before I finally won (an NHRA tour event).
"But those were fun times because it was all about the journey and not about the destination. We got away from that with all the championships and all the records and all the expectations from the fans and the sponsors and the media, but now I've got my energy back. We're the underdogs now."
Casting him as an underdog might be a stretch, but the truth is that the 57-year-old not only failed to qualify two weeks ago at Las Vegas, Nevada, ending a streak that had extended more than 19 years, he hasn't won a round of racing this season and he's 350 points behind points leader Ron Capps, the equivalent of 18 racing rounds.
In previous years, such a horrendous start would have precluded a driver from championship consideration.
However, this is the year the NHRA decided to implement a new Countdown to the Championship format that leaves the door open ever so slightly for Force and even for his daughter, rookie Ashley Force, who enters the Southern Nationals 12th in the Funny Car standings at the wheel of the Castrol GTX Mustang.
That's because only the top eight drivers at the conclusion of the season's 17th event (at Reading, Pa.) will be eligible to race for the $400,000 POWERade championship determined in a subsequent six-race showdown. Moreover, once those eight drivers are determined, points will be re-adjusted with only 10 points separating each position.
"Our goal is just to be one of the eight (contenders)," Force said. "If we can do that, we've got a shot at the championship."
To achieve that goal, though, Force must start winning rounds and there's no better place to begin than Atlanta Dragway where he has won more racing rounds in the Southern Nationals than he has in any other event in the POWERade Series (56). In fact, he has gone to the final round 13 times in the last 20 years at Atlanta with victories in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1999, 2000 and 2005.
"It's been a good track for us," Force said, "but a lot of tracks have been good to us. Things are different, especially the competition. It's not like we can just show up and win. We're stating over with the basics and, first, that means getting qualified."
Once he's achieved that goal, that's when NHRA's Countdown to the Championship really begins.