Commerce: John Force preview

All Force wants for birthday is another victory at Atlanta. 12-time series champion aims for further improvement. COMMERCE, Ga. (May 2-4) -- In the midst of the worst slump of his professional career, one in which he has failed to advance beyond...

All Force wants for birthday is another victory at Atlanta.
12-time series champion aims for further improvement.

COMMERCE, Ga. (May 2-4) -- In the midst of the worst slump of his professional career, one in which he has failed to advance beyond the second round in six consecutive races, John Force this week celebrates his 54th birthday.

That he does so at one of his favorite tracks on the NHRA POWERade tour is a very good thing for the 12-time champion and, perhaps, a bad thing for rivals trying to end his lengthy domination of the Funny Car division.

That's because, with the start of Sunday eliminations in the 23rd annual Summit Racing Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, Force, for one of the few times in his career, will have an opportunity to win a race on his birthday.

That might be just the incentive needed to snap the 106-time tour winner and his Castrol GTX® High Mileage Ford out of the performance vacuum in which they have operated the last three months.

A finalist at Atlanta 10 times in the last 11 years and 12 times overall, Force is looking for his first win of the new year and the first ever on his May 4 birthday. His best birthday performance, to date, was a runner-up finish at the Texas Motorplex in 1997.

Nevertheless, there is growing evidence that the 11-time Auto Racing All-American is beginning to ostracize the demons that have plagued him since the start of the season.

"We're getting better," Force said. "We made progress last week (at Bristol, Tenn.). We haven't been bad, but we just haven't been consistent. But that's coming. (Crew Chiefs Austin) Coil and Bernie (Fedderly) are getting a handle on it. The testing has helped.

"We've tested almost every Monday this year," Force continued. "We've been so good on Monday that I told Coil I couldn't wait for Indy (and the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, which concludes with Monday eliminations)."

Despite a performance that has put him 288 points down to teammate Tony Pedregon, Force has maintained his composure and his sense of humor.

"What am I going to do, fire the smartest guy in drag racing?" he asked, referring to Coil, who won two series titles with Frank Hawley before winning 12 at John Force Racing.

"If it was easy, there'd be more people doing it. I know we're going to get better. We're already better than we were."

Indeed, while he was ousted in the second round last week at Bristol, Tenn., he got everyone's attention with a 4.775 second qualifying time (that put him in the No. 2 spot in the field, behind only Pedregon) and a 4.889 second effort in the first round that stood as the quickest race day time.

Of course, almost lost in the talk about "the slump" is the fact that Force has qualified for every race this season, extending to 306 the number of consecutive races for which he has qualified a Castrol GTX Funny Car.

Moreover, the last time the sport's biggest winner went this long without reaching a final round (he was shut out of eight straight final rounds in 1997), he ended the drought by winning four times in five races.

-www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Frank Hawley