FORCE BACK ON HIS FAVORITE TRACK IN BID FOR ANOTHER FUNNY CAR TITLE ENNIS, Texas -- Heisman Trophy candidate Vince Young isn't the only quarterback with something to prove this weekend. While Young is in Dallas trying to get his University of...
FORCE BACK ON HIS FAVORITE TRACK IN BID FOR ANOTHER FUNNY CAR TITLE
ENNIS, Texas -- Heisman Trophy candidate Vince Young isn't the only quarterback with something to prove this weekend.
While Young is in Dallas trying to get his University of Texas Longhorns a Red River Shootout victory over the Oklahoma Sooners, John Force will be trying to win a showdown of his own at Billy Meyer's Texas Motorplex.
Force, a former California high school quarterback who distinguished himself by NEVER winning a game (0-27), has found his niche since trading in his Bell Gardens High School helmet for one bearing a Castrol GTX logo.
Drag racing's biggest winner, Force currently is locked in the toughest fight of his 30-year career.
Entering this week's 20th O'Reilly Fall Nationals, the 56-year-old veteran is one of five drivers separated by 100 points in the race for the 2005 NHRA Funny Car championship; one of three separated by just 45 points.
"There'll be no excuses," said the driver of the Castrol GTX Start Up"' Mustang. "We're gonna finish on three good tracks in cool weather. Just line 'em up and take your best shot. I told Scelzi (points leader Gary Scelzi, a three-time former NHRA Top Fuel champion) to bring his dancing shoes. Now we just gotta figure out who's gonna lead."
Force and Scelzi, veterans with 150 tour victories and 16 championships between them, are the headliners in a drama that will play out this week on the sport's only all-concrete racing surface, but the supporting cast likely will play a major role in determining who ultimately takes home the $400,000 POWERade bonus.
Force trails the leader by 43 points, little more than two racing rounds, as the tour moves to what admittedly is his favorite racetrack, one on which he has won six times and on which he has clinched four of this record 13 individual championships.
"You don't have to make the transition (from concrete to asphalt)," Force said of the Motorplex. "It's all concrete, start-to-finish. Billy Meyer was a Funny Car driver who built this track for performance. It'll handle the horsepower."
Nevertheless, Force admits that he would have preferred to run the race on its original September date when temperatures were projected to be in the mid-90s. Instead, Hurricane Rita delayed the start for two weeks and high temperatures now are expected to be in the 70s.
"We love the cool because you don't have to hold back," Force said, "but I think in the heat is where experience can make a big difference. When it's cool, there are a lot more players than when it's hot."
Not that Force isn't a cool weather player. Last year, he was the first Funny Car driver to break the 4.70 second barrier and he remains the NHRA national record holder for both quarter mile time (4.665 seconds) and speed (333.58 miles per hour).
This year, though, he is just one of a dozen capable of record-setting performances. Last week at Joliet, Ill., 15 drivers broke the 4.80 second barrier and four were in the 4.60s. Force wasn't one of them.
If fact, while he has remained in contention for the title along with Scelzi, Ron Capps, rookie Robert Hight and second year driver Eric Medlen, Force hasn't won since May 29th when he beat Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final round of the O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Topeka, Kan., to complete a three victories-in-three-weeks blitz.
Since then, he has struggled, losing in the first round a record nine times and plummeting from first place in points to as low as fourth before battling back with recent runner-up finishes at Brainerd, Minn., and Reading, Pa. He hopes complete that comeback this week on a track on which he has reached the finals in 11 of his last 17 appearances and on which he was the first to break the 4.80 second barrier.